Rapid growth and high levels of activity are common in many children's lives. They are also common contributing factors to the occurrence of muscle cramps in the lower legs and feet. A cramp is the sudden shortening and tightening of a muscle, which frequently results in pain. Treatment of foot cramps primarily involves helping the affected muscle lengthen and relax.
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Gentle movement and stretching lengthens and loosens a tight painful muscle. Encourage your child to slowly stand and walk on the cramping foot. For more of a stretch, he can sit with knees straight and pull the toes upward toward the body. Perform all stretching slowly and gently until the painful muscle begins to relax.
Rub the painful area gently. You may be able to feel that the cramped muscle is harder than the muscles and tissue around it. Continue to apply gentle pressure until the muscle tension and discomfort decrease, approximately five to 10 minutes. Your child can massage the area independently by sitting in a chair and rolling a tennis ball or rolling pin on the floor beneath the painful foot.
Keep the foot warm to help the muscles relax and increase circulation to the area. Soak the sore foot in warm water or have your child take a warm bath. Wearing warm socks or slippers to capture and keep the body's own heat is also helpful. The key is to keep the muscle warm but not hot, because excessive heat can increase inflammation.
The first three non-drug treatments are most important and most effective. However, if pain remains after stretching, massaging and providing gentle heat for the foot and interferes with the child's walking, an anti-inflammatory drug can aid in pain relief. Persistent discomfort is likely the result of inflammation around the irritated cramping muscle. Your child may take Ibuprofen according to the manufacturer's dosing instructions for his age and weight.
Address Other Contributing Factors
Dehydration affects the body's ability to effectively move nutrients and messenger chemicals around, and is related to cramping. Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids during high-intensity activities and in warm weather. Electrolyte imbalances interfere with the body's ability to send signals to the muscles. Calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium are important for this process. A balanced diet including these nutrients can aid in cramp prevention. Make sure your child warms up properly before exercise and cools down afterward. This decreases the likelihood of cramping and the overall risk of injury. Poor alignment of the feet or legs or disproportionately tight or weak areas can cause foot muscles to be overworked. If cramping is a chronic problem, your child's physician may recommend exercises, therapy, more supportive footwear or orthotics.