What Causes Foot Cramps and How to Stop Them

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. 

Man with foot cramp

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

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:

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:

Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions that can cause foot cramps include:

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.

3 Sources
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.