Foot cramps happen when a muscle in your foot suddenly squeezes and can’t relax. The feeling you get ranges from a slight tic to an intense spasm that causes a lot of pain.
Foot cramps are usually harmless. Often, you can take care of the pain yourself at home.
When One Strikes
Though you might get a foot cramp because of exercise or other activity, it can just as easily happen when you’re sitting still or sleeping. Your muscle may feel very hard. You might also be able to see it twitching inside your foot. A cramp may last only a few seconds, or it may go on for up to 15 minutes or more.
When your foot muscle tightens up, try these tips to help it relax:
- If you’re sitting or lying down, stand up and put weight on your cramping foot.
- Actively lift your foot and toes, pulling them up toward your nose (if standing, walk on your heels). You can also stretch the muscles by grabbing your foot with your hand or wrapping a towel, necktie, or belt around the ball of your foot and toes, pulling the foot further up toward you nose.
- Rub your muscle gently as you stretch it. Try putting ice on the area while you massage it.
- If ice is not working, put heat on the cramped muscle with a warm towel or heating pad. You can also soak it in warm water.
You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen to help any leftover aches go away.
How Do I Prevent Them?
One key to keeping cramps at bay is to keep your body limber and healthy. Here's how:
Stretch. Warm up your muscles, especially when you know you’ll be using them for a long time. Stretch both before and after you exercise. If you tend to get leg cramps at night, make sure to stretch before you go to bed. Doing a few minutes of light exercise like stationary bike riding before you sleep can help your muscles relax better while you sleep, too.
Hydrate. Plenty of water throughout the day can help ward off cramps. Your body’s cells are happier when they have lots of fluids. Drink more when you’re more active, or when the weather is hot or dry. Keep the water coming. That'll help you and your muscles stay hydrated and relaxed.
Eat a healthy diet. Fill your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables. Be sure to get plenty of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. (Bananas are a good bet.) Cut back on alcohol, too. That can dehydrate you and make you cramp up.
Check your medications. Some come with a side effect of muscle cramps. Even if you can’t switch what you take, you’ll know where your cramps are coming from. That'll make you better prepared to step up other measures to keep you from the pain.
Focus on your footwear. Do you spend a lot of time in heels or other uncomfortable shoes? Make sure your wardrobe isn’t behind your foot woes.
If your foot cramps cause a lot of pain or won’t go away, give your doctor a call. There may be an underlying cause to treat.