We all know that sharp, tightening pain of a muscle cramp and how highly unpleasant it can be… especially in your toes.

We use our toes every day, so they get quite the workout, add running into the equation and you realize how important they really are.

Toe cramps are in essence caused by muscle fatigue which can be caused by many factors such as dehydration, overtraining, or lack of circulation due to incorrect shoes. 

Let’s have a deeper look into the causes of toe cramps, what to do when your toes are cramping, and how to prevent the cramps in the first place.

What Causes Toe Cramps?

There are a few reasons why you might be experiencing toe cramps.
The reasons range from something as simple as not drinking enough water to more serious underlying medical conditions.

  1. Dehydration
  2. Wearing the wrong shoes
  3. Overtraining
  4. Tight Muscles
  5. Certain Medications

Toe Cramps From Dehydration

Dehydration can sometimes cause your muscles to cramp or feel tense.

Water has various functions in the body such as transport of nutrients to the active tissues, getting rid of waste products, and temperature regulation.

Temperature and hydration have an influence on your running performance… 

During exercise, we must be fully hydrated.

Firstly, to get rid of the waste products, which are the result of your muscles working.

Secondly, to deliver nutrients. It doesn’t help if we eat all the correct things and then they don’t get delivered to the muscle due to dehydration.

Signs Of Dehydration:

  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Rapid breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizzy & light headed

Toe Cramps From Wearing Incorrect Shoes

Running in worn-out shoes can actually lead to a running injury so knowing when to swap out your old shoes for a new pair is very important.

After you’ve been running in your shoes for quite a while, they’ll start to show signs of wear and tear.

These will be things like poor shock absorption, and worn tread, they’ll feel flat and you might experience pain or toe cramps while running.

If you start to notice these signs of wear, it’s time to start looking for a new pair of running shoes.

When To Change Your Running Shoes – The Mileage Guide

Toe Cramps From Overtraining

Are you doing too much, too soon? 

Your toe cramps while running may be a sign that you’ve increased your mileage too fast or added too much speedwork to your training recently…

Toe Cramps From Tight Muscles

If your muscles are tight or even weak, it can cause toe cramps. 

There are so many muscles in your toes, so any tightness can cause pain in the form of cramps.

That’s why highly recommend doing foot and ankle strength training.

Making sure you do the correct strength training is important. The good news is we’ve created a free strength training plan for runners that you can download by clicking here.

We spend so much time running in training and doing the necessary strength work. We watch our nutrition. Religiously following our running training program. But the one thing we as runners tend to neglect is strengthening our feet and ankles.

Toe Cramps From Medication

This obviously only happens to some people, but is something to bear in mind…

Certain medications can contribute to muscle cramps. 

These can include diuretics and cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins and nicotinic acid.

Now that we know what can cause our toes to cramp… Let’s have a look at how we handle the situation.

What To Do If Your Toe Starts To Cramp While Running?

Stretch Your Toes

  • Toe raises: Raise your heel off the ground so that only your toes and the ball of your foot are touching the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, lower, and repeat.
  • Toe flex or point: Flex your foot so your big toe looks like it’s pointing in one direction. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat.
  • Toe curl: Bend all of your toes as if you’re trying to tuck them under your foot. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat.

Apply Ice or Heat

Ice will help with pain relief. Make sure to wrap the ice in a towel first.
Heat will help relax your toe muscles, you can place your feet in warm water.

Stop & Change Your Shoes

The type of shoes you run can definitely give you toe cramps.  You need to find the right type of shoe for you. 

This is how to choose the correct running shoes.

How To Relieve Toe Cramps Fast With Home Remedies

If your toes are cramping a home remedy is to massage your foot… Or better yet, get a lucky someone to massage your feet gently for you. Another method of massaging your feet is to rub your foot gently over a round object like a golf ball, this should help release the tightness causing your toes to cramp. 

Drink some water, a glass of water may be just what the doctor ordered.

You probably know that bananas are a good source of potassium, but they’ll also give you magnesium and calcium which can help relieve the pain from your muscle cramps.

The best thing would be to prevent your toe cramps in the first place… Let’s look at the different ways you can save your future self and prevent toe cramps…

How To Prevent Toe Cramps While Running

There’s no magic cure for toe cramps…

There is no silver bullet to cure cramping, purely because no one knows exactly what causes cramping. 

Cramping is in essence a result of an overlap in signals in the neural receptors in our muscles that cause our muscles to contract and relax. This overlap sends the muscle into spasm as it doesn’t know if it should be contracting or relaxing. What causes this, we don’t know.

Research even shows that magnesium supplements seem to make no difference at all.

At least there are ways we can try and prevent the toe cramps…

  • Wear the right shoes.
  • Hydrate efficiently.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Don’t overtrain.
  • Build up your mileage slowly.
  • Warm-up before your runs with dynamic stretches.
  • Do foot strength exercises regularly.

When To See a Doctor About Your Toe Cramps

If your toe cramps have become quite regular and are happening more and more on your runs or are lasting for longer periods of time then it might be a good idea to consider going to the doctor as recurring cramps or cramps worsening may be a sign of an underlying health condition.


Devlin Eyden has a passion for seeing his athletes grow and excel. From novice runners or cyclists across all disciplines to elite mountain bikers representing South Africa at World Championships. In addition to helping you ride faster, for longer, Devlin also has the personal touch when it comes to your bike setup, aiming at improving the overall rider experience. With his background as a Sport Scientist as well as a Strength & Conditioning specialist, performance is Devlin’s main priority, be it in the gym, the lab or out on the road or trails. Being a keen runner & cyclist and having completed the Cape Epic among others, Devlin has first hand experience in what it take to reach your goals. If you’re looking for a once-off training program or ongoing, high touch support Devlin has you covered.

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