A sudden, painful and involuntary muscular contraction in foot or leg, which may occur at night, is called foot cramp. People often experience cramps while exercising, swimming, cycling, running, mountaineering, etc. Cramps in the calf muscles or in the muscles at the bottom of the foot are more common than cramps in other parts of the body. Sometimes, the pain is mild, sometimes it is severe. The cramp can last for a few seconds to several minutes. Many times, the muscle is tender or stiffened for the next day. The exact cause of foot cramps at night is still unknown.
Common Causes of Foot Cramps
- Alcohol abuse
- Wearing ill-fitting shoes
- Various types of nerve disorders
- Flat feet or hyper flexible joints
- Prior injury to foot muscles
- Vitamin / mineral deficiency
- Depletion of body fluids or dehydration
- Hormonal imbalance (Women are more likely to suffer from hormone imbalance than men.)
- Side effect of certain medicines
- Abnormal sodium or potassium levels in blood
- Persistent foot problems like tendonitis or plantar fasciitis
- Sudden increase in the workouts
- Sudden increase in the stress level, excessive exercise, intensive exercise
- Peripheral vascular disease or poor circulation of blood due to narrowed arteries in legs
- Increased stress on the calf muscles and on the muscles of the feet during pregnancy
- Environmental toxicity, e.g. lead poisoning due to increasing industrialization and pollution
- Higher rate of breathing during cardio exercises, leads to lower availability of calcium in blood, which may in turn cause foot cramps at night.
- Chronic diseases like cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, renal failure, Parkinson's disease, etc., lead to fatigue and weaken the feet muscles.
- Sedentary lifestyle, which leads to obesity and weak muscles. (Modern lifestyle often involves lack of proper exercise. This is the main cause of frequent foot cramps. Exercise helps tone the muscles.)
- Scarcity of adenosine triphosphate (ATP, an energy chemical present in body cells) causes contraction of the muscle for more extended period than a normal or regular muscle cramp. The muscles are unable to relax and the person experiences sustained severe cramping.
- Pain killers can be taken under the guidance of a physician.
- An elastic bandage used for compression at the affected area can provide relief.
- Massage with oil or ointment can reduce muscle fatigue.
- Electrolyte and nutritional deficiencies can be avoided by following a balanced diet.
- Application of ice to the affected region helps reduce the effect of spasm pain.
- Avoiding any extra / drastic stress on feet helps avoid foot cramps.
- Giving adequate rest to the affected area helps relieve the pain.
- Application of heat helps relieve pain and improves flexibility of the tendon and ligament. It improves the blood flow as well.
- Regular exercise (stretching exercises of muscles) helps maintain physical fitness and reduces the chances of muscle spasms.
- Drinking plenty of water and other healthy liquids like fruit juices, milk, milkshakes, etc., help avoid dehydration.
- Pull the foot away from the cramping position, very slowly, when a cramp occurs. Hold it till the cramp disappears. Massage it till 5 to 10 minutes. Then stretch it gently.
A person may experience multiple cramps at a time. Disturbed sleep and constant pain can affect the daily activities of the person, for a couple of days. Cramps may involve an entire muscle, a part of the muscle or different muscles that work together. Older people frequently experience leg and foot cramps, even while resting. The risk of having nocturnal foot cramps increases with age. Muscle cramps should not be a cause of annoyance any more, if diet and exercise are sincerely followed and if other precautionary measures are also taken care of.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.