Though the pain of a toe cramp can be enough to make a grown man cry, don’t let toe cramp pain fool you into thinking that toe cramps are caused by any terrible disease.
Searing pain doesn’t always translate to fatal illness. Toe cramps (big and smaller toes) are quite common and often occur in the middle of the night or during exercise.
Causes of toe cramps are many.
Have you ever wondered why toes cramp a lot more than do fingers? What happens to toes, that doesn’t happen to fingers? They’re confined to shoes!
A most common cause of a toe cramp is tight shoes, especially high heels, where the tips of the feet are crammed.
Even though a toe cramp may occur at 3:00 am while you’re shifting in bed, this can still be caused by the shoes you had worn for hours the preceding day. Most common causes of a toe cramp:
Shoes and Boots
This means tight dressy shoes/boots, especially high heels.
Women’s shoes often converge to a point, squeezing out the toes.
Runners, particularly distance, as well as long-duration walkers, may find that their activity causes cramping in the toes.
Think about the beating they take while running or long-distance walking.
This includes the hard surface of a treadmill.
It’s no surprise that the cramping toe in the middle of the night is caused by that pounding hike you did the day before.
Dancing, as well, can cause a cramped-up toe, particularly ballet. Don’t rule out yoga as a cause of cramping toes.
“In yoga, one may be holding a position for a considerable period of time, leading to muscle or tendon fatigue which then causes pain or soreness or cramping,” says Bruce Pinker, DPM, who specializes in sports medicine and surgery of the foot and ankle.
“Most muscles and tendons have an elastic quality which allows for extension and contraction, and if overused, will lead to cramping,” continues Dr. Pinker.
“Sudden toe cramps can be due to tendon overuse. It happens to many individuals, especially ‘weekend warriors.’ Lactic acid can build up, leading to discomfort.”
“It can also be due to a calcium deficiency as well as other nutritional deficits,” says Dr. Pinker.
Not enough calcium has been known to cause toe cramps.
If you’re limiting calcium-rich dairy foods due to calories or other reasons, your toes may be paying for it in the form of spasms and cramps.
“Magnesium assists over 300 enzyme actions in the body including the production and transport of energy, temperature regulation and the synthesis of protein, while it also relaxes muscles, preventing cramping–especially important to athletes and anyone suffering from toe cramps,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND – Medical Advisory Board Member of the non-profit Nutritional Magnesium Association at nutritionalmagnesium.org.
Ask your doctor if your prescription drugs might cause toe cramping, especially if you’re taking cholesterol, blood pressure and asthma drugs.
Solutions to Toe Cramps
Limit high heels. Wear them for short periods, but not for work all day. Make sure lower heeled shoes have a roomy toe fit.
Next, include your toes in your exercise regimen.
Most people do not consider the importance of this last point. The muscles at the tips of your feet should be exercised.
The exercise that these muscles get from everyday walking and from your cardio routines is not enough, and here’s why:
Toe muscles need structured, gentle exercises that isolate them, and this includes stretching.
Walking and cardio routines do not isolate these tiny muscles in a gentle way, nor stretch them in a way that your hands can stretch them.
Several times a day for 30 seconds, gently pull toes towards you to stretch the underside muscles. Then curl your toes and hold that position for a few seconds.
In bare feet, spend a few minutes picking up socks off the floor by just curling your toes and forming a pincer-like grip.
Finally, flex and extend toes for a minute here and there throughout the day.
These exercises will condition the tiny muscles in a way that will help guard them against cramping up.
Prior to a yoga session, gently extend and flex the toes, and do some sock retrieving.
Magnesium supplement: “One of the most absorbable forms of magnesium is a powdered magnesium citrate that is taken with hot or cold water,” says Dr. Dean.
Make sure you’re getting enough potassium as well. A calcium and vitamin C supplement will also help. Keep well-hydrated, especially if you exercise.
If you experience a cramp, let it run its course. It should be over in a few minutes.
Remember, pain doesn’t necessarily mean a terrible disease. In the case of toe cramps, this is a benign (harmless) condition, though a royal nuisance.
However, if you decide to seek medical attention, see a podiatrist, an MD who specializes in foot care.
Dr. Pinker is with Progressive Foot Care, which provides state-of-the-art, full diagnostic testing and treatment of the foot. He’s a professional foot and ankle health and wellness speaker who delivers many original seminars annually such as “Keep On Running.”