Thursday, June 01, 2023
Common Foot Problems FOOT HEALTH

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foot cramp

Foot cramps can be so painful and hard to live with! It’s especially hard if you experience cramping in the foot daily.

Let’s go ahead and discuss everything you need to know about foot cramps and what you can do for them.

What Exactly Are Cramps?

muscle cramp

Cramps are involuntary, painful contractions of a muscle group or a single muscle.

Cramping is a phenomenon that has been studied for many years. It can happen at any time to anyone. It can happen while resting and during activities. Sometimes cramps can last for a few seconds, but they can also go on for several excruciating minutes. This can be so uncomfortable.

It’s important to understand that although this article focuses on foot cramps, cramping is not localized to one specific area and is not necessarily a “foot” problem. 

Causes of Foot Cramps (With Solutions)

The cause of foot cramps is not 100% clear. But certain conditions can cause foot cramps to occur more often. 

Exercise-induced foot cramps

exercise cramps

Bruno Bordoni’s article1 on “Muscle Cramps” discusses two theories that have been suggested to cause exercise-induced muscle cramps. 

The first theory is that cramping could occur secondary to dehydration and also an imbalance of electrolytes.

If you’re sweating during a workout and become dehydrated, it’s possible that cramping in the foot could occur if your muscles are not getting enough water to be able to function properly. However, there are varying opinions on this in the research.  

The second theory suggests that cramping could result from neurological fatigue. Constant contraction of the muscle can occur and cause cramps. 

Many people have experienced cramping in the foot after long runs or high endurance workouts. These activities may cause over fatigue of the muscles, which may cause cramping. 

Cramps are most commonly seen in the arch of the foot and the calf muscle in the leg. 

Solution: Since most cramps occur in the arch of the foot and the calf muscle, performing stretching exercises for this can help.

Calf stretching exercises can be performed and should be performed daily, before and after exercise.

The trick is to stretch the “opposite” muscle group that is cramping. These stretches, when done correctly, can help. 

You can also check out Dr. Emily Kraus’s article on how to prevent exercise-induced cramping. She discusses how to factor in your form when exercising, as well as being aware of your workout terrain.

Night-time cramps 

night time cramps

Cramping in the foot can occur right when you get into bed and also in the middle of the night. 

When it occurs in the middle of the night, it can often wake you up from your sleep and can be incredibly frustrating. 

There are some theories to suggest that cramping in the foot at night may result from overuse of your leg and foot muscles that occur during the day. 

Say, for instance, you work a physically demanding job where you are standing or walking for long periods of time. You may notice more cramps in your feet and your legs at night. 

Of course, dehydration could make this issue worse. Make sure to stay hydrated!

You can read about how dehydration can affect your feet in this supplemental article.

Pro tip: If you stand all day long, you may want to invest in compression stockings. Compression stockings will help with leg swelling. You can go to a medical supply store and have your ankle and calf measured for appropriate size and fit of the stockings.

If you choose to buy them online, I recommend the Jobst Activewear 20-30mmHg compression stockings.

Make sure that you measure your ankle and calf circumference to find out your exact size before ordering. 

You’ll want to make sure to wear the stockings during the day, and remove them at night. One pair of good stockings can last up to 6 months.

Another reason that foot cramps could be occurring at night is that when you sleep, your foot is plantarflexed. 


A “plantarflexed” foot position means that your foot and toes point in a downwards direction. When this happens at night, your calf muscles and plantar fascia (the ligament in your arch) become contracted. This can cause foot cramps to worsen. 

Fiona Blyton’s article3 in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research suggests that the calf muscle is where most cramping occurs at night, followed by the foot. You can see the breakdown here

Solution: Other than performing calf muscle stretching exercises, you may benefit from sleeping with a night splint on your leg. 

A dorsiflexion night splint allows your ankle to stay in an upwards direction at night, which can alleviate the tightness of both your calf muscle and your plantar fascia. 

I prefer the United Ortho Night Splint. It is adjustable, meaning that you can adjust the level of dorsiflexion. I would aim to have at least 10 degrees of dorsiflexion in the ankle when you sleep.

Pro tip: Night splints work well for people who sleep on their back or their side. You won’t be able to tolerate sleeping with a night splint on if you sleep on your stomach. The splint takes a little getting used to, but can certainly help.

In addition to performing stretching exercises, mild exercises before bed may be beneficial. You can try riding a bike for a few minutes or even going for a short walk before bed. 

Peripheral vascular disease

peripheral vascular disease

You may notice that you experience cramping in your foot and your leg when walking. If you are unable to walk even a couple of blocks without experiencing severe charlie horses in your calves and your foot, this could suggest that the blood supply to your lower extremities is not good.  

Sometimes if the blood supply is very restricted, you may experience pain at rest. This could suggest that the lack of blood flow to your foot may be more severe. 

