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What causes toe cramps? July 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Ugh. For the past week or so, our friend Ben has been experiencing toe cramps. These are not the excruciating calf-muscle cramps that are paralyzingly painful and take a good deal of stretching to get rid of (I grab the toes of the affected leg and pull straight back until the cramp subsides, but yowie kazowie, talk about pain, not to mention that the cramps can come back). No, these are cramps of the toes themselves, and they don’t happen at night like leg cramps. In fact, they’ve been happening while I’ve been sitting here at the computer.

It’s not like the toe cramps are a big deal. It’s more like they’re just plain creepy. You feel your toes constricting, accompanied by mild pain, and look down to see the big toe and a couple of others turn a sickly whitish-yellow color and start pulling back toward the foot. It’s easy enough to stop the whole performance by reaching down and straightening out the toes with your hand. It’s just sort of scary to watch your body parts decide to move independently of your body. Nobody wants to become an extra in “Alien” without getting paid.

So our friend Ben turned to my good friend Google to see what might be causing these cramps, which I’ve never had before. (Mercifully, I rarely get the horrific leg cramps, either.) One cause, apparently, is wearing high heels or tight fashion boots that compress the toes. Well, that’s not the issue here. Another is long, hard sessions of running (including on a treadmill), walking, or hiking. I wish I could tell you that was the cause, but forget that. Yoga and dancing, especially ballet, can also cause toe cramps. (Sorry, not my thing.) So can calcium deficiency and dehydration.

Now, that’s more like it. Our friend Ben can’t imagine why I’d suddenly be more calcium-deficient than usual, but it sure sounds like a great excuse to eat more cheese. And summer and outdoor chores put a premium on hydration. I’m not a fan of plain water, but iced tea, water-rich fruits like melon, and sparkling water are all high on my summer list.

The article also suggested doing exercises to strengthen the toe muscles. Pulling the toes up, gripping the toes down, stretching the toes out, and so on. But my favorite was picking up a hand towel or washrag, dust towel, or paper towel between your toes. Back in the day, I could pick up a dime or open a door with my toes. (Useful trick if your arms are full of grocery bags or whatnot.) Guess I’d better start practicing again between those cheese-and-cracker breaks.

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1. Frater Zee - July 30, 2014

Hi Si. In my experience, ELECTROLYTE IMBALANCE is the cause of minor recurring cramps in lower leg (not just calf), foot (tho not toes), lower arms and hands. Cramps often occurred when I sat down after working outside (perspiring) for hours on a hot day, and drinking water at the recommended rate (approx. one quart per hour) to remain hydrated. So “de-hydration” was not the cause.

The SOLUTION –> I dissolve 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of SALT in a little water, and drink it slowly. Cramps stop INSTANTLY. Mirabile dictu!

This proves that cramps (in my case) were caused by low sodium — — ie, the blood is diluted by drinking a lot of plain water.

On the other hand, if your diet is HIGH in sodium, I suspect your cramps might be caused by “high sodium” in relation to low levels of other blood electrolytes — potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

So I suggest –> instead of plain water, drink a BALANCED electrolyte replacement drink to remain hydrated. Unfortunately “Gatorade” (and other so-called sports drinks) contain undesirable additives (artificial colors & sweeteners), along with desirable electrolytes. One non-artificial electrolyte replacement drink I like is “Emergen-C” — it contains 1000 mg Vitamin C per packet, plus mineral ascorbates and natural orange flavor. Anyone know of others ??

Love your toe exercises!! Opening a door, indeed. Cheers.

Thanks, Frater Zee! This is hugely helpful. You’re right, I don’t like the thought of Gatorade, but I’ll try out some of your other recommendations and see what works for me. And all this time I thought electrolyte replacement drinks were basically salt and sugar solutions (think of a margarita with a salted rim, a lot tastier than Gatorade). Shows what I know!


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