Cramping in the feet and toes is common. Although it can be inconvenient and painful – it’s usually nothing to worry about. However, if foot cramps are happening regularly, there might be an underlying cause.
What do foot cramps feel like?
A foot cramp can feel like a tearing sensation along the arch of your foot. Cramps can incorporate the top of the foot too, with pain curling from your ankle to your big toe joint.
During a cramp, your foot may feel ‘locked’ into position. You might also feel a searing or burning sensation. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to around fifteen minutes.
Why do foot cramps happen?
There are several reasons why you might be getting foot cramps. Here are the most common:
- Footwear – shoes that are too tight can cause foot cramps by restricting the natural movement of the foot muscles. Tight footwear also restricts blood circulation to the feet. Shoes (e.g. stilettos) which force the foot into unnatural positions can also lead to foot and toe cramps.
- Exercise – certain forms of exercise, such as running, can bring on foot cramps. One reason is that the muscle groups in the feet can experience fatigue and spasming after repeatedly contracting and relaxing during the activity. Another explanation could be the signal from the brain to the muscle fails temporarily – so the muscle contracts but doesn’t relax – leaving you with cramp.1
- Overuse of the feet – if you’ve been driving a lot, or operating a machine with a foot pedal, this can lead to cramps in the feet and toes from the repetitive movement.
- An imbalance – it has been suggested that both dehydration and low levels of electrolytes in the body could contribute to cramp.2 Getting more magnesium could also help prevent cramps. 3
- Medications – certain medications, such as statins and diuretics (water tablets) have muscle cramping as side-effects.4
Sometimes, foot cramps just happen and there is no obvious cause.
How can foot cramps be helped?
Wearing the correct size footwear, staying hydrated and being mindful of the side-effects of any medications we take are all good places to start to reduce the instances of foot cramp. Warming up the feet with some stretches before exercise is also a good idea to gently activate your muscles to avoid fatigue.
Massage and stretches may also help
For cramp in the arch of your foot, gently press along the arch with your fingers. The muscle may feel knotted or hard to touch. A simple press-and-release motion should ease the muscle out of its spasm.
If the cramp is in the ball of your foot or in your toes, try this
Sitting in a chair, pull the cramping foot to rest on the opposite thigh. Gently pull your toes back towards your ankle, so you feel a stretch in the arch. Repeat this a few times.
Then, push your toes down towards the ball of your foot. You should feel a pull along the knuckles of your toes and along the top of the foot. Repeat a few times.
Last updated: 22 May 2020
2 Bergeron M. Muscle cramps during exercise: is it fatigue or electrolyte deficit? Curr Sports Med Rep. 2008;7:S50-S55