definition

Muscle cramps are painful contractions of the muscles that occur suddenly and involuntarily, which usually end without external influences and are only of short duration.

The cramps can be triggered by various factors and affect different muscle groups - for example the foot muscles. Nevertheless, the mechanism behind the development of muscle spasms is only partially understood to this day.

Causes of Toe Cramps

These are the most common causes of toe cramps:

  • Magnesium or calcium deficiency
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Arterial Disease
  • Drug side effect (Diuretics or beta blockers)
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Polyneuropathy

Muscle spasms in general are divided into three categories based on various aspects.
1. Symptomatic and 2. idiopathic cramps are rather rare. The former always appear as a symptom of an underlying internal or neurological disease, whereas the cause of idiopathic convulsions is not known. By far the most convulsions fall into the 3rd category of paraphysiological (so not illness-related) Cramps, which under certain conditions also occur in healthy people.

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Paraphysiological: The causes for the development of paraphysiological convulsions include, above all, disorders of the electrolyte balance. A deficiency of the electrolytes magnesium and calcium in particular often leads to the symptoms. Electrolyte shifts can arise, among other things, from increased sweating. Ultimately, this leads to the excessive release of calcium in the muscle cells, which in turn causes painful continuous contraction of the muscle.

Another cause of a disturbed electrolyte balance is high alcohol consumption. Alcohol inhibits the release of the so-called antidiuretic hormone, which is responsible for the re-absorption of water in the kidneys. If this hormone is deficient in alcohol consumption, too much water is released through the kidneys - dehydration of the body occurs, which in turn can lead to cramps.

Symptomatic: There is a long list of diseases that can lead to symptomatic muscle cramps in the toes, but also in general. These include, for example, internal diseases such as arterial occlusive disease or an overactive thyroid. However, diseases of the muscles themselves or neurological diseases such as polyneuropathy can also cause cramps.
Ultimately, drug side effects can also be responsible. Medications known to induce muscle spasms include diuretics (drugs that flush out water) and beta blockers.

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Read more on the topic: Cause of cramps

Concomitant symptoms

If other symptoms occur in addition to cramps in the toes, this can provide valuable information on possible causes. For example, a magnesium deficiency also leads to cramps in other muscle groups. Especially the calves and the masticatory muscles are often affected. Apart from that, a magnesium deficiency can also lead to digestive problems, palpitations, as well as neurological and psychological symptoms such as increased irritability, numbness in the extremities and dizziness.

therapy

In terms of therapy, a distinction can be made between acute therapy, long-term therapy for convulsions and preventive measures.

Acute therapy

In acute therapy, physical measures such as local heat application play a role. Stretching or compressing the affected muscle is also helpful, albeit painful at first. For this it is usually advisable to pull the toe towards the back of the foot during the fight until the cramp is released. Raising the foot can also be of benefit here. Apart from these acute measures, some athletes recommend pinching the soles of their feet or the back of their feet as this is intended to interrupt the reflex. The same purpose is served by gently rubbing the foot.

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Long-term therapy

In the therapy of muscle spasms, medicine is still very limited. There is no known causal treatment for idiopathic and paraphysiological muscle spasms. Instead, the main recommendation is still given to increase the magnesium intake. In many cases it is rather questionable whether this actually helps. Nevertheless, a conscious diet can provide relief from cramps in toes and feet in individual cases. Foods with a high magnesium content mainly include nuts and seeds, especially sunflower seeds, flax seeds and sesame seeds. Oatmeal is also rich in magnesium.

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In addition, a sufficient supply of fluids plays an important role in preventing cramps.

Prevention

However, the greatest benefit as a preventive measure for muscle spasms is stretching. As described above, stretching exercises performed every evening for just three minutes prevented nocturnal cramps. This principle can also be applied to everyday life, so that activation and stretching of the foot and leg muscles is recommended several times a day.

Read more on the topic: Prevent cramps

Quinine-containing preparations are also not approved in the USA, but are often used in Germany and Austria to treat cramps.These drugs are actually effective to some extent.
At the same time, however, they are quite often accompanied by side effects. These include gastrointestinal complaints, but also kidney failure and cardiac arrhythmias. For this reason, taking the over-the-counter preparations is only recommended to a limited extent and should be carefully considered.

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Read more on the topic: Fight cramps

homeopathy

Similar to most of the diseases and syndromes known today, there are also homeopathic remedies for the treatment of muscle cramps in general and even cramps in the toes in particular.

It should be mentioned, however, that homeopathic remedies, such as those available in the form of globules or tinctures, do not correspond to current scientific knowledge and methods.

Nevertheless, there are numerous guides and shops online that deal with the topic in more detail. For the reasons mentioned above, however, reference must be made to these pages for more information on homeopathy for cramps in the toes.

Duration of the cramps

A characteristic of muscle spasms is that they stop for a short time and eventually stop without any external influence.

Usually such a cramp does not last longer than about max. three to four minutes.
However, the duration of a cramp can be shortened.

