It is common to be in bed, about to fall asleep after a long day, when suddenly we feel a cramping sensation in our toes. A few seconds later, the cramp goes away, but if it persists, it’s normal to wonder what the cause is.
There are a few reasons why we might experience toe cramps. They range from something as simple as not drinking enough water to more serious medical problems.
Anatomy of the toes
The foot is made up of several bones, some small and short, some long, that connect the ankle joint to the toes. Many ligaments go from one bone to another. These provide stability to the foot.
The lower leg muscles have tendons that run down the ankle and connect to various places around the foot to move the foot. There are also muscles between the longest bones in the foot that help shape and position the foot as we walk and run. On the bottom of the foot is the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that forms the arch of the foot.
All of these ligaments, tendons, and muscles work together to support and move the foot. In turn, they allow the feet to do the things we are used to every day.
There are many possible reasons for toe cramps. In fact, we may have more than one cause at the same time, which can make it even more frustrating trying to figure out why. Various problems can cause cramps in the toes and feet.
By understanding the possible causes of toe and foot cramps, we may be able to find the treatment that works best for us. Reasons for toe cramps can include the following factors.
Not getting enough water or other fluids can make us dehydrated and, in severe cases, can lead to electrolyte imbalances. When the concentration of potassium, sodium, calcium or other minerals is slightly below the ideal concentration, it can affect the 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 we exercise, the body uses the muscles, nerves, and joints. Regular activity keeps your feet strong and flexible, which helps keep leg, foot, and toe cramps at bay.
Staying in one position for too long can affect movement, sometimes leading to toe cramps.
Poorly fitted footwear
Our feet put up with a lot each day with the amount of force they must absorb and release with each step. Wearing shoes that don’t fit well can cause toe cramps.
We’ll think about the pressure caused by putting one foot in a pair of tight high heels or shoes that don’t fit well. When we force our feet and toes into positions that make walking and balance difficult, we can cause muscle cramps.
When there isn’t enough blood flow to the feet or toes, they can ache or spasm. Sitting for a long time, having diabetes, and crossing your legs for a long time can decrease blood flow to your toes and feet.
Peripheral arterial disease causes arteries throughout the body to narrow, weakening blood flow. This condition can also cause toe cramps.
certain medical conditions
Some medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or diabetes, can cause changes in the way the nervous system works. This can contribute to muscle spasms and cramps in the feet and toes.
And sometimes medications can have side effects that lead to muscle cramps. Also, injuries to the muscles and other tissues of the feet, toes, or calves can cause toe cramps or pain. Sprains, which are ligament injuries, can cause weakness and pain in the toes. Strains, which are injuries to muscles or tendons, can also cause pain.
With age, the function of our joints, nervous and muscular systems can change. This can cause muscle contractions and tightness in the muscles around the feet and toes.
When to go to the doctor?
If you get cramps in your toes and feet frequently, you should see a healthcare professional. They will check to determine if your symptoms are caused by a medical condition that may require treatment, such as multiple sclerosis or diabetic neuropathy. And they can advise you what to do next, even if your cramps aren’t caused by a serious medical problem.
The proper medical treatment for toe cramps depends on the cause. A doctor may order X-rays or other imaging tests to check for injuries. If the doctor suspects an underlying condition, he or she may order blood tests or other tests.
Most of the time, toe and foot cramps will pass quickly. But if you’re struggling with frequent or persistent cramps, there are a few things you can do to get relief.
These may include:
- Drink plenty of water – Staying hydrated helps maintain the proper balance of electrolytes and water in your muscles.
- Wearing well-fitting shoes – Well-fitting shoes allow your feet to move and function the way they’re meant to.
- Exercise regularly and include a variety of strength, balance, and flexibility exercises: Exercise helps muscles, joints, tendons, and nerves work properly.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods : Maintaining a proper diet gives your body the nutrients and electrolytes it needs to function well.
- Check medications to make sure dosages are correct: If we take medication to treat a health problem, talk to a doctor or pharmacist to see if the medication may be causing toe cramps. Never adjust medication without the advice of a health professional.
One study suggests that most people who get leg cramps at night don’t get any treatment. The authors also said that people with leg and toe cramps try a variety of different medical and non-medical treatments for their condition. However, there is no correct treatment for toe cramps.
A doctor may refer us to a physical therapist for control of toe cramps. The physical therapist is trained to identify the cause of the condition and can develop a treatment plan to help relieve toe cramps and prevent future episodes.
Exercises that can be done to reduce toe cramps may include: plantar fascia calf and toe stretches, and exercises to strengthen the ankle and balance.