Why Do My Feet Cramp When I Exercise?

Yoga workout
Stretching the muscles of your feet can help prevent cramps. (Image: petrograd99/iStock/Getty Images)

Foot cramps can be a debilitating experience, particularly if you are engaged in exercises that require you be on your feet the whole time. You might be tempted to stop exercising, but in many cases, the cramps can be prevented by taking precautionary measures. However, if your foot cramps don't go away despite taking preventive steps, consult a doctor to rule out an underlying medical problem.

Cramps

Twisted angle
Some cramps are very painful. (Image: Maridav/iStock/Getty Images)

Cramping in the foot is caused by an involuntary, forceful contraction of the muscle that doesn't subside. Mild cramps last only a few seconds, while more severe cramps can last for several minutes or more. Severe cramps can be painful, and your muscles may get knotted and form a lump under the skin. Anyone can get a foot cramp, but they are relatively common among novice athletes and more experienced athletes who are on their their feet a lot.

Causes

Ankle Pain
Foot cramps can happen at any time. (Image: marvinh/iStock/Getty Images)

The reason cramps occur is unknown, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, but several causes have been identified as likely suspects. Commonly cited conditions that lead to cramps include muscle fatigue, lack of proper stretching, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Less commonly, medications or an underlying medical disorder are the culprit. Exercising in a hot environment can lead to excessive sweating, which further contributes to dehydration. If you aren't getting enough electrolytes in your diet, particularly sodium, potassium and magnesium, that can also contribute to getting foot cramps. Shoes that don't offer support for your arches or don't fit right can also contribute to the problem.

Treatment

banana
Eating bananas can help prevent cramping. (Image: tycoon751/iStock/Getty Images)

If you get a cramp while exercising, stop what you are doing and rest. Remove your shoes, if you are wearing any, and stretch and massage your feet until the cramps go away. Drinking water or a sports drink enhanced with electrolytes can also help. Potassium deficiency is a common problem that leads to cramping, and eating a banana, which contains high amounts of the electrolyte, can help remedy that. If the cramps linger after exercise, apply heat if the muscles are tight and cold if your muscles are sore or tender.

Prevention

Slim young woman drinking water after training
Drink plenty of water to avoid cramping. (Image: Berc/iStock/Getty Images)

To avoid foot cramps, start drinking water the day before vigorous exercise. Drink 1 to 3 cups right before you exercise, and stay hydrated during exercise by taking small sips of water. Avoid fully hydrating until you are finished exercising. Eat a diet that contains fruits and vegetables high in mineral content, and take a multivitamin to ensure proper electrolyte supply. Warm up before exercising and gently stretch your feet. According to the University Foot and Ankle Institute, an effective stretch for the bottom of your feet is performed by placing the toes of one foot against a wall, keeping the rest of your foot flat on the ground. Bend your knee toward the wall, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat the movement with the other foot. Stretching the muscles of your leg, particularly your calf muscles, can also help. If your feet are sore or you are fatigued, rest and avoid exercising again until your are fully restored and the pain has dissipated. Purchase new shoes if yours are old and worn out. Placing insoles or other supports in your shoes can offer support for your arches, decreasing fatigue. If you continue to experience foot cramps while exercising, despite taking measures to prevent them, consult a doctor. Discuss any medications you are taking to ensure that cramping is not a side effect.

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