View Full Version : toe cramps

jim thornton
January 10th, 2007, 11:06 PM
Maybe it's the cold water, and blood gets shunted away from the extremities. But I have been getting toe cramps when I first start warming up.

By the end of the first main set, the lower calves get involved--twitching and borderline charlie horsing around.

Sometimes, if I am racing a teammate in different sets, I have to kick with my feet at right angles to my lower legs to keep the cramps from seizing me up completely.

Any tips for cramp prevention? http://forums.usms.org/images/smilies/banana.gif

Oh, please don't suggest eating more bananas unless this really does work.

January 10th, 2007, 11:24 PM
Hi Jim!

I get those cramps - when your toes go in all different directions and it kills! Anyways, I get them when I haven't been working out for a while and the best I can do is stretch them back into their original position (this hurts). I massage my feet/calves heavily - or have someone do it for me. Bananas don't seem to help... I just work thru it. I know what you mean about kicking in a different direction to avoid your foot from cramping up!

January 10th, 2007, 11:26 PM
I have this problem from time to time, too ... Lately my toes have been cramping ... first of all warm-up sufficiently ...

I notice that I tend to get crampy legs if I stand around a lot ... for example, if their is more rest between swims, and I am getting cold then I swim fast ... so try to do more active recovery (that's second)

And yes, bananas do work. They give you potassium which is helpful in preventing cramps ... other good sources are kiwi, appricots, melon, figs, mango, papya, prunes, raisins, tofu, peas, beans, lentils, avocados, sweet potatos, squash, sunflower seeds, milk, juices, yogurt, and a bunch of other stuff ... so try and add more of that stuff and reduce the sodium intake a bit ...

Also try stretching out your calfs before you hop in ...

Redbird Alum
January 11th, 2007, 12:04 AM
Any tips for cramp prevention? ... Oh, please don't suggest eating more bananas unless this really does work.

Jim -

Drink more clear, non-caffinated liquids. (Water is excellent!) As silly as this sounds, swimming (especially in winter) is alot more dehydrating than people think. Not only are you sweating, but you are doing alot of air exchange with the lungs in a dry season.

If I am not up on my water intake, I will definately cramp up, especially in speed sets.

January 11th, 2007, 12:22 AM
I read an article about water poisoning that occurred in runners who drank too much water during marathons and in a few rare cases, actually died. (The others just couldn't finish.) The article recommended obviously drink a moderate amount of water, but also to snack on something that contains sodium, ie: pretzels, sometime before your workout/event. The sodium helps retain water which in turn helps keep your muscles hydrated and the cramps away. I had a buddy on my team try this and he started getting less cramps.

Heather, nice research on the foods! I am going to have to eat me more mango salsa and guacamole!

January 11th, 2007, 01:52 AM
Hi Jim,
I used to have the same problem! I now drink a product called Rehydrate and it has made a huge difference! I don't cramp up anymore at all! Private message me if you would like to find out more...I like the product so much I'm a distributor now.

January 11th, 2007, 10:53 AM
Jim -

Drink more clear, non-caffinated liquids. (Water is excellent!) As silly as this sounds, swimming (especially in winter) is alot more dehydrating than people think. Not only are you sweating, but you are doing alot of air exchange with the lungs in a dry season.

If I am not up on my water intake, I will definately cramp up, especially in speed sets.

I try to hydrate an hour before swimming and sip a mouthful every 2 or 3 rests (so I don't bloat or get pukey). I still got a cramplast night but it was after 1000 yards or so and I rested and stretched it out between my reps. It was OK. Calf massage is good for cramps and easing sciatica too--well for me anyhow.

You do sweat a lot with swimming. I always hate how you can shower quickly dry off and then put your shirt on again only to find it becomes sodden with sweat. I tend to sweat for quite a while post swim...as the hydrocooling of the pool is no longer available to my body hehehe

jim thornton
January 11th, 2007, 11:30 AM

Thanks for all the replies. A couple notes/possibilities.

It seems like I get two distinct species of cramps: these nettlesome toe cramps which happen at the beginning of practice, often when I first jump in the water.

Then the more stubborn and vexatious calf and foot arch cramps, which tend to happen only after a grueling set when we switch to kicking (or, ironically, when we switch to pulling AFTER kicking.)

I can't help but think the two types have different causes--the latter from general exhaustion/depletion of muscle resources from such a heavy load of exercise; and the former because of something more on the order of reduced circulation to the extremities exacerbated by the cold temperatures of winter. You know how in summer, wedding rings seem to threaten to cut off the circulation to your heat-bloated sausage of a wedding finger? And in winter, you always fear the ring will slip off your finger during practice in a cold pool? I just can't help but think blood shunting effects somehow figure in to the toe cramp phenomenon.

I've tried most of the remedies suggested: stretching, eating salty crackers (I always pop a package of Toast Chee crackers to keep from bonking during our 5400 yard workouts.) I drink plenty of fluids, though this includes a lot of caffeine.

