How to get rid of stabbing foot cramps fast and prevent them in the future
- To get rid of a foot cramp fast, stretch your achilles tendon and plantar fascia muscles.
- Prevent foot cramps from coming back by stretching before bed, staying hydrated, and wearing supportive shoes.
You're drifting off to sleep when suddenly a sharp, stabbing feeling in your foot jolts you awake. A foot cramp can be alarming and painful, but almost everyone will experience them at some point or another, says Dr. Andrew Wilson, a podiatrist with Mercy Personal Physicians.
Foot cramps are an involuntary contraction of the muscles in the feet. They occur most often in the arches and toes, and can last for seconds or up to a minute, says Dr. Ilya Makarovskiy, a podiatrist at Staten Island University Hospital.
They have a variety of causes, most of which are not serious. However, if you frequently get foot cramps you should speak with a doctor to rule out serious underlying conditions like liver disease or nerve damage that can make foot cramps worse.
"If you're experiencing foot cramps, it's very likely from muscle tightness, fatigue, improper shoes, or dehydration," Makarovskiy says.
Luckily, those issues can be addressed, and get you back to having a good night's sleep. Here's five ways to get fast, sustained relief.
1. Stretch before bed or when a cramp strikes
Makarokiy recommends stretches that target the achilles tendon, which connects your calf to your heel, and the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from your heel to your toes.
To stretch the achilles tendon, follow these steps:
- Sit in a chair or bench.
- Keep your left foot flat on the floor.
- Straighten your right leg and flex your right foot so the toes point toward the ceiling.
- Bend forward toward your toes, and grasp your foot with your hand. If you can't reach, use a band or towel looped around the toes and grasped in your hands.
- Gently pull your toes toward your upper body, feeling a stretch through the right heel.
- Hold for one minute.
- Then, repeat on the other side. Stretch each achilles tendon five times.
Next, focus on the plantar fascia:
- Sit on a chair on the edge of the bed or couch, with your left foot resting on your right knee.
- Hold your left toes with your left hand.
- Gently pull the toes toward your body, feeling a stretch along the bottom of your foot.
- Hold for as long as you can, building toward a three minute hold.
- Repeat on the other side.
Do these exercises at least four times a week to keep foot cramps at bay. "Consistency is key," Makarokiy says.
2. Stay hydrated
If you're not drinking enough water, you may become dehydrated. And that can make muscles — including muscles in your feet — more prone to cramping, Wilson says. On the other hand, staying well hydrated can reduce nocturnal leg cramps, including foot cramps.
Unfortunately, drinking water won't stop a cramp once it's begun. But since cramping can be a sign of dehydration, you should drink a glass after the cramp passes, which may keep more cramps at bay.
Men should drink 125 ounces of fluid each day, while women should aim for 91 ounces. If you do become dehydrated, focus not only on getting enough water, but also on replenishing your electrolytes with drinks like Gatorade or Powerade.
Quick tip: If you're on a diuretic for conditions like high blood pressure, you may be at increased risk for dehydration. If you experience foot cramps after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor, Wilson says. They will help you weigh the pros and cons of the medication and help you make sure you're staying hydrated.
3. Wear shoes more often
"Suddenly, we're recruiting those muscles to work. This can lead to muscle fatigue and cramping," he says.
Since most of us can't ditch shoes entirely to build up the muscles in our feet, it's best to take the opposite approach: wearing shoes more often. Instead of going barefoot at home, purchase a comfortable pair of sneakers to wear around the house.
Quick tip: Keeping track of how far your shoes have trod can be tricky, so just replace them when they're looking worn, Makarokiy says. That might include having sagging sides or soles that are worn smooth or thin.
4. Keep your feet warm
In addition, applying a warm compress can help alleviate a cramp as it's happening. In most cases, however, the cramp passes quickly, so it will be over before you can get a compress together.
Important: Poor circulation in the feet can be a sign of serious illness, including diabetic foot or peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you suspect poor circulation is contributing to your foot cramps or notice any changes to your circulation like decreased feeling in your toes or changes to the nails, always see your doctor.
5. Take magnesium supplements
There's some research that indicates taking magnesium supplements can reduce leg and foot cramps, even in people who aren't deficient. However, a large 2020 scientific review found that magnesium supplementation is unlikely to reduce muscle cramping.
Recommended magnesium intake for adults is as follows:
|Males 30 years and younger||400 mg|
|Females 30 years and younger||310 mg|
|Males 31 and older||420 mg|
|Females 31 and older||320|
What to do when cramps strike
Prevention is the best way to get rid of leg cramps, Wilson says. However, you might still experience cramps occasionally.
When a cramp strikes, try stretching and massaging the area where the cramp is. If you're in bed, standing up and moving around can also help.
Although the pain can be intense, remember that foot cramps usually pass quickly.
What else could it be?
In most cases, foot cramps are an inconvenience, Wilson says. However, they can also be a symptom of a serious underlying condition like:
- Neuropathy or neurological conditions including Parkinson's or Multiple Sclerosis
- Side effects from medications including diuretics, beta blockers, benzodiazepines, and oral contraceptives
- Kidney or liver disease, which can cause nerve damage and increased cramping
- Raynaud's disease and other types of peripheral vascular disease
- Flat feet and other structural abnormalities
Quick Tip: Leg cramps and foot cramps are very common during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. Talk to your doctor about prevention methods, including wearing compression stockings to promote blood flow.
If you're experiencing more than the occasional foot cramp, it's best to talk to your doctor to rule out any serious underlying conditions.
Foot cramps are common and most likely to happen at night. Researchers are still working to understand what exactly causes muscle cramps, but they know that certain steps — like stretching and staying well hydrated — can reduce your risk.
"Though the reason for the presentation of foot cramps is often mysterious, we do know multiple things that can help prevent them from occurring," Wilson says.
Foot cramps are usually a passing annoyance, but if you experience them frequently you should see your doctor to rule out any serious medical conditions.
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