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With 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100+ ligaments, tendons, and muscles combined, it’s no wonder the foot gets cranky with all those moving parts.
Cramps happen when muscles contract involuntarily.
A muscle cramp here and there is just a part of life. But if you’re experiencing frequent foot or leg cramps, this pain can really start to cramp your style.
This article will help you learn how to get rid of foot cramps in the moment, plus tons of tips to help prevent them from coming back.
Let’s get to it.
Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.
What causes foot cramps?
If it were only so easy to pin an issue on one problem. Foot cramps can occur for a variety of reasons, and it’s possible to have more than one issue at play.
Here’s a shortlist of the most common issues that can cause foot cramps.
- Lack of exercise/movement
- Intrinsic foot muscle weakness
- Poor movement patterns
- Overexertion/muscle fatigue
- Poor footwear choices
- Foot pain/injury
- Certain medical conditions
- Nutrient deficiencies
Later in this article, we’ll get deeper into how you can address these issues to prevent frequent foot cramps.
How to relieve a foot cramp in the moment
A cramped muscle can stop you in your tracks, resulting in severe pain.
The first step to relieving a foot cramp is to gently stretch it out.
Try placing your foot flat on the ground and pressing the heel down. If you need more of a stretch, you can do a standing calf stretch, which also helps the arch of the foot.
Gently massaging the area of the cramp and pulling the big toe back can also help to loosen it up. Alternatively, you can use a massage ball to get some pressure into the arch of your foot.
After the cramp subsides, walk it out slowly, focusing on a smooth heel-to-toe gait.
Whew! You’ve made it through another Charley horse. But what about next time?
Keep reading to learn how to decrease the frequency of painful foot cramps.
How to prevent foot cramps in the future
Here’s a list of proactive steps you can take to decrease your chances of frequent foot cramps.
Improve your foot and ankle flexibility
Tightness in the feet and ankles can contribute to chronic foot problems, including cramps.
When you can’t move your muscles and joints through full range of motion, this limits the functional range that your muscles have to work with.
A tight muscle can result in foot cramps and chronic pain or lead to other conditions such as plantar fasciitis or tendonitis.
Having these tools around the house are a helpful reminder to work on your flexibility.
For a complete guide on stretching tight calves, read this article.
Strengthen your foot muscles
We tend to stuff feet into shoes and never think about them until there’s a problem.
In reality, we should be working on our feet just as much as the rest of us.
Intrinsic muscles is the collective name for all the tiny muscles deep inside the foot.
Intrinsic foot muscle weakness can occur over time for various reasons, including lack of exercise and wearing very padded shoes all the time without ever doing any barefoot activities.
Here’s a video demonstrating some specific exercises for your foot muscles.
Yoga and balance exercises are also excellent ways to improve your intrinsic foot strength. In addition, since yoga is done barefoot, it gives you a chance to strengthen in a controlled environment.
You can also try exercising with toe spreaders.
Wearing toe stretchers regularly and performing foot exercises can help relieve muscle tightness, chronic soreness, and improve blood circulation within the foot.
These improvements can help to decrease foot cramping over time.
Strengthen your leg muscles
The body works together as a whole, and it’s all connected.
If there’s weakness in a major muscle group, the body will look for other places to pick up the slack. This can manifest in the foot and ankle.
Strengthening for the major muscle groups of the leg (calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes) helps the body move in better patterns and decreases stress on the foot and ankle.
If you’re a little rusty on your muscle anatomy, this article outlines the major muscle groups of the leg and exercises that match.
Dehydration is a culprit for many issues, including foot cramps.
Dehydration changes the balance of electrolytes in your system. All body systems require a certain hydration level to function properly, including muscles.
If you often find yourself thirsty, that’s a sign that you’re not getting enough water.
To help monitor your water intake, try carrying a bottle with you, like this motivational bottle with time markers.
You’re more likely to take small sips gradually when you have a bottle with you.
Get evaluated for underlying medical issues
If you have persistent foot cramps, it’s best to get evaluated by your doctor for any related underlying medical conditions.
Some conditions, such as diabetes, neuropathy, nerve damage, and neurological disorders can be underlying causes of persistent foot cramps.
Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies including magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D have been linked with leg cramping and frequent muscle spasm.
Take an active role in your health by keeping medical issues under control, following treatment plans, and complying with prescribed medication.
Wear proper footwear
Footwear with poor arch support, high heels, or too tight for your toes can compress your feet can all contribute to frequent foot cramps.
This article goes over 11 signs you’re wearing bad shoes for your feet and how to fix them.
To add support to an existing pair of shoes, you can try prescription orthotics or over-the-counter insoles.
Read more about the differences between custom orthotics and over-the-counter insoles here to help decide which might be best for you.
Stay active & exercise regularly
Being sedentary is a risk factor for many health conditions, including foot cramps.
Most Americans don’t get the weekly recommended amount of physical activity to support a healthy lifestyle.
The current recommendations for physical activity include at least 150 min of moderate-intensity exercise each week with at least two days of strength training for major muscle groups.
This article will help guide you toward the right building blocks for a well-rounded fitness routine.
Painful cramps can be disruptive, but there are proactive steps you can take to decrease their frequency.
Remember, some of these tips don’t magically work overnight and require consistency to see results.
Bordoni B, Sugumar K, Varacallo M. Muscle Cramps. [Updated 2021 Aug 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499895/
Delacour, C., Chambe, J., Lefebvre, F. et al. Association between physical activity and Nocturnal Leg Cramps in patients over 60 years old: a case-control study. Sci Rep 10, 2638 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-59312-9
Fat, M.J.L., Kokokyi, S. & Katzberg, H.D. Neurologist practice patterns in treatment of muscle cramps in Canada. J Foot Ankle Res 6, 2 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-1146-6-2