What Causes Foot Cramps and How to Treat Them

Foot cramps are caused by sustained, painful, involuntary contractions of the muscles in your feet. There are several reasons that foot cramps happen. Common causes of foot cramps are physical activity, prolonged standing, dehydration, medication side effects, and health conditions. Wearing shoes that do not fit can also cause foot cramps.

Foot cramps will usually go away with stretching and massaging. Wearing supportive shoes can help prevent them from happening. You should see your healthcare provider if foot cramps persist or continue to come back.

This article will cover common causes of foot cramps and ways to treat them. You’ll learn who is most at risk for foot cramps, ways to prevent foot cramps, and how to tell if foot cramps are something serious that needs medical attention or something you can manage at home. 

Man with foot cramp

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

What Does a Foot Cramp Feel Like?

Muscle cramps in the feet feel like intense contractions, most commonly in the arches of the feet or toes, that cannot be controlled. Sometimes these cramps are called a “charley horse.” 

The muscle contractions can last for several seconds or minutes, causing intense tightening of the muscle, pain, and a sharp or deep aching sensation. The pain tends to get better when the muscle contractions relax.

The muscles in the feet that cramp up most often are the arch of the foot and the toes, but the cramps can even go up into the calf muscles of the leg. 

Nighttime Cramping 

Foot cramps at night (nocturnal leg cramps) can cause trouble sleeping. They affect about 25% of people in the United States. 

Nighttime foot cramping can happen to people of any age but are more common and intense in older adults.

Causes of Foot Cramps

There are many different causes of foot cramps, including physical activity, poorly-fitting footwear, electrolyte imbalances, health conditions, and medications.


Muscle cramps anywhere in the body can happen if you get dehydrated. You might be more likely to get foot cramps if you don’t drink enough water before, during, and after a workout. 

You can also get foot cramps if you’re dehydrated for another reason, like being outside working in the hot sun or having diarrhea. 

Physical Activity

Vigorous exercise and prolonged standing can make the muscles of the legs and feet tired. If you don't give your feet enough rest, this can lead to pain and cramping. 

You might get a foot cramp during or just after exercising or standing for a long time. Stretching can help prevent foot muscle cramps. 


Shoes that don't fit or offer support are a common reason for foot pain. High heels or flat-soled shoes can stress and strain the muscles that support the arches of your feet, leading to muscle fatigue. 

Tired muscles can cause foot cramping after prolonged standing and walking, especially if your shoes do not fit or do not provide enough support. 

Electrolyte Imbalances

Muscle contractions happen when the muscle fibers are stimulated by nerve cells, which need specific levels of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to work.

Electrolyte imbalances are commonly caused by diarrheadialysis, and cirrhosis. The nutrients that can be thrown off include: 

Similar to being dehydrated, not having the right balance of these nutrients can lead to muscle cramping in your feet and elsewhere in your body.

Endocrine Disorders

Endocrine disorders affect the balance of hormones in the body, which directly affects electrolyte levels and can lead to imbalances. 

Endocrine disorders that can cause muscle cramping include:

Neurological Conditions

Since nerves are involved in making muscles move, problems with nerves can lead to muscle cramping.

Neurological conditions that can cause foot cramps include:

Peripheral Vascular Disease

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


Swelling and cramps in the feet and legs are common during pregnancy as the body tries to adjust to many changes, including the stress of extra weight, shifting hormone levels, and adaptations needed to support the growing fetus and prepare the body for birth.

Side Effects From Medications

Certain medications can cause muscle cramping as a side effect if they affect hormone and electrolyte levels.

Medications that can cause foot cramps as a side effect 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 from heart failure)
  • Conjugated estrogens (reduce the symptoms of menopause)

Foot Cramp Stretches 

Stretches are the main treatment for foot cramps. 

A quick and easy stretch to stop a foot cramp is simply raising your heel so that only your toes and the ball of your foot are touching the ground. 

Another stretch to relieve a foot cramp: 

  1. Flex your foot so that your toes are pointing up.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds. 
  3. Point your toes out and hold for another 5 seconds. 

Stretch your feet each morning and before you go to sleep to help prevent foot cramps.

Other Ways to Stop Foot Cramps 

There is no evidence to support a “best” treatment for foot cramps or a surefire way to prevent them. That said, there are some things you can do that might help:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Do progressive strengthening exercises to build up foot and ankle strength
  • Avoid prolonged standing
  • Wear supportive footwear
  • Massage the affected muscles to decrease tightness
  • Use heat therapy to improve flexibility and muscle relaxation
  • Lose weight if it would support your health and decrease strain on the arches of the feet
  • Wear foot and ankle splints to stretch muscles while you’re sleeping
  • Managing underlying health conditions and any medications you take

When to See a Healthcare Provider

The most common causes of foot cramps are something you can manage at home. 

However, if they are happening often or are not improving with simple lifestyle changes and stretching, they could be a sign of an underlying health problem that needs to be treated.

If you’re getting foot cramps as a medication side effect, you can ask your provider if it’s possible to change your dose or switch to another medication.


Foot cramps are uncomfortable, but they can usually be managed at home by stretching, staying hydrated, wearing shoes that fit, and giving your feet a rest from activity. 

If you’re getting foot cramps often, you should talk to your provider. Sometimes, foot cramps can be related to a health condition or even a side effect of a medication. 

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 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.