What Causes Foot Cramps

Dehydration can occur for several different reasons, including:

Causes and Treatment of Cramps in Your Feet

Foot cramps are caused by an uncomfortable, painful spasming of the muscles in your feet. They often occur in the arches of your feet, on top of your feet, or around your toes. Cramps like these can stop you in your tracks, limiting the mobility in your feet and even freezing the muscles in a spasm until the cramp passes.

Occasional foot cramps usually aren’t a cause for concern, and they go away with light stretching and massage. However, chronic or recurring foot cramps should be evaluated by your doctor.

Cramps in your feet can be caused by several different conditions or triggers, including:

Too-tight shoes

If your feet are cramping, it’s possible that your shoes could be too tight. Too-tight shoes can rub blisters on your feet and cut off circulation. They can also create muscle cramping in your feet because your movement is constricted. You should be able to wiggle your toes inside your shoes, and your toes and feet shouldn’t fall asleep when you wear them.

If you’ve noticed your shoes rubbing your toes and heels, restricting your movement, cutting off your circulation, or leaving indentations in your skin, you might need to double-check your actual foot size against the size shoe you’re wearing. Then, purchase an appropriately-sized pair.

Dehydration

Being dehydrated can cause your feet (and other muscles) to cramp. Your body becomes dehydrated when you’re not getting enough water for your organs and tissues to function properly. Because being dehydrated means your muscles aren’t getting the water they need, they begin to malfunction, which causes the pain and spasms associated with cramping.

Neglecting to drink enough water can cause dehydration. You can also become dehydrated if you’re losing fluid. For example, gastroenteritis infections that cause you to vomit and have diarrhea can cause dehydration.

It’s also possible to become dehydrated through strenuous activities (losing fluid through sweat) or from neglecting to hydrate properly in hot temperatures. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • dry mouth
  • chapped lips
  • dry skin
  • headaches
  • foul-smelling breath
  • decreased urine output
  • dark, concentrated urine
  • chills
  • fever
  • cravings for sweets

Your doctor can check your urine and vital signs to diagnose dehydration.

Overexertion

Exercising too much or too hard can put unneeded strain on the muscles in your feet, causing them to cramp. You may be in top shape, but working out too hard could be causing you to cramp.

On the other hand, you may not be in great physical shape, and doing too much, too fast can also lead to cramping. Moderate your exercise and back off if you think you might be pushing too hard.

Low levels of potassium

Potassium is an electrolyte that helps control muscle cell and nerve functioning. Having low potassium can cause muscle cramping, particularly in your feet and legs.

Chronic low potassium, or hypokalemia, can cause cramping in your muscles. Hypokalemia doesn’t always cause symptoms when it’s mild. When it becomes severe, it can cause:

  • fatigue
  • cramping in your muscles
  • constipation
  • weakness
  • abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)

To diagnose hypokalemia, your doctor will measure potassium levels in your blood and urine. Sometimes, low levels of calcium and magnesium can also cause muscle cramping.

Nerve damage

Damage to the nerves in your feet, also known as peripheral neuropathy, can cause pain that could be mistaken for muscle cramping. It can cause your feet and hands to feel numb, painful, or weak.

Diabetes commonly causes nerve damage, but it can also be caused by toxin exposure, genetic issues, an injury or infection, or metabolic issues.

Nerve damage is characterized by pain that:

  • burns or feels cold
  • tingles or pricks
  • feels numb
  • stabs
  • feels extremely sensitive to contact

To diagnose nerve damage, you’ll have to undergo a neurological exam. Your coordination, sense of feeling, reflexes, muscle tone and strength, and posture will be checked as part of the evaluation. Your doctor will also want to investigate what the root cause of your nerve damage is so that it can be managed, too.

Medications

Some medications can cause your muscles to cramp as a side effect. These can include:

  • statin drugs for high cholesterol, like Crestor, Pravachol, Zocor, Lescol, Mevacor, or Lipitor
  • medications that help your body shed excess fluid (diuretics), like Microzide and Lasix
  • asthma drugs containing albuterol or terbutaline
  • Aricept for Alzheimer’s disease
  • medications for osteoporosis, like Evista
  • drugs to treat myasthenia gravis, like Prostigmine
  • medications for high blood pressure and chest pain, like Procardia
  • Parkinson’s disease treatments like Tasmar

If you take one or more of these medications and think they could be causing your foot cramps, talk with your doctor.

Causes and treatment of foot cramp

Foot cramps are a type of muscle cramp that occurs most often either in the arch of the foot, near the toes, or on the upper part of the foot. People can try a range of remedies and treatments to relieve foot cramps.

Muscle cramps are the involuntary contractions of a muscle. These spasms can occur during daily activities or wake a person in the middle of the night.

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Like other muscle cramps, foot cramps can cause mild-to-intense pain until the muscle relaxes and the cramping ends. A gentle massage or stretching exercises can often help the muscle return to a relaxed state.

Foot cramps are a common occurrence and rarely a cause of concern. People who have frequent or chronic foot cramps can speak to their doctor about their symptoms.

