Leading Causes of Foot Cramps and How to Prevent Them

9 min read

To stop foot cramps, massage your feet or apply a heating pad. Stretch the feet and perform light mobility work. If you’re in pain, apply ice or take an epsom salt foot bath.

For frequent cramps and long-term pain relief, use different methods. Get a pair of compression socks. Move around every hour or two and stay hydrated. Make sure you’re getting enough magnesium.

Hi! I’m Dr. Katherine Enes. I’m a practicing orthopedist and sports doctor. Since I work with athletes and children often, I see lots of foot and lower leg spasms. I wrote this guide using my years of personal in-practice experience.

I made sure to do a few hours of research before hand to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I hope you find this article useful.

Below, we’ll cover 10 ways to stop foot cramps. We’ll cover why foot cramps happen. We’ll also discuss kids’ foot cramps and a few other things. Let’s dive in!

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Disclaimer: This guide was created for educational purposes. It neither offers nor replaces medical advice. Learn more here.

Table of Contents

10 Ways to Stop Foot Cramps

1

Heating pad or warm foot bath

Cramps can make your muscles stiff, leading to more cramping. Warming the feet up helps relax the muscles. You can use a heating pad or take a warm foot bath for 10-15 minutes.

If you’re opting for the foot bath, I recommend adding Epsom salt. It’ll warm your feet up and stop foot cramping caused by magnesium deficiency.

2

Massage

Like the methods above, a light massage will warm your feet up. It will also improve blood circulation and relieve muscular tension mechanically.

Massage the affected muscle lightly, making sure not to hurt it. You may want to follow up with light stretches (read point 8 for more information).

In my experience, a massage is a good way to treat a foot or toe cramp. It’s less effective for the calf muscle, which is harder to massage properly and painlessly.

3

Compression Socks & Elastic Bandage

If you get frequent foot cramps, you may have venous insufficiency. Compression socks and elastic bandage wraps are a good way to fix that.

For short-term relief, carefully apply an elastic bandage to the foot and ankle. This video gives you a simple way to do that using “figure of eight” wrapping. For long-term relief, you’ll want compression socks. These will stop foot and leg cramps. They’re especially useful for nighttime leg cramps that cause foot pain and wake you up.

4

Special orthopedic soles

Walking, standing and running with flat feet or high arches overloads the foot muscle. It can result in a painful foot, ankle or calf cramp. This is easily corrected with a quality orthopedic insoles. To see our favorite all-day insoles, go here.

5

A contrast shower before bed

Contrast showers involve alternating hot and cold water. If you get frequent foot cramps at night, take one before going to bed. Don’t use extreme temperatures; we want to dilate vessels, not burn or freeze your legs

Once your vessels are dilated, blood will have an easier time going to and from your feet. This will make sure you don’t get a nocturnal cramp while sleeping. If the cramps persist, you may have venous insufficiency. Consult a doctor.

6

Consuming more magnesium

Foot cramping can be a result of magnesium deficiency. Eating more of the following foods, rich in the nutrient, can help:

  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Almond and cashew nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Kale and spinach
  • Beans, lentils, peas

You come also take a quality magnesium supplement. All common magnesium forms – chloride, citrate and oxide – are good.

7

Ice

Ice can reduce foot pain and stop a muscle cramp quickly. I find it especially helpful when dealing with a calf muscle cramp.

Before applying, make sure to separate the ice from the cramped muscle. You can use a thin cloth, a reusable ice bag, or something else. Just don’t apply bear ice to skin, as this can give you a cold burn.

8

Stretching exercises and mobility work

If you’re going to stretch out a foot cramp, warm your muscles up first. I recommend using a heating pad/warm foot bath or massage, as in the two points above.

Once your muscles are warmed up and relaxed, sit or lay down. Keep your legs outstretched in front of you. Point your big toe left, then right. Pull it towards yourself, then push away from yourself. Repeat using all your toes. Be careful not to strain yourself.

If you need to stretch a cramp out for sports, start with mobility exercises for the foot and ankle. Then, continue with exercises for the knee and hip. These will activate the foot, helping stretch the cramp out.

9

Drink more water

Being dehydrated can reduce blood circulation. It can also mean you’re not getting important minerals found in water. Both can cause foot cramping. To prevent cramping, stay hydrated.

10

Move around often

Moving around prevents poor circulation. It’s a low-intensity form of exercise that’s available to most people. It’s a good way to keep cramps at bay, especially when combined with light stretching exercises.

7 Foot Cramp Causes

1. Nutritional Deficiencies

Not getting the nutrients you need can cause foot cramps. Magnesium, potassium and electrolytes are especially important. People with otherwise excellent diets may experience nutrient deficiencies because of…

  • Prolonged fasting or calorie restriction;
  • Undereating fruits and vegetables;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Smoking and alcohol consumption;
  • Medication that reduces serum nutrient levels;
  • Gastrointestinal tract disorders that reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration can reduce blood flow, resulting in a cramping muscle. It can also mean you’re not getting the minerals you need on time. Dehydration isn’t necessarily caused by sweating. It could also be caused by diarrhoea, fasting and overconsumption of sweet/caffeinated drinks.

