For those who’ve had the experience, it’s hard to imagine a more unwelcome surprise than a foot cramp. Although these muscle spasms are rarely medically serious and often last only a few minutes, the fact that they strike seemingly at random, coupled with the fact that the pain can be quite intense and even immobilizing, make them a highly frustrating nuisance. Although any muscle can cramp, they tend to be quite common in feet, especially inside the arch and on the big toe. But what are they, why do they happen, and most importantly, what can you do about them?
In the simplest terms, cramps are muscles functioning improperly. Most of your muscles are designed to work in teams of two. In order to move an arm, a toe, or any other part of your skeleton, one muscle contracts (gets shorter) while its partner relaxes (gets longer). Usually this process is so seamless that we rarely have to think about it, but when one of your muscles temporarily loses the ability to relax, a muscle cramp is the result.
Targeting the Cause of Cramps
There are myriad reasons that a given muscle could cramp up, but most of the time it happens you can pin it on one of two broad problems: fatigue or inadequate nutrition. If your muscles aren’t being fed the chemicals they need to function optimally, then over time they will be more prone to temporary breakdowns. If you subject them to too much physical abuse, the same thing can happen.
Essential vitamins you need in balanced levels in your diet in order to avoid foot cramps include Vitamin B6, D, and E; potassium; calcium; and magnesium. It’s also important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, as dehydration causes a drop in many of the above nutrients.
The other main cause of foot cramps, fatigue, is usually caused by overuse—putting too much stress on your feet over an excessive period of time greatly heightens your risk. Dancers, runners, and athletes frequently experience problems, although non-athletes are affected, too, especially those who are a little older, or are a little heavier or less in shape than they’d like to be. Weakened muscles are less able to withstand the constant force of supporting your weight.
Finally, there are a wide variety of underlying medical causes that could lead to cramps. One of the most common is diabetes; nerve damage associated with the condition can scramble signals between your brain and muscles (so they don’t know when to relax), while reduced circulation slows the pipeline of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
In the Moment: What to Do When Cramps Strike
Most cramps only last few a few minutes, but there are a number of simple remedies you can employ to encourage muscles to disengage. Heat and massage are effective muscle relaxers as they increase blood flow, stimulating your body’s natural pipeline for distributing nutrients and clearing waste products. Gently stretching your feet and calves in the moments after the onset of pain can also release seized-up muscles.
A Game Plan for Prevention
Once you zero in on a likely culprit, it can help you determine what kind of preventative measures or lifestyle changes will be most effective at stopping recurring foot cramps.
Eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water will boost nutrient flow, while regular stretching and strengthening exercises build up your muscles’ ability to fight off fatigue. It’s important to remember, however, that you should always warm up and cool down, get plenty of rest, and you should never launch into a rigorous exercise program suddenly. A slow and steady build-up reduces your risk of serious injury, especially if you haven’t been very active in the past.
What the Doctor Can Do for You
If you’re struggling with particularly painful or persistent foot cramps, call Family Foot and Ankle Center. We’ll provide a full examination, ask you about any medications, medical history, or lifestyle habits in order to precisely identify the cause of your pain and help you deal with it. Give us a call at (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572 to set up an appointment today.