Do your toes cramp and get stuck in the middle of the night? As it turns out, no one is immune to leg and foot cramps. This condition can have a multitude of causes, from poor circulation and nerve damage to nutrient deficiencies.
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The foot is one of the most complex structures in the human body. It consists of 19 muscles, 33 joints, 26 bones and over 100 ligaments. Any of these tissues can get injured during sports and everyday activities. Here are five things you should know about foot cramps and what to do about them to prevent complications.
Toes Cramp and Get Stuck
Any muscle in your body can cramp. The muscles in your feet and legs are no exception. In fact, the arch of your foot, as well as your calves and thighs, are the most prone to cramping, notes the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).
This problem occurs when a muscle involuntary contracts and cannot relax. Athletes, seniors and people with overweight or obesity are at greater risk for muscle cramps.
For example, if you have overweight, the extra pounds can put pressure on the muscles in your feet or those surrounding the spine, causing pain and spasms. An athlete, on the other hand, may notice that his toes cramp and get stuck during or after exercise because of insufficient stretching.
Read more: How to Stop Foot Pain With 7 Easy Exercises
Fortunately, leg cramps are rarely harmful, points out the Cleveland Clinic. Most times, you can get relief by making small changes to your diet, lifestyle or workout routine. The first step is to identify the cause, whether it's overtraining, poor circulation or electrolyte imbalances.
Mineral Deficiencies May Cause Cramping
As discussed earlier, foot cramps may indicate that your body is lacking magnesium, potassium, calcium or other nutrients, notes the Mayo Clinic. According to a November 2016 review published in Age and Ageing, electrolyte imbalances are often to blame. Too much or too little calcium, for example, may cause or worsen muscle cramps.
Electrolytes are minerals that regulate your fluid balance and pH levels. They also play a key role in nutrient transport, brain function and cardiovascular health, states the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Magnesium, for instance, regulates more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Low levels of this mineral may lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, abnormal heart rate and even seizures.
If your toes and get stuck constantly, get some blood tests done to identify potential mineral deficiencies. Fill up on whole foods containing potassium, calcium and magnesium, and take electrolyte supplements if necessary. Coconut water, for example, provides 13 percent of the daily recommended potassium intake per cup.
Certain medications, especially diuretics, may disrupt your electrolyte balance and cause painful foot or leg cramps.
Dehydration Might Be the Culprit
A possible cause of muscle cramps or spasms is dehydration, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Even you're drinking plenty of water, you may be losing fluids during exercise or when it's hot outside. That's why it's particularly important to stay hydrated before, during and after physical activity.
Water helps maintain your electrolyte balance, supports digestive function and regulates body temperature. A body water loss of only 1 or 2 percent may affect cognition, memory and psychomotor skills, reports a December 2018 research paper featured in BMC Public Health. In addition to leg cramps, dehydration may cause headaches and irritability, diminish your physical performance and decrease muscle strength.
Read more: 10 Snacks That Can Actually Satisfy Your Thirst
Keep a water bottle at hand and take small sips every 30 minutes of so — don't wait until you're thirsty. Tea and soups count toward your daily fluid intake too, so include them in your diet. Also, fill up on water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, strawberries, melons, papaya and leafy greens. Strawberries and spinach, for example, are over 91 percent water.
Beware of More Serious Conditions
Sometimes, leg cramps may indicate a more serious condition, especially if they occur at night. Parkinson's disease, nerve damage, diabetes, circulatory problems and liver cirrhosis are just a few to mention, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Dystonia, for example, is a disease that causes your muscles to contract involuntarily. It may affect one or more muscles or muscle groups and can occur anywhere in the body. Foot cramps are a common symptom, states the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. You may also experience fatigue, anxiety, depression, tremors, uncontrollable blinking and other non-specific symptoms.
Occasional foot cramps are rarely a reason for concern. However, if your toes cramp and get stuck regularly, it's recommended to see a medical professional. Let your doctor know what other symptoms you have, whether it's numbness, muscle weaknesses or tingling in your feet or hands. Early diagnosis may help prevent complications and increase your chances of a successful recovery.
Stretching May Relieve Foot Cramps
Health professionals recommend stretching and warming up your muscles for good reason. These habits may help prevent painful cramps and reduce injury risk. The Mayo Clinic recommends stretching your muscles regularly, not just before and after working out. If, say, your foot cramps tend to occur at night, ride a stationary bike or stretch your legs for a few minutes before bedtime.
For example, a good way to stretch your calves is to stand in front of a wall and extend one leg behind the other. Press your hands into the wall while stretching the half of the extended leg. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat with the other leg. You may also massage your foot and toes to stop the cramp, recommends the AOA.
Foot cramps are often a symptom of poor blood circulation, warns the Cleveland Clinic. In this case, the pain and discomfort may worsen when you walk. Stretching can help by increasing blood flow to the affected muscle — just make sure you do it right. Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds and stop if it hurts.
- Canadian Federation of Podiatric Medicine: "Foot Anatomy"
- American Osteopathic Association: "Coping With Muscle Cramps: Why You Don’t Have to Live With This Common Pain"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Don’t Let Foot Cramps and Charley Horses Slow You Down"
- Mayo Clinic: "Muscle Cramp"
- Age and Ageing: "A Review of Nocturnal Leg Cramps in Older People"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Fluid and Electrolyte Balance"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Magnesium"
- USDA: "Coconut Water"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Hand or Foot Spasms"
- BMC Public Health: "Public Knowledge of Dehydration and Fluid Intake Practices: Variation by Participants’ Characteristics"
- USDA: "Strawberries"
- USDA: "Spinach"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Leg Cramps at Night"
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Dystonias Fact Sheet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Stretching: Focus on Flexibility"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.