When we walk or stand, our feet bear the entire weight of the body, and this is the reason why they are commonly affected by cramps.
However, cramps usually last for a few minutes and then subside gradually. The areas of the foot which are more likely to be affected by this condition are the inner arch and the toes, especially the big toe. It is not very difficult to treat a foot cramp.
Before going into the details of how to treat a foot cramp, let's take a brief look at its possible causes. It is essential to have some knowledge about the factors that can cause foot cramps, in order to treat this condition effectively.
Causes of Foot Cramps
Foot cramps are usually caused by excessive stress or muscle fatigue. Overused muscles are more prone to get cramps. Walking or standing for a long time can place excess pressure on the foot and leg muscles, and such overworked muscles can get cramps easily. On the other hand, cramps can become more common with advancing age due to reduced activity level.
A strenuous physical activity can also cause foot cramps. While exercising or performing a strenuous physical activity, we perspire a lot, which can cause dehydration if the lost fluid is not replenished.
The loss of excess water and electrolytes due to dehydration can trigger muscle cramps in the legs and the feet. An overuse of diuretics can also cause fluid and electrolyte imbalance in the body, and increase the risk of experiencing cramps.
Lactic acid can accumulate around the muscles while performing an exercise that increases the heart rate. The accumulation of lactic acid around the muscles may trigger muscle cramps. Foot cramps can also be experienced when the foot muscles are not ready for a sudden activity.
Sometimes, foot and leg cramps can be a sign of poor circulation. Reduced supply of oxygen to the extremities of the body can lead to cramps in the legs and the feet. Medical conditions like diabetes can affect the supply blood to the extremities of the body. The lack of oxygen in the foot muscles due to poor circulation can trigger a bout of cramps.
A deficiency of calcium or magnesium can also cause foot cramps. A lack or deficiency of these minerals can increase the excitability of the nerve endings and the muscles they stimulate, which in turn can manifest in cramps. Potassium and calcium deficiency can also cause frequent foot and leg cramps.
Other possible causes of foot cramps are, a pinched nerve, excessive alcohol and tobacco, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, hormonal imbalance, damage to a single or multiple nerves connected to the muscles, thyroid disorders, pregnancy, and use of certain medications like diuretics, adrenergic beta-agonists, donepezil, lovastatin, and raloxifene.
Foot Cramps Treatment
The pain caused by a cramp can vary in severity depending on how forceful the contraction is. Apart from pain, the affected muscle may feel hard to touch. However, walking can help reduce the pain and relax the contracted muscle. Mild to moderate foot cramps can be alleviated with some simple remedies explained here:
Whenever you experience a foot cramp, stop the activity that caused the cramp immediately. Then take off your shoes and socks, and try to lie or sit down in a comfortable position. Now, slowly pull the contracted muscle in the opposite direction of the cramp.
Gently massage the affected area or the muscle for a few minutes. This would help relax the muscle, and reduce the pain caused by the cramp.
Try to walk slowly, if the pain and the spasm have reduced. Now, try to flex the toes of the foot. First, lift the front of the foot slightly off the ground keeping the heel on the ground. Now, curl the toes towards the ground and then in the opposite direction, i.e., towards you. This can help relax the affected muscle.
Apply heat on the foot. You can soak the affected foot in warm water or put a heating pad on the foot. But make sure that you do not make it too hot. The application of heat can help relax the affected muscles, besides relieving the pain.
Apply ice or a cold pack on the affected foot for about 20 minutes at a time. This is an excellent home remedy to cure cramps caused by injuries or strains.
The RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation also works for foot cramps. So, along with applying ice, wrap the affected foot in an elastic bandage if required, and elevate the foot to the level of the waist or higher.
Stretching exercises can help prevent or reduce the frequency of foot cramps. Aerobic exercises like swimming and strength-building exercises can help tone up the muscles, and prevent their involuntary contractions.
Follow a balanced diet, and include more bananas, cauliflowers, potatoes, milk, and orange juice in your diet, as these are good sources of calcium and potassium. If you are suffering from a deficiency of vitamin D or other important nutrients, then talk to your health care provider about taking supplementation.
If the pain caused by the cramp is quite severe, then your physician may prescribe pain killers. In general, the remedies mentioned here should help relieve the cramp and the associated pain.
If you are suffering from foot and leg cramps for a long time, then get the condition properly evaluated with the help of a podiatrist (a foot doctor). This can help ascertain whether foot cramps are associated with any underlying health condition. Your podiatrist can provide you the necessary guidance for managing and preventing foot cramps in the future.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.