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Quite often, you might have experienced, that a minute before you were lying in bed, nicely watching TV, the next moment, you are writhing in agony due to a toe cramp, which is a painful spasm or contraction of a foot muscle. The pain may last for a few seconds to a few minutes, with an intensity that may vary from a slight tic to an intense painful muscle contraction. Foot cramps affect people of all age groups and may strike anytime, at the middle of the night, during exercise, or even while walking.

What Causes Toe Cramps

Toe or foot cramps can be caused due to a variety of reasons. Some of them are as follows:

Misfit Shoes: Wearing shoes that don't fit, especially the ones that have a narrow toe box, is one of the common causes. High-heeled shoes or ill-fitting shoes that are extremely tight especially in the toe area are also responsible for toe cramps.

Calcium Deficiency: Lack of calcium in your diet or calcium deficiency in the body can also cause foot cramps.

Potassium Deficiency: Potassium helps in conducting the electrical impulse in the body and maintains the smooth muscle contraction. Low potassium levels cause severe cramps in legs and hands.

Vitamin D Deficiency: A lack of vitamin D causes less absorption of calcium ultimately resulting in muscle cramps.

Magnesium Deficiency: Magnesium is required for proper functioning of the muscles. A deficiency of magnesium may lead to the deficiency of other elements like calcium causing muscle aches and cramps.

Excess Activity: Rigorous exercise, long duration walks, or overexertion are some activities that can cause cramping in toes.

Stress: Dancers, especially those in ballet performing pirouettes, are more vulnerable to suffer these types of cramps due to added stress and strain on their feet and toes.

Medication Effect: Some prescribed medications for asthma, high cholesterol and hypertension can also contribute to toe cramping.

Treatment Options

The treatment primarily involves some simple methods that can be employed to avoid foot cramping.
  • Avoid wearing high heels on a daily basis and keep them for special occasions. Wearing proper footwear which have a wide toe box or lower heeled shoes having roomy toe fit are any time better than those tight fitting shoes that lead to toe cramping.
  • Whenever possible during the entire day, remove your shoes and try to exercise your feet. Moving your ankles in a circular motion or bending and flexing your feet promotes blood circulation in your feet, and hence minimizes the risk of foot cramping.
  • To relieve the pain, you can perform some stretching exercises to strengthen your muscles. Practice standing on your toes and lifting your body up and down repeatedly with the support of your toes. Hold on to each position for at least 5 - 6 seconds and then relax. Another effective exercise is to pick up marbles from the floor with your toes and place them to another spot on the floor.
  • Massaging at the bottom of the toe and its surrounding areas is the most effective remedy that helps in relaxing the contracted muscles and promotes blood circulation, thereby relieving you from the pain.
  • Another way of treating leg and toe cramps is to increase your calcium intake by consuming calcium-rich food products like milk, cheese, fruits, salmon and other types of fish. Taking additional potassium, calcium and vitamin C supplements will help in stabilizing electrolytes in your body.
  • If you experience foot cramps while running, it means your body is dehydrated and you need to drink at least 6 - 8 glasses of water on a regular basis. Taking quinine tablets or drinking tonic water will help in maintaining fluid as well as mineral levels in the body.
Taking a hot water shower before sleeping or keeping your feet in warm water are some remedies that can be followed to relief the pain. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, etc., also help in relaxing your body and reducing cramping. However, if the cramps are persistent and occurring on a regular basis, it's recommended to consult your physician. Alternative medicine practices like acupuncture and reflexology can also help treating severe and extremely painful cramps.