If you have never experienced a muscle cramp - consider yourself lucky! Unfortunately not many people are that fortunate.
So, what is a cramp? According to the oxford dictionary, a cramp is a “painful involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscles, typically caused by fatigue or strain." Cramps can occur in almost any part of our body, but we are going to mainly discuss foot cramps in this post.
Foot cramps are caused by painful, intense, involuntary spasms of the muscles. They are usually short-lived but can be really unpleasant and recovery can take a few days. Foot cramps most commonly occur in the arch of the foot but people also complain of toe cramps and calf muscle cramps. They are often caused by fatigue, reduced levels of certain chemicals, hormonal factors and illness.
Foot cramps are very common in people who practice Pilates regularly. In this article, I would like to go through the possible causes of foot cramps and ways of getting rid of them. I run 3 Pilates classes a week, and from my personal experience, at least 2-3 people in each class are regularly getting cramps.
Factors that may lead to muscle cramping include muscle fatigue, lack of flexibility, exercising in the heat, and imbalances of the electrolytes in the blood.
To understand what causes toe, foot and calf muscle cramps, we need to know how muscles works. All muscles work in pairs – an agonist and antagonist. In order for them to work properly, as one muscle (agonist) contracts, the other (antagonist) relaxes to allow a smooth, controlled movement. If the antagonist muscle doesn’t relax properly, cramp develops. Alternatively, if a muscle contracts suddenly, with great force and then can’t relax, cramp can develop.
A few primary causes of cramps are:
- Lack of magnesium
- Lack of potassium
- Lack of calcium
Cramps can also be caused by a variety of other reasons such as:
- Pointing toes
- Flat feet
- Tightness in the ankle or foot
- Excessive standing or walking
Cramping can also occur because muscles and tendons are programmed to stay in a fixed position. Pilates and yoga practice puts our feet in different positions from the average person’s daily activity. A foot massage might help to release the tension. You could use a small, but sturdy rubber ball, or a tennis ball and roll it under the bottom of your foot. Sit on a couch or chair and lightly place the weight of your leg and foot down onto the ball. Roll the ball under the bottom of the foot with a linear motion, going back and forth, as needed, to massage the bottom of the foot.
Whether the cause of the cramp is dehydration, injury to a muscle, vigorous exercise, repetitive movement, or holding a prolonged position, stretching can prevent or stop most cramps when they occur. Gently massaging the muscle, firmly pressing the tendons at the end of the muscles or using a warm compress can help the muscle to relax and the cramp to subside.
Muscle spasms and cramps are more common in summer because your body loses electrolytes and minerals as you sweat. With a few precautions though, you can enjoy active fun in the sun, a hot yoga class or a toe pointing Pilates class without the agony of a sudden cramp.
What Else Can You Do to Alleviate Muscle Cramps?
Try and drink a glass or two of water in the morning. If you are a coffee drinker it is important that you realize that coffee will dehydrate your body, so you need to replenish your fluids after having one. I would also recommend drinking a glass of water before the session (not immediately before the lesson, 15-30 minutes before the start.)
And you can also bring some water to the class. If you have coffee or tea during the day, try to avoid taking it before your Pilates or yoga session as it can advance dehydration, which could bring on that hated muscle cramping.
2. Eat Foods High in Magnesium
- Banana: 34 mg**
- Dried Figs: 44mg
- Black Beans: 120 mg
- Cashews: 148 mg
- Pumpkin Seeds: 151 mg
- Almonds: 156 mg
- Whole Wheat Flour: 166 mg
**Banana is high in potassium and magnesium (not the highest score but it does have magnesium in it), so you get two benefits with this one!
3. Eat Foods High in Potassium
- Banana: 467 mg
- Orange Juice: 496 mg
- Tomato Juice: 535 mg
- Dates: 542 mg
- Raisins: 544 mg
- Dried Apricots: 814 mg
4. Eat Foods High in Calcium
- Dairy products
- Flax seeds
- Green vegetables
Hope you found this blog informative and here’s to not cramping in Pilates and Yoga classes!
Natallia grew up in Belarus and moved to Scotland 11 years ago, where she decided to follow her heart and made her passion for healthy living and exercise into her career. Natallia's drive for health and fitness started at the age of 12 with Callanetics at the local community hall, which then grew into daily trips to the nearest fitness centre. Passion then grew into ongoing education in new fitness trends, clean eating, and lifestyle in general. In 2006 Natallia's Fitness, a lifestyle business, was born. Natallia's credentials include Zen Yoga training, Level 3 Pilates, Nutrition, Exercise and Pre- and Post- Natal Diplomas; all Zumba certifications; Barre Concept; Natallia's Fitness Blog, and various other diplomas and certificates.
Main Photo Credit: AstroStar/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Holbox/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Foto infot/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Rusian Grumble/shutterstock.com