How To Stop Foot Cramps: Try These 9 Tips

Foot cramps can come on suddenly and stop you in your tracks, whether you are in the middle of a long run wearing running shoes or barefoot holding a Warrior II pose in yoga class. Suddenly, you want to grab your arch and rub away the burning foot cramp.

Although foot cramps tend to happen more frequently when exercising barefoot, they can undoubtedly strike while you are running as well. There are a variety of potential causes of foot arch cramps, but in most cases, they are preventable. 

So, if you’re wondering how to stop foot cramps from interfering with your workouts, keep reading to learn why you’re getting foot cramps and how to stop foot cramps from cropping up when you’re running or working out.

In this article, we will cover: 

  • What Causes Foot Cramps When I Run or Work Out?
  • Tips On How to Stop Foot Cramps

Let’s get started! 

Runner on the ground grabbing her bare foot.

What Causes Foot Cramps When I Run or Work Out?

There are several common causes of foot cramps while exercising, including the following:

Muscular Fatigue

Historically, the prevailing theories surrounding the primary causes of foot cramps in runners were that they were usually due to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or a combination of both.

However, while dehydration and electrolyte levels can contribute to developing foot arch cramps while exercising, current thinking suggests that muscular fatigue and overexertion are usually to blame.

The intrinsic muscles in the sole of the foot are rather small but play crucial roles in absorbing the impact of landing and then supporting the arch through the push-up phase. 

This muscular work adds up fast, step after step on a run, and these muscles can quickly fatigue, particularly if they are weak. 

When the small intrinsic muscles in the foot fatigue, the communication process between the brain and the muscle starts to break down, resulting in the muscle contracting when signaled, but not relaxing afterward. This causes a sustained contraction or foot cramp.

Runner on the ground holding ankle.

Weak Foot Muscles

Most runners wear shoes most of the day. Between running shoes, street shoes, work shoes, and sometimes even soled shoes around the house, there is very little time spent barefoot. 

As a result, the muscles in our feet become inherently weak because wearing shoes reduces the stabilizing work these muscles need to do to support our arch. 

This is magnified by supportive shoes, such as motion control running shoes and stability running shoes, where the shoe provides a significant amount of internal posting and structural support through material build up.

If you wear orthotics or insoles in your shoes, you’re reducing the workload on your foot muscles even more so. Over time, these muscles can become quite weak, since they are mostly along for the ride while the shoes themselves are doing the “muscular” work of supporting the arch.

When your foot muscles are weak, they fatigue more quickly and are prone to overexertion when they are called into action to support and maintain the structure of your foot as you land and push off with every running stride. As such, your risk of getting foot cramps while exercising increases.

Runner on the ground holding right foot wincing in pain.

Overtraining 

Ramping up your mileage quickly or doing too many speed workouts without ample recovery time between sessions can increase your likelihood of getting foot cramps when running because overexertion leads to rapid fatigue of the small muscles in your feet.

Worn Out Running Shoes

If you do have weak foot muscles, your body is normally relying on the structural support from the running shoe to provide the support your foot needs to maintain its shape. 

As your running shoes wear out, the posting, midsole, and insole lose their rigidity and material strength, which means that the muscles in your foot need to take on the responsibility, of holding your arch and all the bones in your foot in place as you land and push-off. 

Improperly-Fitting Running Shoes

If your running shoes are too small or too tight, you might unconsciously scrunch your toes while you run. This chronically contracted state can lead to a painful foot arch cramp.

Interestingly, a similar thing can happen if your running shoes are too big because if your feet are swimming around in there, you might similarly clench your toes to try and gain traction in the shoe to prevent sliding around.

A pair of destroyed, old running shoes with the material falling off of them.

Dehydration

Dehydration can cause muscle cramps while exercising. As the body becomes dehydrated, blood plasma levels drop, so the muscles receive less oxygen and nutrients. 

Electrolyte Imbalances

Electrolyte Imbalances can lead to muscle cramps while exercising. If you’re frequently getting foot cramps when you run, it’s worth it to consider taking an electrolyte replacement beverage.

Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium help regulate muscle contraction and relaxation. Imbalances can throw off the signaling to your muscles to relax after they contract, leaving them in a prolonged contracted state.

Medications 

Certain medications can increase your risk of muscle cramps, particularly certain blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and medications to treat other neurological disorders.

A man drinking a bottle of water.

How to Stop Foot Cramps: Try These 9 Tips

So now, on to the actionable advice for how to stop foot cramps. Here are some tips on how to stop foot cramps from occurring when you run:

#1: Strengthen Your Feet

Strengthen the muscles in your feet by spending more time barefoot and performing foot exercises like picking up marbles with your feet, grabbing and squeezing a towel between your toes, and flexing and extending your toes.

#2: Warm Up Before You Run

When your muscles are cold and tight, they are more prone to cramping because the blood flow is inadequate. Instead of jumping right out of bed and heading out for a run, or dialing up the speed on the treadmill to full blast at the start of your workout, warm up with some walking, light jogging, and dynamic stretching.

Related Article: Bob And Brad 721 Foot Massager Review

A foot is being massaged as a way how to stop foot cramps.

#3: Massage Your Feet

Massaging your feet either with your hands or a small massage ball can increase blood flow and stretch out the intrinsic foot muscles.

#4: Stretch Your Calves

Tight calves can contribute to foot arch cramps, so it’s important to stretch your calves before and after you run. Beforehand, use a foam roller or massage stick to warm up the tissue and work through tight trigger spots.

#5: Drink More Water

Hydrate properly before, during, and after your workouts, ensuring your urine is pale yellow.

#6: Get Your Electrolytes 

Drinking sports drinks or electrolyte replacement beverages while running, especially during longer runs or when you run first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, can help prevent foot cramps due to electrolyte imbalances.

A close-up of a runner's feet as they are stretching them out.

#7: Use a Heating Pad

A heating pad can encourage circulation to your feet and may reduce the risk of foot cramps if used before a run.

#8: Get New Running Shoes

The general advice is to replace your running every 300-500 miles to ensure optimal support. If you’re not sure about the fit of your running shoes or the best type of running shoes for your foot, visit your local specialty running store to work with a running shoe expert who can analyze your gait.

#9: Be Mindful of Your Training 

Be careful not to ramp up your workouts too quickly. Let your body recover so that you can stay healthy and strong, run after run.

If you want to whip those feet into shape, here are 10 Foot Strengthening Exercises for you to try out.

Related Article: Best Insoles For Running In 2022

A runner stretching our her calf.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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