Foot Cramps: Causes and What To Do
Causes of Foot Cramps
The human foot and ankle is comprised of26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Some common causes of cramps in the feet are due to excessive physical activity, especially in hot weather conditions. Over exertion combined with dehydration for example during prolonged exercise may lead to cramps. During exercise as the body burns sugar i.e. carbohydrates, can result in a fall of blood mineral or electrolyte levels. The combination of overexertion, muscle over use leads to a “cramp”. Sometimes cramps may occur during sleep by the commonly know “charley horse” cramp. An exact “mechanism” of this remains unknown. Cramps range from short term mild episodes to severe very painful situations.
Most muscle cramps occur in the muscles of the legs, particularly in the calf; or in the plantar bottom of foot bottom, or in toe flexors and extensors. The cramp or muscle tightness is usually a sudden onset of sharp pain.
Aging, with passage of time muscles become weaker and may fatigue or get stressed. Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, and thyroid condition are associated with metabolism disorder which affect muscle function. Cramps are also associated with pregnancy.
The majority of foot cramps are self-limiting and not serious to require medical care. Most occurrences of muscle cramps are harmless. However in some instances cramps may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as, Vascular disorder including arteriosclerosis AKA hardening of the arteries. Poor circulation to the muscles may result in cramps. Spinal or peripheral nerve compression. Nerves that are being pressured by a herniated disc or along the leg can also produce leg or foot muscle cramps. For people with these conditions, long walks may trigger the onset of the muscle cramping pain.
Either due to poor diet habits or taking medications such as Diuretics may lead to blood level changes of potassium, calcium or magnesium. This may also contribute to leg cramps.
Tips to Prevent Leg Cramps
Drink plenty of water especially when exercising or during hot weather. Taking B Vitamin, for some this is a safe alternative to medications with known side effects. Eat balanced diets including foods with good mineral sources, e.g. fruit or green salads. Use proper fitting and supportive shoes for walking or exercising. Use of shock absorbing shoe inserts AKA orthotics.Warm up or stretching prior to and after exercising. Stretching: before going to bed or after waking up. Stand against a wall, one leg out, flatten the foot and feel the calf, back of the leg muscles stretch. For the foot muscles: lie down, use a towel or rope around the foot, lift leg about 30 degrees, pull the foot or toes down ward stretching the foot muscles for 15 -20 seconds. Repeat on opposite leg
Up to 60 percent of adults report that they have had nocturnal leg cramps. The recurrent, painful tightening usually occurs in the calf muscles and can cause severe insomnia. The exact mechanism is unknown, but the cramps are probably caused by muscle fatigue and nerve dysfunction rather than electrolyte or other abnormalities
Quinine is no longer recommended to treat leg cramps.
2: J Clin Pharmacol. 1998 Dec;38(12):1151-4.
Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the safety and efficacy of vitamin B complex in the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps in elderly patients with hypertension.
Nocturnal leg cramps is a common and troublesome problem in elderly individuals, and their etiology is unknown. Treatment with quinine is a common practice, but the effectiveness of the drug is doubtful and adverse drug effects are common.
Treatment with vitamin B complex significantly reduced the frequency, intensity, and duration of nocturnal leg cramps. Because quinine is not without potential for side effects, and vitamin B complex is a relatively safe and effective alternative, clinicians should reconsider the treatment of choice for nocturnal leg cramps.