Bicyclists & Foot Cramps

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Foot cramps can originate at any point during a bicycle ride. The cause varies by circumstance -- the same rider may get foot cramps for different reasons at different times -- and learning more about their etiology can help you find solutions for the pain. If foot cramps persist, worsen or become more frequent during your cycling trips, talk to your doctor.


Foot cramping usually happens in the intrinsic foot muscles, the fine muscles that run under the arches of your feet. These little muscles can cause a lot of pain. All muscles contain spindles that receive messages from proprioceptors, cells that communicate information about muscle tension. When the rate of information between spindle cells and other proprioceptors is out of balance, your muscles cramp. This may occur in your feet when you cycle, because the spindles are contracting differently than usual as you pedal. The intrinsic foot muscles contract, but the proprioceptors can't help regulate tension quickly enough.


A foot cramp may relax on its own without you having to stop cycling. In many instances, though, your inability to control your foot plus intense pain prevent you from continuing. When this happens, bend down and hold the cramped foot in the palm of your hand and pull your toes toward your nose slowly and gently. If this fails, dismount and take off your sock and shoe to try again.


You may be able to avoid foot cramping by stretching regularly before and after your ride. The University Foot and Ankle Institute in Beverly Hills recommends a foot stretch. Stand near a wall and push your toes against the wall. Keep the ball of your foot on the ground and bend your knees. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat two or three times on each side.


Dehydration may cause or contribute to foot cramps. When you sweat a lot, you dehydrate more quickly, and can lose sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. These electrolytes help your body's muscles perform, so if you sweat them all out, you're more susceptible to cramping. Drink plenty of water regularly, but especially before and during your ride. Sports drinks that aren't high in sugar may help replace electrolytes.


Your doctor may prescribe quinine if you frequently have moderate cramps. If you decide to try this route, be aware of its side effects, including nausea, ringing in the ears and deafness.