Muscle cramps are the involuntary contractions of a muscle. These spasms can occur during daily activities or wake a person in the middle of the night.
Like other muscle cramps, foot cramps can cause mild-to-intense pain until the muscle relaxes and the cramping ends. A gentle massage or stretching exercises can often help the muscle return to a relaxed state.
Foot cramps are a common occurrence and rarely a cause of concern. People who have frequent or chronic foot cramps can speak to their doctor about their symptoms.
There are many potential causes of this condition. In this article, we discuss the common causes of foot cramps as well as how to prevent and treat them.
Most of the causes of foot cramps are harmless and temporary. These muscle cramps are often easy to treat and prevent. The following sections list the most likely causes of foot cramps.
Hypokalemia may cause foot cramps.
Potassium is an electrolyte that helps control functions that are vital to muscle movement and maintenance. When potassium levels dip too low, a person may experience cramping in the feet and legs.
If a person's potassium levels are frequently low, they may have a potassium deficiency, which doctors call hypokalemia.
In moderate-to-severe cases of hypokalemia, a person may experience:
A doctor can diagnose hypokalemia by testing potassium levels in the blood and urine.
People at all fitness levels, from beginners to top athletes, can experience muscle cramps if they push their muscles too far compared with their usual activity levels.
According to a 2019 article, exercise-related muscle cramps are the condition that most commonly requires medical attention when people participate in sports.
If a person exerts themselves too forcefully during their workout or sports practice, overworked muscles can spasm more and cause foot cramps.
When a person becomes dehydrated, their body lacks the necessary amount of water to help the tissues and organs function correctly. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping throughout the body, including the feet.
Dehydration can occur for several different reasons, including:
- not drinking enough water
Some people may not realize that they are not drinking enough water. If any of the following symptoms occur, a person may be dehydrated and require treatment:
- dry mouth
- craving sweets
- skin drying out
- concentrated urine, which will appear darker than usual
- chapped lips
- bad breath
- lack of urination
Overly tight shoes
When a person's shoes are too tight, they can reduce blood circulation to the foot. When blood is no longer circulating as it should, the muscles in the foot can cramp.
Signs that a person's footwear is too tight include the following:
- the feet starting to feel numb
- an inability to wiggle the toes in the shoes
- an uncomfortable rubbing against the heels or toes
- the shoes leaving indentations in the feet
By replacing their restrictive footwear with well-fitted shoes, people can prevent circulation problems.
Medication side effects
Several types of medication can cause muscle cramping as a side effect. These include:
- asthma medication
- statin drugs
- neostigmine (Prostigmin)
- medications for Parkinson's disease
- osteoporosis drugs
- medicines for Alzheimer's disease
- blood pressure medication
However, not everyone will experience muscle cramps after taking these medications.
Nerve damage does not cause cramping. However, the pain and discomfort that it causes in parts of the body can feel like cramping.
It is possible that a person will feel the effects of nerve damage in their feet. People with diabetes are particularly prone to nerve damage in this part of the body.
People may also experience nerve damage if they have:
- had exposure to toxins
- certain genetic disorders
- metabolic issues
- had an injury in or near their foot
- been taking certain drugs to treat cancer
Remedies and treatment
A person can drink water or drinks with electrolytes in them to treat dehydration.
The best remedies and treatments will vary depending on what is causing a person to experience cramping in their feet. In most cases, people can relieve cramping with light stretching and gentle massages.
If low potassium levels are causing muscle cramps, people can try taking potassium supplements. Otherwise, they can increase their dietary intake by eating potassium-rich foods, such as potatoes and bananas.
Most people should be able to treat dehydration by drinking water or drinks with electrolytes in them. Dehydration may require medical intervention if a person cannot keep fluids down. In these cases, intravenous fluids may be necessary.
If overexercising is the cause of foot cramps, a person can reduce the amount of time that they spend exercising or decrease the intensity of the exercise. Sports massages can also help.
When shoes are the problem, people can relieve cramps by changing their footwear. Many shoe stores offer foot-measuring services to help people find shoes that fit properly.
If a medication is causing cramping, a person should make their prescribing doctor aware of this side effect. The doctor may be able to suggest an alternative medication or treatment method.
Finally, a healthcare professional may be able to provide medication, creams, or other therapies to help alleviate problems relating to nerve damage.
Some foot cramps are preventable. For example, people can often prevent foot cramps by using the following methods:
- exercising within a comfortable limit and wearing suitable sports shoes
- eating a diet rich in vital nutrients, including potassium
- drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
- wearing well-fitted shoes
- changing any medication that is causing muscle cramps, under a doctor's instructions
Foot cramps tend to be easy to treat, and most are preventable. Maintaining a healthful diet, sufficient levels of fluid, and a manageable exercise routine can often help prevent and treat foot cramping.
If nerve damage is causing the foot cramps, a person may need medical treatment to help relieve the pain.