There are many potential causes of this condition. In this article, we discuss the common causes of foot cramps as well as how to prevent and treat them.

Most of the causes of foot cramps are harmless and temporary. These muscle cramps are often easy to treat and prevent. The following sections list the most likely causes of foot cramps.

Low potassium

Woman holding her foot due to foot cramp

Potassium is an electrolyte that helps control functions that are vital to muscle movement and maintenance. When potassium levels dip too low, a person may experience cramping in the feet and legs.

If a person’s potassium levels are frequently low, they may have a potassium deficiency, which doctors call hypokalemia.

In moderate-to-severe cases of hypokalemia, a person may experience:

  • cramping
  • fatigue and weakness
  • abnormal heartbeat
  • constipation

A doctor can diagnose hypokalemia by testing potassium levels in the blood and urine.

Overexercising

People at all fitness levels, from beginners to top athletes, can experience muscle cramps if they push their muscles too far compared with their usual activity levels.

According to a 2019 article , exercise-related muscle cramps are the condition that most commonly requires medical attention when people participate in sports.

If a person exerts themselves too forcefully during their workout or sports practice, overworked muscles can spasm more and cause foot cramps.

Dehydration

When a person becomes dehydrated, their body lacks the necessary amount of water to help the tissues and organs function correctly. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping throughout the body, including the feet.

Dehydration can occur for several different reasons, including:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • not drinking enough water
  • exercise
  • overheating

Some people may not realize that they are not drinking enough water. If any of the following symptoms occur, a person may be dehydrated and require treatment:

  • chills
  • dry mouth
  • craving sweets
  • skin drying out
  • fever
  • concentrated urine, which will appear darker than usual
  • chapped lips
  • headaches
  • bad breath
  • lack of urination

Overly tight shoes

When a person’s shoes are too tight, they can reduce blood circulation to the foot. When blood is no longer circulating as it should, the muscles in the foot can cramp.

Signs that a person’s footwear is too tight include the following:

  • the feet starting to feel numb
  • an inability to wiggle the toes in the shoes
  • an uncomfortable rubbing against the heels or toes
  • the shoes leaving indentations in the feet

By replacing their restrictive footwear with well-fitted shoes, people can prevent circulation problems.

Medication side effects

Several types of medication can cause muscle cramping as a side effect. These include:

  • asthma medication
  • statin drugs
  • neostigmine (Prostigmin)
  • medications for Parkinson’s disease
  • osteoporosis drugs
  • medicines for Alzheimer’s disease
  • diuretics
  • blood pressure medication

However, not everyone will experience muscle cramps after taking these medications.

Nerve damage

Nerve damage does not cause cramping. However, the pain and discomfort that it causes in parts of the body can feel like cramping.

It is possible that a person will feel the effects of nerve damage in their feet. People with diabetes are particularly prone to nerve damage in this part of the body.

People may also experience nerve damage if they have:

  • had exposure to toxins
  • certain genetic disorders
  • metabolic issues
  • had an injury in or near their foot
  • been taking certain drugs to treat cancer

Share on Pinterest A person can drink water or drinks with electrolytes in them to treat dehydration.

The best remedies and treatments will vary depending on what is causing a person to experience cramping in their feet. In most cases, people can relieve cramping with light stretching and gentle massages.

If low potassium levels are causing muscle cramps, people can try taking potassium supplements. Otherwise, they can increase their dietary intake by eating potassium-rich foods, such as potatoes and bananas.

Most people should be able to treat dehydration by drinking water or drinks with electrolytes in them. Dehydration may require medical intervention if a person cannot keep fluids down. In these cases, intravenous fluids may be necessary.

If overexercising is the cause of foot cramps, a person can reduce the amount of time that they spend exercising or decrease the intensity of the exercise. Sports massages can also help.

When shoes are the problem, people can relieve cramps by changing their footwear. Many shoe stores offer foot-measuring services to help people find shoes that fit properly.

If a medication is causing cramping, a person should make their prescribing doctor aware of this side effect. The doctor may be able to suggest an alternative medication or treatment method.

Finally, a healthcare professional may be able to provide medication, creams, or other therapies to help alleviate problems relating to nerve damage.

What Causes Foot Cramps and How to Stop Them

Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.

Published on March 29, 2022

Adam H. Kaplan, DPM, is a podiatrist who has been in private practice for over 5 years in New Jersey and specializes in a wide scope of foot care.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Muscle cramps are sustained, painful, involuntary contractions of muscles. While muscle spasms and cramps can occur in various parts of the body, they are most common in the muscles of the legs and feet.

This article will cover common causes of foot cramps and tips for everyday management.

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Man with foot cramp

Foot Cramps Sensation

Muscle cramps in the feet feel like intense contractions, most commonly in the arches of the feet or toes, that cannot be controlled. The muscle contractions can last for several seconds or minutes, causing intense tightening of the muscle, pain, and a sharp or deep aching sensation. Pain tends to subside when the muscle contractions relax as the cramps go away.

