10 Reasons Your Toes Cramp

There are many reasons why you might get toe cramps—from something as simple as not drinking enough water to serious underlying medical conditions and rare infections. These sudden muscle contractions may be related to an issue solely involving your toes, or your entire foot or ankle can be involved.

This article looks at 10 causes of toe cramps. It explains what's happening in the foot to cause the aches and pains, as well as ways to get some relief.

Cropped of person holding foot.

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Causes of Toe or Foot Cramps

There may be one issue causing toe cramps, or you may have more than one at the same time. This can make figuring out why they're happening, and how to get rid of them, more of a challenge.

Possible causes of toe cramps include:

  • Tight or weak muscles
  • Muscle injury
  • Damaged nerves
  • Poor circulation
  • Temperature
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor-fitting footwear
  • Certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes or Parkinson's disease)
  • Age

Tight or Weak Muscles

Your feet have a lot of muscles in them that help them move. If these muscles get weak or tight, they can cause toe cramps.

Toe cramps can also be caused by muscle spasms in another part of your foot and ankle.

Muscle Injuries

Toe cramps can also be caused by muscles that have been hurt. A weak, tight muscle may not move as well and can be injury prone.

An injury like a twisted or sprained ankle can cause spasms and pain in toes or your entire foot.

Damaged Nerves

Toe cramps from nerve damage are more serious than a simple sprain or pulled muscle. If you badly injure your foot or ankle, the nerves might have been damaged.

Often, a damaged nerve leads to tingling feelings or numbness, but you might also have toe cramping.

Poor Circulation

Toe cramps can also happen when your feet don't have enough blood getting to them. Sometimes, you might have reduced blood flow to your feet because you've been sitting in one position for too long. This can cause cramping in your muscles, including in your toes.

However, poor circulation to your feet can also be caused by medical conditions like diabetes and peripheral artery disease.

Temperature

Cool temperatures cause your body to divert blood flow to your core in order to keep warm. This reduces the flow of blood to your arms and legs.

As a result, your muscles lose heat and contract. You might feel this as a painful toe cramp.

Dehydration

Similarly, toe cramps can also happen when your body tissues are lacking the fluid they need to stay hydrated.

Not getting enough water or other fluids can make you feel dehydrated, and in severe cases, lead to electrolyte imbalances. If your concentrations of potassium, sodium, calcium, or other minerals are even slightly out of the healthy range, it can affect your muscles.

Not everyone who is dehydrated will get muscle cramps, but sometimes an imbalance can cause the muscles in your toes and feet to contract involuntarily for a few seconds.

Lack of Exercise

Toe cramps can also be a sign that you might be too sedentary.

When you exercise, your body uses your muscles, nerves, and joints. Regular activity keeps your feet strong and flexible, which helps keep aches at bay.

Without this, even slight, everyday movements can tax your feet and cause issues like toe cramps.

Poor-Fitting Footwear

Toe cramps can also be a sign that your shoes don't fit. It's a common cause and also one that's easier to fix than others.

Think about the pressure caused by jamming a foot into a tight-fitting pair of high heels or into footwear that doesn't fit properly. When you force your feet and toes into positions that make it harder to walk and balance, it can make your muscles cramp up.

Certain Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions, like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or diabetes, ​may cause changes in the way your nervous system functions. This may contribute to muscle spasms and cramps in your feet and toes.

For example, uncontrolled muscle contractions (called dystonia) are common in people with MS and can involve the toes.

It's also common for people with joint diseases like arthritis to have pain in their feet. You might get toe cramps if you have arthritis—especially a type called gout.

Severe, potentially life-threatening conditions that change your body's hydration and electrolyte levels or cause widespread damage, like burns, organ failure, and rare infections like tetanus, could also cause muscle spasms and toe cramps.

Sometimes, medications can have side effects that cause muscle cramps. You might get toe cramps if you take a medication that can cause muscle spasms.

