When cramping is severe or occurs frequently, it can be a sign of a deficiency of important minerals or vitamins. A muscle cramp, or spasm, occurs when one of your muscles involuntarily contracts strongly and doesn't relax right away. Muscle cramps in your toes can last for a few seconds or up to 15 minutes or longer, causing extreme pain and discomfort. Most toe cramps are nothing to worry about. However, you should never self-treat a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Seek medical advice from your podiatrist or health care provider if you are experiencing frequent or severe cramping episodes.
Potassium is an electrolyte mineral, meaning it helps conduct electric impulses throughout your body. Potassium plays a critical role in maintaining your heartbeat, but it also directly impacts smooth muscle contraction. When potassium levels are deficient, you can experience severe muscle cramping, which can affect your toes, feet, legs and hands. Potassium deficiency is usually the result of excess sweating or loss of potassium in the intestines or urine as a result of taking insulin, corticosteroids, antacids and diuretic medications. Dietary sources of potassium include bananas, orange juice and potatoes.
A calcium deficiency, or hypocalcemia, can also cause severe cramping in your toes. According to Merck Manuals, 99 percent of your body's calcium is stored in your bones. However, your blood cells and skeletal muscles also require calcium to function properly. When your calcium levels drop, parathyroid hormone is released, signaling your bones to release calcium into your bloodstream. If you remain deficient in calcium for an extended time, it eventually affects your heart and skeletal muscles, resulting in an irregular heartbeat and severe muscle cramping. Causes of hypocalcemia include poor parathyroid gland functioning, kidney disease, certain medications, vitamin D deficiency and magnesium deficiency.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Your body cannot manufacture vitamin D on its own; it needs regular exposure to direct UVB rays from sunlight in order to synthesize cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3, within your skin. Vitamin D plays a critical role in calcium absorption from the digestive tract. When you are deficient in vitamin D, not enough calcium is absorbed, which can decrease calcium levels in your bloodstream. Low calcium levels cause severe cramping in your toes. Getting enough sun each day, without sunscreen, is the best way to avoid a vitamin D deficiency. It doesn't occur naturally in many foods, but you can get vitamin D from fortified milk and breakfast cereals.
According to Oregon State University, 27 percent of the magnesium in your body is found in your muscle cells. Although rare in the United States, a deficiency in magnesium can cause your levels of calcium and vitamin D to decrease, resulting in severe muscle cramping that can affect your toes. Magnesium deficiency is typically caused by digestive disorders affecting nutrient absorption, alcoholism and diabetes. Advanced age can also be a factor. Magnesium occurs naturally in many foods, including whole grains, nuts, spinach and bananas.