Nighttime Cramping

Foot cramps at night (termed nocturnal leg cramps) cause difficulty sleeping. They affect approximately 25% of people in the United States. Nighttime cramping can affect people of any age but are more common and intense in older adults.

Causes

There are many different causes of foot cramps, which include physical activity, poor footwear, electrolyte imbalances, neurological disorders, and more.

Physical Activity

Vigorous exercise and prolonged standing can fatigue muscles of the legs and feet, resulting in pain and cramping without getting enough rest from activity. This can happen during or just after exercising or standing. Stretching after may reduce the risk of a muscle cramp.

Poor Footwear

High heels or flat-soled shoes can stress and strain the muscles that support the arches of your feet, leading to muscle fatigue, which can cause foot cramping from prolonged standing and walking.

Electrolyte Imbalances

Muscle contraction results from the stimulation of muscle fibers from nerve cells, which rely on specific levels of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to function properly.

Electrolyte imbalances, which can result from diarrhea, dialysis, and cirrhosis, can alter normal nerve and muscle functioning, causing muscle cramping. Electrolyte imbalances include:

  • Hypocalcemia (low calcium)
  • Hypomagnesemia (low magnesium)
  • Hyperkalemia (high potassium)
  • Hypokalemia (low potassium)
  • Hyponatremia (low sodium)

Endocrine Disorders

Endocrine disorders disrupt the balance of hormones throughout the body, which has direct effects on levels of electrolytes and can lead to electrolyte imbalances. Endocrine disorders that can cause muscle cramping include:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Addison’s disease (rare disorder in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones)

Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions that can cause foot cramps include:

  • Nerve root compression (spinal cord nerve roots)
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Motor neuron diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Dystonia (movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle spasms)
  • Parkinson’s disease

Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease causes damage to the blood vessels that supply oxygen to muscles, which alters the normal functioning of muscles and can result in foot cramps.

Side Effects From Medications

Certain medications can cause muscle cramping as a side effect due to disrupted hormone and electrolyte levels. These medications include:

  • Raloxifene (treat and prevent osteoporosis)
  • Naproxen (anti-inflammatory)
  • Teriparatide (bone health)
  • Long‑acting β2‑agonists (asthma treatment)
  • Potassium‑sparing diuretics (medication that increases urination)
  • Thiazide diuretics (treatment of high blood pressure)
  • Statins (drugs to lower cholesterol)
  • Loop diuretics (treatment of hypertension and edema due to heart failure)
  • Conjugated estrogens (reduce the symptoms of menopause)

Foot Cramp Stretches

Foot stretches are the main treatment option for alleviating foot cramps. Try raising your heel so only your toes and the ball of your foot are touching the ground. Another stretch is to flex your foot so your toes are pointing up and hold for five seconds. Then, point your toes out and hold for five seconds. Aim to stretch your feet each morning and before you go to sleep.

Other Ways to Stop Foot Cramps

While there is no substantial evidence to support one treatment over another for treating foot cramps, potential preventive measures include:

  • Stay well hydrated
  • Progressive strengthening exercise to build up foot and ankle strength
  • Avoid prolonged standing
  • Wear supportive footwear
  • Massage the affected muscles to decrease tightness
  • Heat therapy to improve flexibility and muscle relaxation
  • Weight loss to decrease strain on the arches of the feet
  • Foot and ankle splints to stretch muscles while sleeping

Managing underlying conditions is also important to help decrease the likelihood of developing foot cramping.

Summary

Foot cramping causes intense, involuntary contractions of the muscles of the feet, resulting in painful tightening of the foot until the cramping stops. While the cause of foot cramping is not well understood, it can result from vigorous exercise and prolonged standing, electrolyte imbalances, neurological conditions, as a side effect of certain medications, and more. Stretching your feet is helpful for treating foot cramps. Wearing supportive footwear, massage, heat, weight loss, and night splints may also help manage symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Cramping in the feet is a common symptom that can result from intense physical activity and prolonged standing, especially with unsupportive footwear. Foot cramps are typically nothing to be nervous about. If foot cramping continues frequently, however, you should talk with your healthcare provider as it may be a sign of an underlying condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best vitamin for foot spasms?

There is no single best vitamin for treating foot spasms although supplementation with the mineral magnesium, while not well supported through research, may be helpful to reduce symptoms. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking or increasing your dose of supplements.

Why does Charley horse in your foot hurt so bad?

A Charley horse, or muscle cramp, in your foot can be very painful from the intensity of the involuntary muscle contraction that causes extreme tightening of the foot muscles.

Does diet contribute to foot cramps?

The exact cause of muscle cramps is not well understood, but possible electrolyte imbalances from your diet may contribute to symptoms.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Tipton PW, Wszołek ZK. Restless legs syndrome and nocturnal leg cramps: a review and guide to diagnosis and treatment.Pol Arch Intern Med. 2017;127(12):865-872. doi:10.20452/pamw.4148
  2. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. How to keep feet flexible.
  3. Blyton F, Chuter V, Walter KE, Burns J. Non-drug therapies for lower limb muscle cramps.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;1(1):CD008496. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008496.pub2

By Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT
Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, is a medical writer and a physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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