3. Cold, Constrained Feet

Cold foot and leg muscles are more rigid and less relaxed. This can cause cramping. A common reason is wearing fashion sneakers meant for spring and summer in winter and autumn.

Constricting footwear is another reason for cramping. Tight shoes, high heels and anything else that restricts foot movement can cause muscle cramping.

4. A Sedentary Lifestyle

Sitting or standing for long hours can lead to reduced blood flow. In the long run, it can cause venous insufficiency. If it’s not compensated with regular physical activity, it can cause frequent foot cramps.

5. Excessive Physical Activity

If muscle fatigue builds up, it can lead to chronic muscle tightness. This, in turn, can lead to muscle cramping and stiffness.

6. Excess Weight

Excess weight increases the load on our legs and feet. It doesn’t matter if you’re muscular, tall or overweight.

If you’re losing weight, be careful not to work out too hard. This can easily cause a painful foot or leg cramp. Start with light exercise and walking. Once your body gets used to physical activity, you’ll be less likely to get cramps.

7. Shoe and Insole Quality

Low-quality shoes and insoles can lead to arch fatigue and flat feet. This can increase the load on the foot, calf and knee – and lead to cramps. In some cases, bad shoes can also cut off circulation and cause cramping that way.

8. Flat Feet

Flat feet are caused by collapsed foot arches. This puts a lot of strain on the foot arch. This is especially true if flat feet lead to overpronation, i.e. make the foot roll in. Walking, standing or running on a flat, overpronated foot can give you a severe cramp. If your feet often cramp while you’re moving about, check out our top insole recommendations.

What Is a Foot Cramp?

A foot cramp is an involuntary muscle spasm. Most of the time, it’s caused by poor blood circulation or nutrition. This is often normal. It’s easy to leave the feet without enough blood circulation.

In a healthy body, muscle fibres deliver neural impulses from the brain to the legs and feet. To do this, they need water; calcium; magnesium; potassium. If there aren’t enough minerals or water, the pulse exchange is disrupted. This causes cramping.

Most of the time, cramping doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy. It just means your feet aren’t getting the nutrition and blood flow they need. Just sitting or standing for long hours is enough for a light cramp. If you get foot cramps once or twice a week, and they’re not painful, you are in the normal range.

In some rare cases, cramps can happen for other reasons. Nervous system disorders and venous insufficiency are two examples.

Why Do Children Get Foot Cramps?

For kids, child cramps aren’t always bad. They can happen because a child is growing up quickly. When ligaments and muscles strain to adjust to skeletal development, cramps happen.

Foot cramps can get worse because of temperature changes, flat feet, and prolonged sitting or standing in the same position. They can also be caused by overexertion and nutritional deficiencies.

Broadly speaking, children’s foot cramps need to be treated with a little more care than adults’. If your child has frequent or painful cramps, see a paediatrician.

FAQ

What is a foot cramp?

A foot cramp is an involuntary muscle contraction in your foot. Sometimes, it’s a side-effect of a larger contraction in the calf or leg.

Are nighttime leg cramps dangerous?

In rare cases, nocturnal foot cramps can be a bad sign. They can point to nervous system disorders, nutritional deficiency and dangerously poor circulation. Most of the time, though, they happen for benign reasons – pregnancy, foot stress, temperature changes, etc.

Why do feet cramp during pregnancy?

Usually, pregnancy cramps happen because a woman’s biology changes. Reduces blood circulation, increased load on the feet and nutritional deficiency are some of the main ones. For persistent, painful cramps, see a doctor.

Should I see a doctor for my foot cramps?

You should call a doctor immediately in the following scenarios:

  • A foot cramp lasts more than 4 minutes
  • You have an underlying medical condition
  • Your foot is blue, numb or swollen
  • You have regular foot cramps
  • Your foot cramps make it hard to sit, stand, move or sleep

In Conclusion

To get rid of a foot cramp quickly, use a heating pad, warm foot bath or a light massage. For pain relief, use ice or add epsom salt to the foot bath.

For long-term relief, move around often, watch out for nutritional deficiencies and stay hydrated. Consider geting compression socks if the problem persists.

Writer:

Dr. Katherine Enes

Last Updated:

April 30, 2022

Dr. Katherine Enes

Dr. Enes is a doctor (M.D.) specializing in physical therapy, osteopathy and sports medicine. As a working doctor, she helps patients rehab and improves athletes’ biomechanics.

Dr. Enes is also a sports enthusiast. She’s tried capoeira, Crossfit, Swedish walking and more. Her main sports are general fitness and walking. 

As a writer for Shoethority, Dr. Enes covers biomechanics, injury recovery, injury prevention and more.