For this purpose, stretching the corresponding muscle and gently warming the affected muscle area, for example with a cherry stone pillow or a hot water bottle, are particularly suitable. Compression of the muscle can also be helpful.

When do the cramps occur?

Toe cramps at night

Muscle cramps of the toes, but also of the calves, have a tendency to often at rest and especially at night to occur. The reason for this phenomenon is just as unclear as the cause of cramps in general. In the meantime, however, it has been shown that to prevent nightly foot and calf cramps stretching the corresponding muscles are suitable.
A study with 80 participants already showed in 2012 that evening stretching has a clear benefit compared to the usual pure quinine or magnesium therapy.

Cramps while exercising

A tendency to muscle cramps is particularly noticeable during sport. The Lower leg muscles, as well as the muscles of the feet and toes, are particularly susceptible to this, as they experience a lot of stress in many sports.
Besides the ones described above prophylactic measures like regular stretching and a balanced diet, the discomfort can also come with some Immediate action be alleviated.

First of all this is Interrupt of exercise or training when a cramp occurs. Then it can stretch of the cramping muscle interrupt the muscle spasm.

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This is usually equivalent to bending the affected toe towards the back of the foot. The subsequent Massage or compression of the muscles of the arches of the foot, promote blood circulation and also help relax the muscle. Also warmth is often helpful in an acute spasm.

Apart from that, with frequent cramps, it is important to slowly increase the intensity of the training and to exercise regularly so that the muscles can get used to the strain. Good quality, i.e. stable and not too tight, shoes are also important here.

Cramps while swimming

Even when swimming, magnesium supplements are rarely the right way to avoid cramps in the toes and feet.
Instead, one is much more important reasonable Warm-up program and stretching exercises at the beginning. Especially those affected, who are very prone to muscle cramps, should take time to gradually increase the load.

This applies both to the respective training cycle and to the training program over a long period of time. In addition, regular stretching exercises several times a day can prevent cramps.

Cramps despite magnesium

Magnesium in the form of effervescent tablets, granules, chewable tablets or capsules is often viewed as a panacea for muscle cramps.
The idea behind it is ultimately very plausible - magnesium is an antagonist to calcium, which is released in the muscle cells as part of muscle activity. Scientifically speaking it is However, the effect of magnesium supplements is rather unsatisfactory to watch. In the last several studies, for example, it was found that magnesium is hardly suitable for the prophylaxis of cramps. The reason why magnesium is still recommended so often is simply the perplexity of medicine on this topic, as to date no exact causes for paraphysiological muscle spasms have been identified and therefore no causal therapy can be developed. In some cases, the consequence of a high magnesium intake due to dietary supplements is one Overdosewhich also Side effects can cause, but can at least be seen as a waste of money.

A more effective means of preventing cramps in the toes and other parts of the body are instead, stretch and get enough exercise. The training of the muscles achieved in this way can at least significantly reduce the occurrence of cramps in many cases. However, if frequent and severe cramps occur, it is advisable to consult a doctor, as serious internal or neurological underlying diseases can lead to muscle cramps.

Cramps in pregnancy

Paraphysiological muscle cramps, i.e. those that are not based on an underlying disease, are the unpleasant companion of many pregnancies. In particular, the calf muscles, those of the feet or the muscles of the thighs are particularly often affected. They also occur more frequently at night and not infrequently bring those affected to sleep completely.

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The reasons behind the cramps are in the increased stress during pregnancy to look through the steadily increasing weight of the child. This not only results in circulatory disorders in the muscles; in addition it can also become a Lack of trace elementssuch as magnesium and calcium, which are needed for the child's development in greater quantities than before.

First of all, it should be emphasized that cramps in the legs and feet (albeit stressful) dangerous neither for the child nor the mother are. They can be alleviated on the one hand by a balanced diet. Much more important, however, is regular exercise combined with light stretching exercises for the lower extremities. These can also help to interrupt a seizure.

As for the topic of dietary supplements, first and foremost Magnesium pills, is concerned, it can be stated that their effect is very limited. In fact, various studies on this topic have shown that taking them can reduce the number of daily muscle cramps by a good quarter, but placebo preparations had exactly the same effect. So the most effective means remain movement and stretching exercises.

Finally, it has to be mentioned that quinine, a not infrequently used and freely available remedy for muscle cramps, should definitely not be used during pregnancy. Apart from various side effects such as cardiac arrhythmias and gastrointestinal complaints, which are known to occur when taking the preparations, quinine can lead to premature labor during pregnancy and thus to premature births.

diagnosis

Since the cause of the so-called paraphysiological muscle spasms has still not been clarified, the diagnosis of the complaints is mainly limited to the exclusion of responsible underlying diseases, such as metabolic disorders or circulatory disorders. Frequent or stressful cramps can also give rise to Electrolyte measurements give of blood. Particular attention should be paid to calcium and magnesium levels. Apart from this, a magnesium value can also be measured and assessed in urine samples.


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