Tag Archives: diet

Foot cramps

HeelLiftOuch! I am used to recognising the distress in someone’s face when a muscle cramp strikes during Pilates class.

These involuntary spasms of muscles are very uncomfortable and will stop you in your tracks. The more intense cramps can take a few days to recover from, but they are generally short-lived.

They mostly happen in the arch of the foot, but people also get toe cramps and calf muscle cramps.

What causes these intense, involuntary spasms of muscles?

There are many possible reasons why you get cramps; it could well be a combination of several. The main things to consider in your quest to reduce your foot cramps are:

● Dehydration?
● Lack of certain minerals, eg, magnesium, potassium or calcium?
● Lack of electrolytes? You lose these when you sweat in hot conditions, either during a hot summer or in an overheated room.
● Tightness in the ankle or foot? This could be due to flat foot syndrome or generally immobility in the feet due to excessive standing or walking in the same pattern.

Let’s face it, few of us think about our feet very much …. until they cause discomfort! Perhaps an ache from high heels, maybe blisters from new shoes or until they cramp painfully when doing Pilates.

Understanding how muscles work can help you understand what causes toe, foot and calf muscle cramps. Most muscles work in pairs – an agonist and antagonist. As one muscle (agonist) contracts, the other (antagonist) relaxes so that you get a smooth, controlled movement. If the antagonist muscle does not relax properly, a cramp develops. Conversely, if a muscle contracts suddenly and then doesn’t relax, a cramp can follow.

During your Pilates class, you are asking your feet to go into a range of different positions that you are unlikely to ask of them during your average daily activity. There is a good reason for this – having mobile, strong feet and ankles is essential for good movement patterns further up the chain, in your knees, pelvis and low back. Stiff feet are common in some elderly people, who have lost the ability to roll through the foot while walking and thus develop a solid ‘plodding’ gait: a recipe for instability and falls.

Working the instrinsic muscles of the foot is what you do during a Pilates class from a variety of positions in order to keep the foot working as nature designed it to work. When you point the toes and lift the arches of your feet, you are lengthening the muscles at front of the leg and foot; when you dorsi-flex (reach through the heel), you are lengthening the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and so on.

From my experience teaching pilates for seven years, immobile feet and ankles are the most common cause of foot cramps while doing pilates. But if immobility is addressed by the movement that causes you cramps, what should you do?

Steps to reduce likelihood of foot cramps

Massaging the fascia on the sole of the foot before class (and on a regular basis) can release tension. You can do this yourself using a small, sturdy ball, such as a tennis ball (or spiky balls designed for the purpose). Sitting on a chair, you lightly place the weight of your leg and foot down onto the ball. Roll the ball in a linear motion, back and forth, to massage the bottom of the foot.

Self-massage and focused movement of the toes and feet in your own time and own environment will also help. There are lots of foot movements you can do while relaxing by the TV or by the fire! Simple ankle rotation is invaluable –circling one way then the other about eight times each way ( or try writing the letters of the alphabet in the air with your toes!).

You could also try spreading the toes by interlocking them with your fingers, for example; or scrunching the toes to pick up a light cloth off the floor.

Try lifting and lowering the heels up to 15/20 times, while holding onto a kitchen worktop until a kettle boils or holding on a mantlepiece during an ad break?

Another exercise is simply trying to move the toes separately – so from standing and with weight on the heels, you’d lift the big toe first, then the second, then the third and so it…. it gets easier with practice!

Certainly, making sure you are drinking plenty of water encourages healthy muscle (and joint) function; try drinking more water than you currently do and also take a good long drink of water about one hour before class starts.

Also, make sure you are not short of vital minerals!

Bananas have both potassium and magnesium (not the highest magnesium score but they have it); I almost always eat a banana while driving into town to teach my classes!
Other sources of magnesium include dried figs, cashew or almond nuts, pumpkin seeds, wholewheat flour. Dried fruits such as raisins, dates or apricots have potassium.

Sources of calcium include dairy products, green vegetables, nuts, flax seeds.

Finally, if and when a cramp does strike during class, stop doing what caused it, rest out and gently massage the muscle, firmly pressing the tendons at the end of the muscles. If it’s really bad, use a warm compress later on to help the muscle to relax.

Put good things in your body!

Doing pilates regularly can certainly help with toning muscle and improving posture (so you feel and look better), but it is only part of the picture. Try including this life-changing bread as well!

One of the often-quoted sayings of Joseph Pilates is that “in 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 you will see the difference, and in 30 you’ll have a whole new body”.

Through teaching pilates, I meet lots of people who would indeed like to “get a whole new body”. For some, the impetus for doing pilates is to relieve backache, sciatica or ease tension in neck and shoulders; for others, it’s to lose “shape up”. Often, it’s a bit of both.

But I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that pilates will give you a “whole new body,” because your body’s shape and weight is the result of the calories you consume (food and drink) less what your burn off (through everyday and other physical activities).

Into this equation comes the tricky issue of metabolism. While some people appear to have a slower metabolism than others, for what it’s worth, I think people who have a “fast metabolism” are probably more just active – more fidgety maybe – than others?

Clearly, the more active you are, the more calories you burn. You can control how active you are – decide to be more active! and you can control what you put into your body – decide to put good things in your body.

Back to the idea of putting good things in your body: my suggestion is to cut back on bread and to choose to eat only really good bread.

Commercially produced white sliced pan may taste good in the mouth for a few minutes (especially toasted!), but makes me feel bloated before long. In my house, white bread is a rarity – often bought by my other half if we are on holidays! I tend to seek out a good, wholemeal brown or rye bread. But lately, I’ve been baking this bread – it’s got no flour at all in it and it’s full of really good things like nuts and seeds. Very nutritious and does not cause bloat.

It is heavy, but it is very filling and you don’t need much. And you can toast it and put delicious things on it! My two daughters are starting to like it; my other half, now he’s another day’s work!

[Thanks to both Helen Costelloe and Vanessa Pearse for sharing this recipe with me in the first place.]

The Life Changing Bread

1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2cup hazelnuts or almonds (put into a sturdy bag and smash with rolling pin to break up)
1 ½ cups oats
2 tbsp chia seeds
4tbsp psyllium husks
1 tsp sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil (changes the flavour a bit)
1 ½ cups water
Optionally, add two spoons of maple syrup or honey in with the water (again, changes the flavour)

Mix all dry ingredients
Add oil and water (maple syrup/honey); mix well.
Allow to stand for 1 hour, at least.

Put into greased and lined standard loaf tin; press down so it’s about an inch thick.
Bake in 180 degree oven for 40 minutes, then turn over and bake again for 20 minutes.

Cuts really well when cool. Keeps for a good few days in the fridge.
(If you feel like a biscuit, cut off a little bit instead and put some honey or jam on it!).