Foot cramps: Causes of painful muscle cramps in foot(s)

Many patients are familiar with the pain of foot cramps. These cramps are sudden contractions of the foot muscles. These painful cramps often wake patients from sleep. The pain occurs in the foot, toe or calf and lasts for several seconds to minutes. The sharp pain in the foot usually has no cause. But some environmental factors and conditions also lead to muscle cramps in the foot, such as dehydration or diabetes mellitus. In most cases, foot cramps go away on their own or with some home remedies. If sleep problems are present or the cramps are very severe or persistent, medical advice is needed. The doctor must then identify and address the underlying cause of the cramps.

  • Conditions and painful cramps of the foot or feet
  • Autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Anemia
  • Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)
  • Liver and heart diseases
  • Damage to foot muscle
  • Dehydration and electrolyte disturbances
  • Pregnancy
  • Environmental factors and foot cramps
  • Movement and posture
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Medicines and foot cramps
  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Treatment of muscle cramps
  • Acupressure
  • Massage
  • Stretching exercises
  • Food and drink
  • Heat


Conditions and painful cramps of the foot or feet

Muscle cramps in the feet sometimes occur due to conditions.

Autoimmune thyroiditis

Autoimmune thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland caused by the patient’s own body. This autoimmune condition is sometimes also the result of surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid gland. The severity and duration of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) determine the severity of symptoms. In rare cases, autoimmune thyroiditis (inflammation and swelling of the thyroid gland) left untreated leads to heart failure (poor pumping of blood by the heart). Prompt treatment with medication is necessary for patients with hypothyroidism.


Anemia results in symptoms such as fatigue, paleness (pallor), and painful cramps in the legs (leg cramps) and feet. A vitamin B12 deficiency is often the cause of anemia.

Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)

Patients with diabetes may develop diabetic neuropathy, a form of peripheral neuropathy (disease of peripheral nerves with pain and weakness). This involves damage to the nerves in the toes and fingers, causing the patient to experience abnormal sensations such as burning, tingling and tingling. , numbness and pain. The muscles cramp because the nerves do not work properly, resulting in foot cramps.

Liver and heart diseases

Liver problems and heart disease lead to a buildup of toxins in the body. When the patient does not get rid of these toxins, the muscles begin to contract, resulting in foot cramps.Runners are more likely to suffer from foot cramps / Source: Skeeze, Pixabay

Damage to foot muscle

Muscle cramps in a foot are caused by damage to the foot muscles (overload, muscle tear). Such injuries are common in runners, basketball players (who jump a lot), and other sports-related activities.

Dehydration and electrolyte disturbances

Sometimes foot cramps are caused by dehydration. This is the result of using diuretics (water pills) or blood pressure medications. Insufficient fluid intake also leads to dehydration symptoms. The patient should ensure that he remains adequately hydrated by drinking at least eight glasses of water per day. Drinking more water is necessary with a lot of physical exercise and also in a warm environment. Extremely low potassium levels (hypokalemia), too low magnesium levels (hypomagnesemia) and too low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) also contribute to foot cramps. The patient should therefore take calcium, magnesium and quinine (quinine is present in tonic water) through adequate diet or through tablets to prevent cramps caused by dehydration, nutritional and mineral deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances.Pregnant women are more likely to suffer from painful muscle cramps in the feet / Source: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay


Pregnant women are more likely to suffer from sudden contractions of the foot muscles. This happens due to the expansion of the uterus. This stretches the ligaments and muscles that support the uterus. Foot cramps at night are common in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Environmental factors and foot cramps

Movement and posture

Too much exercise or not enough exercise are risk factors for painful muscle cramps in the foot. Foot cramps also occur from staying in a certain position for too long. It is important to first perform stretching exercises as well as moderate exercise before any physical exertion.


Women suffer from foot cramps more often than men.


Older people are more likely to suffer from cramp-like pain in their feet.The use of some medications leads to foot cramps / Source: Stevepb, Pixabay

Medicines and foot cramps

Foot cramps are often the result of the use of medications. Various types of medications can cause foot cramps, such as:

  • antipsychotics
  • asthma medications (medication to treat asthma, a chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs)
  • beta blockers (to treat migraines, heart rhythm disorders, high blood pressure and some forms of glaucoma)
  • diuretics (water pills)
  • statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs)

If the patient regularly suffers from foot cramps or if the complaints are very debilitating, it is wise to consult a doctor. He may then prescribe other medications that do not cause this side effect.

Ill-fitting shoes

When shoes don’t fit properly and are too tight, it can cause foot cramps. The patient should wear more comfortable shoes. The shoes must provide good arch support. They should not be too stiff but also not too flexible.

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety sometimes result in sudden contractions of the foot muscles. It then helps to relieve stress, for example by drinking a cup of chamomile tea.

Treatment of muscle cramps


Applying acupressure provides relief from foot cramps. The patient must press firmly with the fingers on one of the three points corresponding to the feet. These acupressure points are:

  • the place between the upper lip and nose
  • the base of the calf muscle (on the leg of the cramp)
  • the top of the foot between the big toe and the second toe (on the foot where the cramp is present)

The patient maintains firm pressure on one of these areas for about one minute, then releases the fingers. If the first point does not provide relief, the patient should try another point.


The patient may massage the feet hard or softly because this promotes blood circulation.

Stretching exercises

When a foot cramp occurs, the patient may perform a stretching exercise. While standing or sitting, the patient should extend the leg in front of him and the toes up and then straight ahead. The patient must maintain this movement for approximately one minute. This exercise also promotes blood circulation, which relieves cramps.

Food and drink

Some foods to relieve painful foot cramps are apple cider vinegar (dissolve two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in honey), pickle juice (drink three teaspoons) and mustard (eat three teaspoons). These foods contain acetic acid, which is necessary for the body to produce acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is important for the proper functioning of the muscles. The more acetylcholine a patient has in the body, the better the muscles work.


Applying a heat pack (heat pad), a warm towel or a heating pad to the affected foot provides relief from the complaints in many patients. In most patients, the complaints relieve within a few minutes, but it is best to apply heat for ten minutes to ensure that the pain is gone. If the pain has not disappeared after ten minutes, the patient waits twenty minutes and then applies heat again. Finally, it is also possible to take a warm water bath for foot cramps.

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