How to Deal With Foot Cramps During Yoga

Feet of woman doing a plank on a yoga mat

webphotographeer / E+ / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

You are definitely not alone if you get foot cramps in yoga class. These extremely painful cramps may strike during poses like pigeon and hero, where the foot is tucked under the body and the top of the foot rests on the floor, but can occur at any time.

Practicing yoga barefoot means using many small muscles in the foot for balance while supporting body weight, which challenges those muscles in unusual ways. To enjoy and make the most of your yoga practice, learn how to deal with painful foot cramps.

Causes of Foot Cramps During Yoga

A cramp is a sudden and involuntary muscle contraction. You may experience a cramp during positions that stretch your foot in ways that it is not used to. Cramps can happen in the arch of the foot and the toes in various standing and kneeling poses.

Dehydration

Dehydration is a common contributing factor for muscle cramps. Especially if you are doing hot yoga, you may be sweating a lot and getting dehydrated throughout a yoga session. Or, you may not have consumed enough water before starting class.

Electrolyte Imbalances

In addition, muscle cramps can develop due to imbalances in various body salts. These include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. You may not have enough salts on board if you have skipped meals, have an imbalanced diet, are drinking too much water (which can dilute the salts) or are taking medications that deplete your electrolytes.

Medical Conditions

While unlikely in people who are experiencing cramps during and immediately after yoga class, it is worth mentioning potential medical causes of foot cramps just in case.

Medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or diabetes ​can cause spasms and cramps in your feet and toes due to issues with the nervous system. Some medications can have side effects causing cramping. If you are concerned about symptoms including foot cramping, speak to your doctor.

What to Do for a Foot Cramp

If you experience a foot cramp during yoga, come out of the pose and reverse the stretch (if your toes were pointed, flex them, for example). It may also help to massage the area.

Don't worry or feel embarrassed about coming out of the pose. It's not unusual and won't even register on most classmates' radar (they are busy with their own practice). What you are doing will be obvious to any experienced teacher. You can always mouth "foot cramp" in their general direction for good measure.

Prevent Foot Cramps

Cramps are not always preventable, and they do usually pass quickly. But these preventive measures may help you avoid them.

Fuel Up Before Yoga

An hour before yoga class, drink a large glass of water. After that and during class, drink when thirsty. Contrary to what you might have heard, most people can trust their thirst during exercise. Keep a water bottle handy so you don't put off drinking as soon as you feel thirst.

Eating an hour or more before yoga class may ensure you have enough electrolytes on board. Consider including potassium-rich foods, like bananas, and appropriate amounts of table salt.

Stretch Your Feet

You may also want to incorporate a few foot stretches into your yoga warm-up so that your feet are as ready as possible for whatever the class may bring. While lying on your back, roll your ankles in both directions.

You can do this with your legs straight and pointed up at the ceiling for a little hamstring stretch, or with the knees slightly bent. Then move the feet back and forth between a pointed and a flexed position. This extra attention may help and is a good habit in any case.

Use Props

You can use a small pillow or a rolled towel under your ankle when you are in child's pose or other poses that rest the top of the foot on the floor. This will keep your foot from being pointed and triggering a cramp. You may also want to tuck your toes under your foot for a portion of these poses, so you are stretching the plantar sole of your foot.

Keep Practicing

You don't have to avoid poses that may cause cramps. Continuing to practice them will help stretch and strengthen the feet. You can also talk to a teacher about modifications if a particular pose is troubling; teachers may also be able to give suggestions for stretches to try outside of class. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do my feet hurt during yoga?

Aside from cramping, the feet can become sore during yoga because there are so many movements that you may not be used to when you are just starting. There are several small muscles in the feet, and building strength and flexibility can cause sensations you aren't used to. With continued practice, your feet will become stronger and more comfortable.

What are the four corners of the feet in yoga?

The four corners of the feet in yoga are the ball of the foot at the base of the big toe, the outer ball of the foot at the base of the little toe, the inner heel, and the outer heel. You are often instructed to press down and ground through the four corners of the feet in yoga, meaning you should push through each of the four corners with equal pressure. This is to provide stability and energy transfer to the rest of the body.

A Word From Verywell

As with any pain or soreness that surfaces in yoga class, keep an eye on the frequency and severity of your cramping. If you try the above suggestions and nothing helps, or if the cramping gets worse, it's time to talk to a doctor.

Rarely, cramps can be a symptom of a condition that should be treated. Or, you may be taking medications that increase your risk of cramps and your doctor or pharmacist can assist you in reducing this side effect.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Maughan RJ, Shirreffs SM. Muscle cramping during exercise: causes, solutions, and questions remainingSports Med. 2019;49(Suppl 2):115-124. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01162-1

By Ann Pizer
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.