Yoga practitioners sometimes experience foot and leg cramps during practice - especially if you're a beginner or returning to yoga practice after a break. We've all experienced the painful, involuntary grip of muscle cramp. So... what are the causes cramp? What's the best way to react to it? And are there ways you can reduce the likelihood of it happening?
Reasons for muscle cramps
Dehydration can occur when when activity causes fluid loss from perspiration. During warm weather, this type of cramping can be an early sign of heat stroke. It can also occur if you're taking diuretics (medicine that promotes urination) or you have poor fluid intake. Dehydration causes sodium depletion, associated with cramps.
Low blood calcium and/or low magnesium
Cramps can be caused by any situation that decreases the availability of calcium or magnesium in body fluids. For example - pregnancy, taking diuretics, hyperventilation, vomiting, inadequate calcium and/or magnesium in the diet, inadequate calcium absorption due to vitamin D deficiency, poor function of the parathyroid gland and other conditions.
Low potassium levels occasionally cause muscle cramps, although it's more common for low potassium to be associated with muscle weakness.
Numerous medicines can cause cramps. If you are currently taking medications, please check potential side effects for this possibility.
Deficiencies of thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5), and pyridoxine (B6) may cause cramp.
Yoga Specific Reasons
If your bare feet have been crammed in to tight or uncomfortable shoes all day, you may get cramp at the start of practice as you begin to stretch them out. Cod feet may be more likely to cramp.
Locking the knees while over flexing or extending the foot interrupts the fluidity of movement and may put stress on the joints.
Gripping the toes on the floor in an effort to balance can cause cramp - but is really helpful!
Can poor circulation cause muscle cramps?
Poor circulation to the legs, which results in inadequate oxygen to the muscle tissue, can cause severe pain in the muscle (known as claudication pain). This commonly occurs in the calf muscles. While the pain feels virtually identical to cramp, the pain does not seem to be a result of the actual muscle seizing up. This pain may be due to accumulation of lactic acid and other chemicals in the muscle tissues. It’s important to see your doctor if you have pain like this.
Taking care of a cramp
Stop and breathe
Take a break from the pose, and take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
Gently massaging the muscle will often help it to relax, as will applying warmth from a heating pad or hot soak.
Fluids and electrolytes
If the cramp is associated with fluid loss, as is often the case with vigorous physical activity, fluid and electrolyte replacement may help.
Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine, tissues, and other body fluids. Electrolytes are important because they help
The levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. This can happen when the amount of water in your body changes. The amount of water that you take in should equal the amount you lose. If something upsets this balance, you may have too little water (dehydration) or too much water (overhydration). Some medicines, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and liver or kidney problems can all upset your water balance.
Treatment helps you to manage the imbalance. It also involves identifying and treating what caused the imbalance.
Moving in to Downward Dog and walking the legs can also help with leg cramping.
Sit in Hero’s pose. This pose causes the plantar fascia to contract, stretches the arch, and massages the back of the foot. (If unable to sit on the heels place a block beneath the hips.).
Stretch into a seated forward bend, Paschimottanasana, grab the toes holding them wide and pull gently back. Flex from the ankle. There is resistance but it will break the cramp. Once the cramp relaxes, repeat the exercise or posture. Massage the foot.
Ways to help preventing cramp
Drink lots of water, especially before, during, and after exercise. Including a small amount of sodium can help with electrolyte imbalances and fluid retention.
Calcium and Magnesium
Making sure you are receiving an adequate amount is important. It is possible to get too much calcium and magnesium. The safest ways to increase your intake is through nutrition rather than supplements. Foods like soybeans/tofu, greens, nuts, and seeds are rich in both calcium and magnesium.
Keep the knees soft
Do not lock the knees.
Relax the toes
If gripping with your toes in standing balances triggers cramp, explore balancing with your toes relaxed instead.
Keep the feet warm
Think about using yoga socks if the cramps seem to be brought on by the cold.
Wear comfortable shoes