You're pulsing, tapping, and plié-ing your way through a barre class, channeling your inner Misty Copeland, when you feel a stabbing pain shoot through the arch of your foot. This sensation isn't the boutique fitness gods cursing you for not buying a package of classes, it's probably a foot cramp.
When you get a muscle cramp, it's usually not a huge deal, even though it can be very painful. Muscle cramps are caused by involuntary muscle contractions, and it's common to get them in your legs — but foot cramps are no different, says Jackie Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist in New York City. "Spasms and cramps in feet can come from overuse, doing a new exercise, or not having the proper foot gear," she says.
Lots of people get foot cramps during barefoot workouts, such as barre, yoga, Pilates, or dance. "When you are barefoot, you rely on the intrinsic or small muscles in the foot for balance," Dr. Sutera says. So, your feet have to work harder to rise onto the balls of your feet, point your toes, or extend your leg — and you might get a cramp. "All these small muscles are contracted and you're exerting force with all your bodyweight on your feet," Dr. Sutera says.
But some people get foot cramps when they're wearing shoes, which could be a different story, Dr. Sutera says. If you tend to exercise regularly in sneakers, make sure your shoes aren't old or worn out, she says. And if you were looking for a reason to buy a new pair, the American Podiatric Medical Association recommends replacing your sneakers every six to eight months.
Having the right sneakers for the type of workout you're doing can also make a huge difference and reduce your likelihood of getting a cramp or more serious injury, according to Dr. Sutera. For example, if you're a runner, it's important to have shoes that absorb shock well, the APMA suggests. For some people, a new pair of shoes isn't enough to do the trick, and they'll need added arch support or orthotics for a more cushioned run. "These align the foot and prevent abnormal motions, which could trigger spasm and cramps," she says.
So, if you do get a crippling foot cramp in the middle of class, what should you do? "Stop your activity," Dr. Sutera says. Sit down, stretch, and massage the area. And if you're wearing a shoe when you get the cramp, take it off. Muscle cramps usually go away on their own, so wait until the cramp subsides to jump back into class — don't try to just work through it she says.
Even though cramps seem to come out of nowhere, they are preventable, Dr. Sutera says. It can be helpful to stretch the arches of your feet before working out, and warm up by practicing some of the movements that you know you'll be doing during the class. And don't forget to stay hydrated. That said, if you frequently get foot cramps and can't tell what has caused it, that might be a red flag that you should see a doctor.
After a few classes, your feet will get used to some of the motions, which might stop the cramps from coming. "As your foot muscles get stronger, especially from doing yoga and barre, this should subside slowly over time," she says. In other words, permission to sign up for a few more classes — doctor's orders.