One minute you’re fine—and the next, yelp! You have a cramp in your foot that’s so painful you don’t know what to do with yourself. (If you’re like me, you start hopping up and down on it in hopes of making it stop!) Sometimes foot cramps can wake you when you’re asleep…or even strike in the middle of a workout. They can also occur when you’re just sitting—for instance, when driving or simply relaxing on the couch. No matter when they happen, they disrupt whatever you’re doing.
The big question: When you’re in the grip of a foot cramp, what can you do to ease it? That’s what we asked Johanna Youner, DPM, a New York City podiatrist. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to ease a foot cramp when it’s happening—and a few natural solutions can help to prevent them, too (if you get them regularly). Here is what Dr. Youner told us…
A foot cramp is a sudden contraction of a muscle or muscles. This sudden contraction or spasm causes the pain. Several things can cause your feet to cramp up, including dehydration or a dietary imbalance. Even a bad case of anxiety, which leads to shallow breathing and a reduction in oxygen going to the muscles, can cause cramping.
WHAT TO DO IN THE MIDDLE OF A CRAMP
Give your foot a massage. For many people, the first reaction to a foot cramp is to massage the area of the foot that is cramping. This is smart! You can use a hard or soft touch, whatever works best for you.
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You also might want to try doing acupressure—namely, pressing with your fingers on one of three points that correspond to your feet. These acupressure points include the spot between your upper lip and nose…the base of your calf muscle (on the leg where you have the cramp)…and the top of the foot between the big toe and second toe (on the foot where you have the cramp). Press firmly on any of these spots and hold for one minute, then release. If the first point doesn’t provide relief, try the others.
Stretch and flex. When a foot cramp strikes, try doing a stretching exercise. With your leg extended in front of you (either in a sitting or standing position), point the toes up to the sky and then straight ahead. Do this movement for about a minute. It helps to get blood flowing to ease the cramp.
Apply a heating pad. Put a heating pad on your foot where the cramp is. Make it comfortably warm, but never so hot that you might burn yourself. In most cases, the pain will disappear in a few minutes, although it’s best to hold the pad on the foot for 10 minutes to be sure it’s gone. If the pain doesn’t subside after 10 minutes, remove the heating pad and wait 20 minutes, then apply it again.
Drink apple cider vinegar or pickle juice or eat mustard. These foods contain vinegar, which consists of acetic acid. This acid helps the body make acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps our muscles work. The more acetylcholine you have, the better your muscles function. Try dissolving two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in honey, or consume about three teaspoons of pickle juice or mustard (any type). These vinegar remedies work so well that athletes are known to pick up mustard packets from fast-food restaurants in order to get fast relief from cramps.
Sip some tea. If stress and anxiety are causing your foot to cramp, drinking a cup of chamomile tea, which relaxes the body, can help. Another option is cramp bark tea, which is available at health-food stores. It contains valerianic acid, a muscle relaxant, and is known to relieve cramps of all kinds.
Take Magnesia phosphorica. This contains magnesium, a mineral that helps relax muscles. Have the remedy on hand so that you can take it when the cramp occurs. Follow label instructions.
HOW TO PREVENT CRAMPS (IF YOU GET THEM REGULARLY)
Drink tonic water. This common carbonated beverage contains quinine, which is known to be a muscle relaxant. People who are prone to foot cramps can drink one 12-ounce can or bottle of tonic water daily to prevent cramping. Tonic water contains only small amounts of quinine, but quinine can interact with medications. Check with your doctor first before using tonic water regularly.
Eat bananas. An imbalance of electrolytes, either because of excessive sweating or a dietary imbalance, can affect your muscle function. Getting too little potassium or too much sodium can make you vulnerable to cramps. To help bring electrolytes into balance, try eating a banana every day. Bananas contain potassium, which can help offset excess sodium.
Drink up. Dehydration is a common cause of cramps of any kind. You can become dehydrated if you consume too much sodium or sweat a lot. Increase the amount of water you drink daily—aim for eight eight-ounce glasses. If you have trouble downing that much plain water, increase your intake by jazzing up your water with slices of fruit…or drink herbal tea—that counts too!