Fitness Q&A by Richard Weil

I get agonizing cramps in my feet when I exercise. Are there any stretches or exercises that you would recommend for this problem?

Answer:

Stretches and strengthening may or may not help and it depends on what the cause of the cramping is. I recommend that you check with your doctor if the exercises I suggest do not help and the problem persists.

Here are stretches for your calves and your feet. Hold each stretch until your muscles feel looser and repeat two to three times with each leg. Do these every day.

Calf Stretch (gastrocnemius muscle)

    1. Lean against a wall with both hands, and keep your back straight.

    2. The leg that you want to stretch should be straight back with the heel flat on the floor.

    3. Bring the other leg forward with the knee bent.

    4. Move your hips toward the wall while keeping your rear foot flat on the floor.

    5. Put a folded towel under the ball of your foot (keeping heel down) to lift the foot and increase the stretch.

Calf Stretch (soleus muscle)

    1. Take the same starting position as the stretch above.

    2. Lean forward with your hips, but this time bend the knee of the rear leg. This will put the stretch lower in your calf (near the Achilles tendon) and will also stretch the muscles in the foot.

    3. Hold on to the back of a chair if you need balance.

Here are strengthening exercises. Repeat 12-15 repetitions, three sets each. Do these every other day.

Heel Raises

    1. While standing with shoes on, lift your heels off the floor (end on tippy toes).

    2. To accentuate the movement, stand on the edge of a step with heels off the edge (like a back dive off a diving board), and lower heels below the step, then raise. Hold the wall or banister for balance.

Towel Pull

    1. Sit in a chair barefoot with your toes on the edge of a towel. Start flexing (curling) your toes and pulling the towel to draw it up under your toes.

Marble/Pencil Grab

    1. Pick up marbles or pencils with your toes while sitting or standing barefoot.

Make sure that your shoes fit well in addition to the stretching and strengthening. Tight shoes, and even tight laces, can cause the muscles in the feet to cramp, particularly if you do long periods of exercise. Exercising on a cardio machine like the Elliptical, where the foot remains in the same place for long periods, can also cause cramping. Try the following if you experience cramping while on the Elliptical: (1) shifting your feet, (2) leaning your weight on your arms, (3) pedaling backward, or (4) stopping and getting off to walk around.

It's not always easy to determine the cause of cramping. In addition to the exercise conditions listed above, cramping can also be caused by medications (for example, diuretics), nutritional deficiencies, hydration status, and circulatory problems. As I mentioned above, you should check with your doctor to rule out medical causes if none of the exercises help and the cramps continue.

Take care, and thank you for your question.


Last Editorial Review: 3/21/2007



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