Cramps can hit at the most inconvenient time, and with no warning. You can be going about your day at work, in the middle of a sports game, spending precious time with your family, even just sleeping. Then, out of the blue, you feel that muscle forcefully tightening – and as much as you try, you can’t keep that pain at bay.
Trust us, we know the feeling aaaalll too well ourselves. Today, the Sole Motion Podiatry team are talking all about foot and leg cramps – and how to stop them from cramping your style!
A muscle cramp is the sudden, painful and involuntary tightening of one or more of your muscles. It can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes. Eeek! Some people may also notice their muscle bulging during the cramp.
What causes cramps?
Much like a stomach ache, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer here. Foot and leg cramps can have multiple causes. The cause dictates how you can go about preventing future cramps, too. Potential causes include:
- Medical conditions. If you are pregnant, have spinal nerve compression, alcoholism, kidney failure, hypothyroidism, or diabetes, the risk of you experiencing cramps is higher
- Dehydration. Our muscles need to be well hydrated to perform at their best. If you don’t drink enough water, you can become dehydrated, which will mean that your muscles are no longer getting enough water to function properly, making you more susceptible to cramps and spasms
- Mineral depletion. Calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium are minerals that contribute to healthy muscle function. When you are low in any of them, you may experience muscle cramps
- Overexertion. Exercising too much or too hard can put excessive strain on the muscles in your feet and legs, causing them to cramp
- Common foot problems. Flat arches can be a cause of cramping in the legs and feet as the body has to compensate for the altered foot function. In the same way, shoes that are too tight can cause cramps as the foot’s movement is restricted. Holding a position for an extended period of time can also cause muscle cramps.
Managing muscle cramps
As painful as they can be, thankfully, most cramps in the legs and feet are able to be managed quickly – and are therefore relatively short-lived. Gently stretching the contracting muscle often helps. Here are a few helpful stretches to know:
- Calf muscle stretch. While sitting (great on the bed for nighttime cramps) with your legs straight out in front of you, loop a blanket around one foot, and gently pull your toes toward you while keeping your knee straight
- Shin stretch. Sit on your feet, knees out in front, with your toes pointing slightly in. Keep your hands on the floor in front of you. To increase the stretch, lean forward to raise yourself up, resting on your toes on the floor
- Hamstring stretch. Sit on the floor with your legs extended flat in front of you. Slide your hands down your legs until you feel a burning sensation in the cramped muscle
- Foot arch stretch. While sitting, grasp your toes and gently pull them toward you until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot
- Quadriceps stretch. While standing, grab your foot and pull it behind you, up to your buttocks
A hot or cold compress can also bring relief from a muscle cramp. A hot cloth, or wheat bag, or a cold cloth or ice pack can help to relax the muscle.
If you want to prevent cramps, you can try:
- Stretching before and after exercise, and before bed if you are experiencing night cramps
- Staying hydrated. This will help your muscles to function at their best
- Increasing mineral levels. Consider taking supplements to increase your levels of calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium. Increase your calcium, potassium and magnesium intake naturally by drinking milk and orange juice and eating bananas, black beans and leafy greens. Sodium is simply table salt, so sprinkle a little bit on your meal if you are not having enough already
- Rest. Taking care not to overexert yourself, particularly while exercising
- Treating any foot problems such as flat feet
- Wearing comfortable footwear that fits well to help give your foot better movement
Need help managing your cramps?
We can help you manage cramps by adjusting your foot and leg posture to reduce the strain on your muscles, as well as helping you with a stretching and strengthening programme. We’re a passionate team of podiatrists that love what we do – and genuinely want to see you feeling and performing at your best!
Book your appointment online by clicking here or calling us on 1300-FX-FEET