Solution: If these symptoms occur, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor for a referral to see a Vascular surgeon. He/she may order arterial testing to examine your arteries and determine how good the blood flow is to your foot. It’s important to get this non-invasive test done. If the lack of blood flow to your foot is severe, you may need surgery.

Pregnancy-induced cramping

pregnancy cramps

In pregnancy, a lot of changes happen to the body. Your feet tend to get more swollen, especially as the pregnancy progresses. Your muscles have to work harder to move around and can be subject to fatigue. 

Also with weight gain associated with pregnancy, nerve impingement can occur and mimic cramping. 

Luckily, mild leg/foot cramping will not negatively affect your baby.

Related article: Interesting Reasons Why Your Feet Are Swelling During Pregnancy

What about Magnesium supplements? Can they help?


Antimo Moretti in his article2 in the Journal of Musculoskeletal & Neuronal interaction stated that in a Cochrane Review study done on 735 patients who were given Magnesium supplements, they found that overall Magnesium was not effective to relieve pain associated with skeletal muscle cramps.   

Solution: A prenatal massage can certainly help with the pain associated with cramping. Not only can a massage help you relax and relieve stress, but it can also help improve your blood flow and relieve muscle tension. Those achy feet could use it!



If you have diabetes, you may experience cramping in the foot. Symptoms of neuropathy from diabetes can sometimes feel similar to charlie horses. In addition, diabetics who also have peripheral vascular disease may be at higher risk for foot cramps.  

Solution: It’s important to manage your blood glucose levels to prevent peripheral neuropathy from worsening. Elevated glucose levels can lead to worsening neuropathy and worsening symptoms.

If you experience pain from neuropathy, your doctor may want to start you on oral medication to help with this. 

If you want to read more about diabetic neuropathy and diabetic ulcers, you can read this supplemental blog post here

Medication-induced Cramps


Dr. Richard Allen MD in his article4 in the American Family Physician Journal states that over 100 medications can cause cramping. Some of these medications include but are not limited to: 

  • Naproxen
  • Raloxifene
  • Certain statins 
  • Furosemide
  • Clonazepam
  • Citalopram

How Are Cramps Diagnosed?


Diagnosing foot cramps can be difficult. It is more of a clinical diagnosis. Your doctor will take your history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor will want to check your foot pulses to make sure that you don’t have peripheral vascular disease. 

Your doctor will also want to check your reflexes. 

Your doctor may also want to see how you walk to make sure there are no issues with your gait.

There are no exact blood tests that can identify cramps. However, blood tests may be ordered regardless because they can help identify certain conditions that may make you more prone to developing cramps. 

For instance, if your doctor is concerned that you may have neuropathy which may be causing your cramping symptoms, he/she may choose to order Vitamin B12 levels and also want to check your Hemoglobin A1c (to rule out diabetes). 

Treatment Options for Cramping in the Foot

As we already discussed previously, stretching exercises and deep tissue massage may be beneficial for foot cramps. 

In addition, if you experience significant muscle fatigue, gentle physical therapy may help. 

Quinine used to be recommended for cramping, but not any longer. The FDA has approved quinine for malaria, but not for foot cramps, due to adverse effects associated with the medication.  

There are small studies that suggest that taking a multivitamin may help. You will want to talk to your doctor about your specific symptoms and get recommendations on medications that could help with foot cramps.

For instance, certain medications like Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant drug, may help with cramping, and can also help you sleep. This should be discussed with your doctor. 


cramping foot

In conclusion, foot cramps can be so painful and frustrating to live with. Everyone may experience cramps at some point. However, if the cramping in your foot worsens or increases in intensity, it’s time to contact your doctor. 

Have you ever experienced foot cramps before? Is there anything that helped you? Leave a comment below!

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  1. Bordoni B, Sugumar K, Varacallo M. Muscle Cramps. [Updated 2022 Feb 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
  2. Moretti A. (2021). What is the role of magnesium in skeletal muscle cramps? A Cochrane Review summary with commentary. Journal of musculoskeletal & neuronal interactions21(1), 1–3.
  3. Blyton, F., Chuter, V., & Burns, J. (2012). Unknotting night-time muscle cramp: a survey of patient experience, help-seeking behavior, and perceived treatment effectiveness. Journal of foot and ankle research5, 7.
  4. RICHARD E. ALLEN, MD (2012). Nocturnal Leg Cramps. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Aug 15;86(4):350-355.
  5. Hitti, Miranda (2006). FDA: Don’t Use Quinine for Leg Cramps. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from
  6. Kraus, Emily (2016). How Athletes Can Prevent Muscle Cramps|Bridge Athletic. Retrieved May 25, 2022 from
  7. Watson, Stephanie (2021). Leg Cramps During Pregnancy. Retrieved May 25, 2022 from

DISCLAIMER: The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Vaishnavi Bawa
Dr. Vaishnavi Bawa is a Podiatrist who specializes in treating foot and ankle pathology. LifesLittleSteps mission is to educate the public about foot health in an easy-to-understand manner using evidence-based medicine.
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