Age

With age, the function of our joints and nervous and muscular systems may change. This may cause muscle contractions and tightness in the muscles around your feet and toes.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you are having toe and foot cramps frequently, you should see a healthcare professional. They will check to determine whether your symptoms are caused by a medical condition that may require treatment, like multiple sclerosis or diabetic neuropathy. And they can advise you about what to do next even if your cramps aren't caused by a serious medical issue.

How to Get Relief

Most of the time, toe and foot cramps will pass quickly. But if you're battling frequent or persistent cramps, there are some things you can do to get relief.

These may include:

  • Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated helps maintain the right balance of electrolytes and water in your muscles.
  • Wear properly fitting shoes: Shoes that fit properly allow your feet to move and function the way they are meant to.
  • Exercise regularly and include a variety of strength, balance, and flexibility exercises: Exercise helps keep your muscles, joints, tendons, and nerves all working properly.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods: Maintaining a proper diet gives your body the nutrients and electrolytes it needs to function well.
  • Check your medications to ensure that the dosages are correct: If you take medication for treating any health issues, speak with your doctor or pharmacist to see if the medicine may be causing your toe cramps. Never adjust your medication without the advice of your healthcare professional.

A study published in the journal Family Practice suggests that most people who have leg cramping at night don't get any treatment. The authors also said that people with leg and toe cramps try a range of different medical and non-medical treatments for their condition.

There is not one correct treatment for toe cramps.

Physical Therapy

Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist (PT) for the management of your toe cramps.

Your PT is trained to identify the cause of your condition and can develop a treatment plan to help relieve your toe cramps and prevent future episodes.

Exercises you can do to reduce your toe cramps may include:

  • Calf muscle stretches
  • The plantar fascia toe stretch
  • Ankle strengthening exercises
  • Balance exercises

Be sure to get medical advice before starting any exercise program.

Summary

If you often feel cramping in your toes and feet, you likely want to know why. Common reasons include not drinking enough water, not getting enough exercise, and wearing shoes that are just not a good fit. Certain medical conditions, or drugs prescribed to treat them, may contribute to the problem as well.

In many cases, toe cramping may go away with exercise, better nutrition, and other simple changes. Your healthcare professional can determine whether it's caused by a medical issue and advise you about how to manage the problem.

A Word From Verywell

Toe cramps can vary from being a mild nuisance to being a painful experience that interferes with foot movement. By working with your doctor to find the specific reasons for your toe cramps, and getting treatment with lifestyle changes, physical therapy, or medical intervention, you can end the toe cramps so your feet will feel and move better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do I get cramps in my feet?

    There could be one or multiple reasons for cramps in your feet. Not drinking enough water, lack of exercise, age, wearing poorly-fitting shoes, and certain medical conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease are potential reasons.

  • How do I stop foot cramps?

    You may be able to stop foot cramps and toe cramps by regularly exercising, drinking plenty of water, and wearing comfortable shoes. If these small changes do not stop cramping, it may be wise to visit a healthcare provider for an official diagnosis. Some medications can cause foot and toe cramps, so be sure to share the names of any medication that you take.

  • What causes foot spasms?

    It's not always clear why foot spasms occur. Possible causes include dehydration, polyneuropathy (damage to nerves), thyroid disorder, an imbalance of electrolytes, pregnancy (usually during the third trimester), chronic kidney disease, low vitamin D, certain medications, Parkinson's disease, dystonia, multiple sclerosis, and Huntington disease. If foot spasms occur often or regularly, it may be a good idea to speak to a healthcare provider.

  • What causes cramps in legs and feet at night?

    Cramps in the legs and feet at night, or nocturnal leg cramps, are believed to be caused by muscle fatigue and impaired nerves, but they can also be the result of medical conditions such as vascular disease, cirrhosis, and hemodialysis. Certain medications like intravenous iron sucrose, raloxifene, naproxen, and conjugated estrogens are often linked to leg cramps.

12 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.
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By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.