Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary spasms of one or more muscles that may occur while exercising or at night, during sleep. Muscle cramps typically last for a few seconds to several minutes. Common causes of muscle cramps, including foot muscle cramps, include the following: Muscle strains, dehydration, mineral depletion, and insufficient circulation. Several holistic remedies for foot muscle cramps may be effective.
Massage therapy is an often helpful remedy for foot cramps. A massage therapist uses his or her hands or specialized tools to knead, rub, stroke, or mobilize the soft tissues of the feet, including the foot muscles, to stimulate circulation or blood flow. Increased foot blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to the cells, and it helps clear harmful metabolic waste products that may accumulate in the muscles. If the foot experiences trauma, foot muscles may spasm to protect the injured area, minimize joint range of motion, and guard against further injury. Foot massage can reduce muscle splinting or cramps, speed healing of the injured tissue, and reduce any adhesions or scar tissue that might be present in the feet after injury or surgery.
Heat is an effective natural method for relieving muscle cramps, including foot cramps. Application of superficial or surface heat to the body can improve tendon and ligament flexibility, reduce pain, boost blood flow and metabolism, and reduce muscle spasms or cramps. It's believed that superficial heat stimulates the release of endorphins—opiate-like substances that block pain transmission. When superficial heat is applied to a section of the body, including the feet, blood vessel walls tend to relax, which is why superficial heat should never by applied to an already inflamed joint. Superficial heat works best for eliminating muscle cramps and improving joint flexibility when tissue temperatures reach 104 to 113 degrees F, and the optimal duration of heating is five to 30 minutes.
Gently stretching a cramping muscle is one of the most effective short-term remedies for muscle cramps. Proper stretching will prevent muscles from becoming short and tight, and it will also preserve joint range of motion. The direction in which the stretch is held depends on which muscle is cramping, and is often intuited or easily determined based on what foot motions make the pain better or worse. To avoid future muscle cramps, including foot muscle cramps, a person should strive for high overall fitness, perform regular (and gentle) flexibility exercises pre- and post-workout, and engage in a sufficient warmup before stretching. Running on the spot or brisk walking are effective warmup activities prior to stretching. Participating in aerobic exercise may be extremely helpful in avoiding foot muscle cramps or spasms.
Additional Thoughts on Foot Cramps
In this video, Dr. Ray McClanahan, a sports podiatrist at Northwest Foot and Ankle and the inventor of Correct Toes, takes a closer look at foot cramps and discusses the most common medical reasons for this foot health issue, including electrolyte abnormalities, poor circulation, medication side effects, and various nerve problems. He also lists a few natural approaches to help prevent foot cramps:
There are many reasons why foot cramps occur, and it's important to understand the possible causes of and treatments for this musculoskeletal health problem, particularly if the problem limits activities of daily living. Frequent or severe foot cramps may be an indication of an underlying condition that requires the help of a foot care professional. To better understand the factors that may cause foot cramps, consider scheduling a visit with a qualified healthcare professional.
Dr. Marty Hughes is a chiropractic physician, or DC. He received his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College (WSCC), now known as the University of Western States (UWS). Dr. Marty has always been interested in foot health, due to the connection between the feet and the spine. He has worked as a freelance writer for LiveStrong.com, for whom he contributed over 2,200 health-and-fitness articles. He is a co-founder of Natural Footgear and an ardent supporter of natural foot care approaches. Dr. Marty enjoys road cycling, hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing as well as exploring the mountains of Western North Carolina.
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