What Causes Foot Cramps?

Foot cramps are, like other muscle cramps, painful muscle contractions. They happen quickly and can last anywhere from a couple of seconds to a few minutes.

Most commonly, foot cramps affect the arches of the feet. They can happen in the toe area and on the top of the foot, too. They can happen any time of the day or night, as well as during or after strenuous activity.

Foot cramps are usually nothing to worry about, though sometimes they can be a symptom of a larger and more serious problem. In this article, we’ll investigate what causes foot cramps and how to deal with them.

Foot Cramp Causes

Inactivity

As with many other conditions and diseases, physical inactivity can also play a role in foot cramps. It is, in fact, one of the most common causes of both daytime and nighttime foot cramps.

If you sit with a poor posture, you might prevent blood from flowing down your legs, thus causing painful cramps. Also, poor sitting posture might compress the nerves, again causing cramps.

Uncomfortable sleeping position may sometimes cause nighttime cramps. If that’s the case, you might want to change your sleeping position or mattress. To avoid inactivity-induced foot cramps, make sure you get enough exercise throughout the day.

Overexertion

On the other side, there’s physical overexertion. Similar to its polar opposite, overexertion can cause the muscles in your feet to cramp. Foot cramps caused by excessively strenuous exercise can hit people of all fitness levels.

Along with cramps during and immediately after the training session, they can also strike in the middle of the night when your body relaxes.

If you get cramps due to overexertion, you should take it as a signal to slow down and modify your training routine. Reduced activity will reduce the amount of stress in your foot muscles and allow them to recuperate.

Tight Shoes

Along with inactivity, tight and uncomfortable shoes are the leading cause of foot cramps. Whatever shoes you decide to wear, your toes have to have room to move. Also, make sure your feet don’t fall asleep in your shoes. Super-tight shoes can also cause blisters on your feet and impede blood circulation.

Walking on hard surfaces can also cause your feet to cramp because of the extra work your muscles have to do to keep you walking. Concrete and marble floors, as well as other hard surfaces, can cause your feet to cramp.

If you get blisters or the shoes constrict circulation, you might consider purchasing bigger shoes. Additionally, stretch and massage your feet when you take off your shoes.

Pregnancy

A percentage of pregnant women may also experience foot cramps during the night. This is especially common in the middle and later stages of the pregnancy.

At this time, the definitive cause of nighttime foot cramps in pregnant women hasn’t been discovered, though they are suspected to be related to dehydration and lack of magnesium and other important nutrients. The cramps have also been linked to significant weight gains during pregnancy.

To fight off foot cramps, pregnant women should stay active, drink enough water, wear comfortable shoes, take magnesium supplements, and stretch their foot and calf muscles.

Medications

A range of medications can cause muscle cramps (including leg and foot cramps) as a side effect. The list includes but is not limited to:

  • High blood pressure medications. Some blood pressure drugs (diuretics) are known for causing muscle cramps. The cramps happen due to decreased levels of potassium in your body due to frequent urination after taking diuretics.
  • Birth control pills. Some experts claim that taking birth control pills can result in leg and foot muscle cramps.
  • A study published in 2010 found that foot cramps are one of the side effects of cholesterol-lowering statins. The research posits that individuals who take statins have a higher chance of developing foot cramps after or during strenuous training.

Health Issues

Along with medications, certain diseases and health conditions can cause foot cramps. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most prominent.

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis. Lumbar spinal stenosis can cause pretty severe cramps in legs and feet. A group of Japanese researches determined that the occurrence of nighttime foot cramps in patients who had received surgical treatment for LSS is far lower than in patients who hadn’t.
  • Peripheral artery disease. The most common symptoms of PAD (peripheral artery disease) are cramps in feet, legs, and hips. Also, the patients s usually also have cold feet and calves.
  • Kidney disease. Along with a slew of other symptoms, kidney disease also includes foot and leg cramps. The severity of the cramps varies from patient to patient.
  • An article published in 2014 by Dr. Hans Katzberg strongly associates diabetes-induced neuropathy and nephropathy with muscle cramps. Diabetic neuropathy usually starts with foot and leg cramps, pain, and numbness.
  • Parkinson’s disease. Those suffering from Parkinson’s disease are likely to experience dystonia. It is a movement disorder caused by incorrect brain signals that prompt various muscles in the body (including foot muscles) to contract.

Low Potassium Levels

Low potassium levels (hypokalemia) can be caused by dehydration, excessive sweating, vomiting, and kidney diseases. The imbalance in potassium levels is linked to foot and leg cramps mainly as part of a bigger renal health issue.

Low Magnesium Levels

A study published in July 1996 by D. L. Bilbey and V. M. Prabhakaran examined two patients suffering from magnesium deficiency. It found that low magnesium levels were strongly correlated to the occurrence of muscle cramps. The lack of magnesium prevents muscle from relaxing, thus playing a role in cramps.

Dehydration

Poor hydration plays a role in a huge number of health conditions, one of which is muscle cramps (or foot cramps in this case). Dehydration can also be a consequence of a range of illnesses and conditions. Finally, strenuous exercise and hard physical work can also dehydrate the body.

When your body is dehydrated and low on electrolytes, regardless of the cause, the muscles become more susceptible to cramping, pain, and spasms. Dehydration-induced cramps may occur at any time of the day or night.

Alcohol

Excessive alcohol intake can quickly drain your body of water and important nutrients. It may cause many unpleasant side effects, including foot and leg cramps.

Moreover, heavy drinking might damage nerves and result in alcoholic neuropathy. Some of the most common symptoms include muscle cramps, tingling, weakness, and numbness in legs and arms.

The Takeaway

What causes foot cramps? Commonly, tight shoes and hard floors are to blame. Exceptionally hard exercise or an increased workload can cause them, too. Cramps can hit at any time of the day or night. Oftentimes, they go away on their own and are nothing to worry about.

If the cramps happen frequently and you’re not sure about the cause, it is recommended to contact your health care provider and schedule an appointment. Sometimes, foot cramps can be a symptom or side effect of a more serious condition or disease.

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/leg-cramps-during-pregnancy/faq-20057766
http://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/types-of-blood-pressure-medications
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2949584/
https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/za1086
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990082/
http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/BloodPressureandyou/Yourbody/Peripheralarterydisease
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-neuropathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20371580
http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/37/1/e17
https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/information-and-support/muscle-cramps-and-dystonia
https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/hypokalemia/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2146789/
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000714.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4206379/

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