5 Reasons Your Toes Cramp

We all know the scenario. You are in bed, about to doze off after a long day when suddenly there's a cramp-like feeling in your toes. A stretch or two later, the cramp goes away, but your questions about why it happened might linger.

There are a few reasons why you might experience toe cramps. They range from something as simple as not drinking enough water to more serious underlying medical issues.

This article looks at five common causes of toe cramps. It explains what's happening in the foot to cause symptoms and some things you can do to get some relief.

Cropped of person holding foot.

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Anatomy of the Foot and Toes

Your foot is made up of several bones—some small and short, some long—that connect your ankle joint to your toes. Many ligaments course from one bone to another. These provide stability to your foot.

The muscles of your lower leg have tendons that travel down your ankle and connect to various places around your foot to move it. There are also muscles between the longer bones of your foot. They help to shape and position your foot as you walk and run. On the bottom of your foot is the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that forms the arch of your foot.

All of these ligaments, tendons, and muscles work together to support and move your foot. They allow your feet to do the things you're used to doing every day.

Causes of Toe or Foot Cramps

There are many possible reasons for your toe cramps. In fact, you may have more than one cause at the same time, which may make it even more frustrating as you try to find out why.

Several issues can cause toe and foot cramping.

By understanding the possible causes of toe and foot cramps, you may be able to find the treatment that works best for you. Reasons for toe cramps may include the following factors.

Dehydration

Not getting enough water or other fluids can make you feel dehydrated, and in severe cases, it can lead to electrolyte imbalances. When your concentration of potassium, sodium, calcium, or other minerals is just slightly off from the ideal concentration, 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

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

Staying in one position for too long can affect movement—sometimes leading to toe cramps.

Poor-Fitting Footwear

Our feet take a lot of abuse each day with the amount of force they are required to absorb and release with each step. Wearing shoes that do not fit well can lead to toe cramps.

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.

And sometimes, medications can have side effects that cause muscle cramps.

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 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.

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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. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Muscle cramps.

  2. Rao S, Riskowski JL, Hannan MT. Musculoskeletal conditions of the foot and ankle: assessments and treatment options. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2012;26(3):345-68. doi:10.1016/j.berh.2012.05.009

  3. Lorenzo M, Schaeffer M, Haller DM, Maisonneuve H. Treatment of nocturnal leg cramps by primary care patients over the age of 60. Family Practice 2018;35(1):29-33. doi:10.1093/fampra/cmx062