The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Ask an NY Podiatrist: Why Does My Foot Cramp When Working Out?

Posted by on Friday, July 6th, 2018

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Barre classes have gotten fairly popular in recent years. In NYC, there’s Fly Barre, Physique 57, Pure Barre, Bar Method, Exhale Spa Barre, and Pop Physique to name a few. Barre is a great workout because, not only is it low-impact and fun, but it helps improve posture, flexibility, core power, and strength in every muscle group. Much like dance or yoga, some barre class participants report muscle spasms and cramps during their workouts. Some exercise has participants wondering, “Why does my foot cramp when working out?”

Why Does My Foot Cramp When Working Out
Barefoot workouts can spell foot cramps for some exercisers. Find out why. [Image Source: Unsplash user Scott Webb]

Why Does My Foot Cramp When Working Out?

Most commonly, foot cramps come as a result of:

  • Overuse – too much activity, too soon
  • Beginning a new exercise, using muscles unaccustomed to a workout
  • Not having the proper foot gear
  • Dietary imbalance
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety, which causes shallow breathing and reduced oxygen to the muscles
  • Abnormal foot movement due to a biomechanical issue

Cramps can last 15 seconds or 15 minutes. Either way, it can be incredibly painful and disorienting—enough to make you want to avoid this sensation again. Barefoot workouts like barre are particularly prone to foot cramping, as all your intrinsic muscles are contracted at once for balancing, without a shoe to pick up the slack. Your feet are working harder—whether you’re rising up on the balls of your feet, pointing your toes, or simply extending your leg straight out.

I’m Wearing Shoes, but I’m Still Getting a Cramp

Sometimes the feet cramp up during a run or aerobics class. Make sure you’re wearing shoes appropriate to the sport you’re participating in. Your shoes should be laced snugly, but not tight enough to produce pressure. New shoes should be replaced every six to eight months at most. If you’re overweight or putting in a lot of wear-and-tear, you may be due for replacement shoes as soon as three to four months after your purchase. For some patients with flat feet or extremely high arches and issues where the foot rolls inward or outward during the gait cycle, custom orthotics from an NYC podiatrist’s office could be the key to pain-free exercise.

What to Do When a Foot Cramp Strikes

  • Immediately stop doing what you’re doing when the crippling pain hits.
  • If you’re sitting, get up and put some weight on the foot. If you’re standing, sit down.
  • Shake the foot quickly but gently from side to side.
  • Stretch the arches by pulling your toes back toward your body, holding the stretch until the cramp passes.
  • Massage the area in small, circular motions that move upward and back downward again.

Preventing Foot Cramps During Workouts

Most cramps are preventable.

  • Before your workout, drink 16-24 ounces of water.
  • Eat bananas and oranges the day of a workout to get your potassium and sodium.
  • Eat carbohydrates to have sufficient calories to power your workout.
  • Adjust the intensity and duration of your exercise.
  • Stretch the arches of your feet before working out and warm up your muscles with a few movements you’ll be doing in class.

If you’re a beginner, take heart knowing that it may take you a few classes to get used to the new movements and pick up enough strength to do them without cramping. You may find it helpful in the meantime to add in cross-training, which offloads stress from the same muscle groups.

When to See a Foot Doctor

Occasionally, foot cramps are related to side effects of a diuretic medication or the development of certain medical conditions:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nerve compression
  • Potassium deficiency

As mentioned earlier, sometimes the root cause of the foot cramp is biomechanical. In that case, seeing an NYC podiatrist for custom orthotic fitting would be prudent. We can run a full series of tests right here in the office to rule out some of these more concerning issues. Contact us to set up an appointment in Manhattan or White Plains—no referral necessary!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.