For those of you interested, in hydration, I have an article in this month's Swimmer magazine, accessible at http://www.usmsswimmer.com/ if you don't receive the magazine itself. The article looks at what really constitutes optimal hydration (I'd be very interested in anybody's thoughts on this.)

Anyhow, I am thinking about trying to take a hot shower before practice to warm up both my hands and feet before swimming, see if this opens up the arterioles and makes a difference.

Again, thanks for all the suggestions. One of the things I like best about this forum is when you worry about some quirk of swimming physiology, you almost always find that many, many others suffer the same phenomenon--which, of course, tends to remove the problem from the realm of "potentially pathological" to "most likely normal albeit still somewhat of a nuisance." This mental shift, for me at least, tends to dissipate the concerns . Thanks!

PS I mentioned the bananas primarily just so I could use the dancing banana icon.

PS 2 If there are any doctors/exercise physiologists out there, here's a mystery I'd love to get solved. Why is it that muscle cramps, in general, stroke the legs, back muscles, etc. but almost never occur in the arms or shoulders? It seems to me that swimmers use our arms so much more than our legs, especially distance freestylers like me who try to kick as little as possible. Why don't we ever get arms cramps? Different proportion of muscle fiber types, maybe?

January 11th, 2007, 12:07 PM

Thanks for all the replies. A couple notes/possibilities.


Jim this might be worth a shot...I take a hot shower before I swim stretch a little while doing so. I then turn the shower gradually to as cold as I can handle until I just about begin to feel my breath being taken away...then I hang there for bit to cool off before I hit the pool. This is done from my point of view to make my pool entry more welcoming (lol) but maybe it might help your toes out a bit too; warm them, stretch, cool them, swim...maybe they will be less shock to them?

Or it could just be you have bad luck with your pinkies :D


February 2nd, 2009, 03:00 PM
I've also been having problems with toe & calf cramps recently, which led me to your post. I do everything I'm supposed to do and think I just found out my problem from another very helpful website: http://www.medicinenet.com/muscle_cramps/article.htm. It turns out that some common medications have cramping as a side effect, and for me the medication is my inhalers. So if I want to breathe, it seems I have to deal with the many side effects my inhalers bring (yeast infections in my throat, cramping during swimming, and shaky hands). Maybe this article will help some of you. Good luck!

jim thornton
February 3rd, 2009, 09:05 PM
Mine have at least temporarily abated, not sure exactly why. I have been having a package of GU before almost every practice, so maybe I needed a little pre-swimming nutrition? I still get cramps after a really hard set, followed by a kick set, followed by pulling (when, paradoxically, the leg and foot cramps really set in.)

February 4th, 2009, 09:20 AM
Jim: you might check out this web site for their series of articles on muscle cramps:

Part I
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramps-part-1-theories-and.html (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramps-part-1-theories-and.html)

Part II
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramps-part-ii.html (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramps-part-ii.html)

Part III
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramp-part-iii.html (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramp-part-iii.html)

Part IV
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramp-part-iv.html (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/11/muscle-cramp-part-iv.html)

See below if you are not inspired to read the articles. ---mjm

1. Which muscles are more likely to cramp?

This is a pretty important question. The answer, of course, is the active muscles. This theory explains why, because the fatigue, which alters the activity of these two important reflexes, is most manifest in the active muscle. The electrolyte theory doesn't explain why only the muscles being used for exercise tend to cramp - in fact, if low electrolyte levels were the cause of cramp, we'd expect generalized cramping, as occurs in clinical conditions where people lose a lot of salt and become hyponatremic. It does not happen in exercise, but the Fatigue Theory can explain it.

2. What kind of muscle cramps most often?

Here, the answer is that a muscle that crosses two joints will cramp more often. This makes sense according to the Neural Fatigue theory, because if a muscle spans two joints, then it means that the muscle is going to be in a shortened position when it contracts. Think of the calf muscle during swimming - your toes are pointed (the ankle is in plantar flexion), which means the muscle is contracting in a shortened position. When the muscle is in this position, then the activity of that Golgi tendon organ is going to reduced even more than normal. Add to this the contraction, which stimulates the muscle spindle, and the net result is that the inhibition of the motor neuron is reduced even further, predisposing one to cramp.

This is why calf muscle cramps are so prevalent in swimmers (the only time I've ever cramped, incidentally), and also why, when you wake up in the middle of the night or sit in a strange position for a really long time, it's when you point your toes that you suddenly go into a fully-fledged cramp!

In other words, it's actually the position of the muscle that predisposes to cramp.

For the others, the take home message really is that "Fatigue causes cramps, by interfering with the normal balance of spinal reflex control - it switches on the alpha motor neuron and the muscle contracts involuntarily."

Try this - point your foot and toes down as forcefully as possible for about 2 minutes - you'll feel pretty close to cramp by the end! The reason is that you're putting yourself in the perfect position for cramp - sustained muscle contraction in a shortened position. The remedy, of course, is to make sure you take every chance you get to loosen up, relieve the contraction, stretch, etc.