Foot cramps often occur in the top of the feet, around the toes or in the arches of the feet and are caused by spasm of the muscles in the feet, that are painful and uncomfortable. These types of cramps are able to freeze the muscles, not allowing you to move until the cramp has passed. If these types of spasms only occur occasionally, there’s usually no reason to worry and they go away on their own with light stretching and massage. However, there are foot cramps that turn to a chronic form. In such cases, these types of foot cramps should be checked out by a doctor.
What causes foot cramps?
There are several different triggers and conditions that can lead to foot cramps. They include:
One cause of foot cramps that is relatively common is wearing shoes that are too tight or respectively too small. If the shoes are too tight, they rub blisters on your feet and can cut off circulation. Since movement is constricted, tight shoes can lead to muscle cramping.
Shoes should be loose enough so that you can freely wiggle your toes inside the shoes and the feet shouldn’t fall asleep. If you’ve noticed that your shoes are restricting movement or cutting off your circulation, you should check whether the shoe size you’re wearing is the right one for you.
When you’re dehydrated, your feet and other muscles can cramp. When there isn’t enough water for your organs and tissues to function the way they should, it means your body is dehydrated. Not drinking enough water, or losing fluids, such as after vomiting or having diarrhea, can lead to dehydration. There are some symptoms of dehydration that can let you know that you need to drink more water. These are: having a dry mouth, having chapped lips, dry skin, getting headaches, a foul-smelling breath, craving sweets, dark concentrated urine, and decreased urine output. Severe dehydration can also cause chills and fever.
Too much exercise
When you exercise too much, you can strain the muscles in your feet, which can lead to cramps. If you notice these spasms occurring while or after you exercise, you should slow down your routine while doing more stretches.
Not enough potassium
Low levels of potassium can lead to muscle cramping which especially occurs in the feet and legs. Potassium is an electrolyte that is responsible for controlling muscle cells and the way our nerves function. People who have chronic low potassium are also very likely to get muscle cramps. In its beginning stages, chronic low potassium usually doesn’t show any symptoms. However, when it becomes severe, low potassium can lead to fatigue, weakness, constipation, and cramping in the muscles.
Damage to the nerves
Damage to the nerves can also lead to pain that is often mistaken for muscle cramping but is actually peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is when the feet and hands are numb or weak. Nerve damage is often caused by diabetes, but can also be caused by an injury, infection, genetic issues, metabolic issues or by being exposed to a toxin. Pain that is caused by nerve damage may tingle, feel numb, stab, burn, feel cold, or you might be extremely sensitive to contact. Nerve damage is diagnosed by undergoing a neurological exam. The doctor will check your sense of feeling, muscle tone, strength, and coordination.
Medication side effects
Some medications can lead to muscle cramps as a side effect. Medications that are likely to cause this side effect include:
- statin drugs that are used to treat high cholesterol
- medications used to treat osteoporosis
- diuretics such as Lasix and Microzide
- drugs for asthma that contain albuterol or terbutaline
- drugs used to treat myasthenia gravis
- medications that are used for high blood pressure such as Procardia and
- Parkinson’s disease treatments such as Tasmar
If you’ve been experiencing foot cramps and have been taking one of these medications, you should speak to your doctor about it as you might need to switch medications.
How can foot cramps be treated?
Treating foot cramps depends on what’s been causing these muscle spasms. If you know that you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes, you can have your foot measured and always make sure that you purchase the right type of shoes. Should you be diagnosed with dehydration, your doctor will instruct you to drink a lot of fluids and electrolyte drinks at home. Intravenous fluids may be appointed to those with severe dehydration. If you have low levels of potassium, magnesium or calcium, your doctor might recommend you to take supplements. These can help raise your nutrient levels. If the case is severe, you might need to get IV potassium.
If your doctor diagnoses you with nerve damage, the reason behind this nerve damage will also be the determining factor in appointing the type of treatment. Pain caused by nerve damage can often be treated with pain relievers, topical creams, antidepressants and medications that are usually used for epilepsy, as this helps to ease nerve pain. Other treatment options involve physical therapy, surgery, TENS therapy, plasmapheresis, or IV immune globulin.
Should a certain medication be the reason why you’ve been experiencing muscle cramps, your doctor will check whether you can switch those medications and get relief from this uncomfortable side effect.
Foot cramps that are acute usually go away on their own with light stretching and resting. However, if you’ve been experiencing foot cramps often and don’t know what is causing them, you should get it checked out by a foot specialist. It is important that you rule out more severe causes, such as nerve damage or medications side-effect. Only after diagnosing the cause of the muscle cramps, your doctor will be able to give you the proper treatment plan.