Muscle cramps occur due to the sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle. Leg cramps occur in the calf muscles of the lower legs. It is common for women to notice their legs cramping during pregnancy, with the cramping lasting for a few seconds to several minutes (1) (2).
Leg cramps usually do not affect your pregnancy. Nevertheless, they can be annoying since they lead to sharp pain, making it difficult for you to perform daily tasks. The muscle may tighten, and after the cramp subsides, it may feel tender for up to 24 hours (3). Leg cramps in pregnancy may be more common during the second and third trimesters.
Read this post to know the various causes, risk factors, and treatment options for leg cramps during pregnancy.
What Are The Causes And Risk Factors Of Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
Some causes and risk factors of leg cramps during pregnancy include (5):
- Calcium and magnesium deficiency: Hormonal changes during pregnancy may decrease calcium and magnesium levels, giving rise to leg cramps.
- Changes in blood circulation: The blood volume of a woman increases by about 50% during pregnancy (5). This causes the circulation to slow down, causing swelling and cramping in the legs.
- Dehydration: Leg cramps may also occur due to insufficient water intake. Water hydrates the body and improves the circulation of blood. In the absence of water, muscles become dehydrated and have electrolyte imbalance. This makes muscles prone to cramps.
- Fatigue and weight gain: During pregnancy, the constant increase in the mother and baby’s weight causes the leg muscles to become weak and tired. As a result of the fatigue, leg cramps may occur.
- Compression of blood vessels: The increase in the size of the uterus puts extra pressure on the nerves and blood vessels, disrupting blood circulation to lower limbs. This may lead to leg cramps.
- Deep vein thrombosis: On rare occasions, leg cramps may also be due to blood clot. These blood clots form in the leg vein and are usually accompanied by pain and swelling in the legs. Deep vein thrombosis needs immediate treatment (1) (6).
- Too much or too little physical activity may also cause leg cramps.
What Are The Home Remedies For Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
Some home remedies that help reduce leg cramps during pregnancy are:
- Set a bedtime routine: Since leg cramps generally occur during the night, it is a good idea to set a bedtime routine to help reduce cramps. Some things you can do are (1):
- Walk around on your heels before going to bed
- Raise your feet by keeping them over a pillow
- Ensure that there is enough space on the bed to move your legs around
- Soak your legs in warm water before sleeping
- Maintain hydration: Water is important for good blood circulation in the body; therefore, drinking eight to twelve glasses of water is recommended (4) (7).
- Apply heat or ice: Application of heat helps reduce leg cramps. Heat relaxes the muscles and increases blood flow. Ice helps reduce the pain in sore muscle (5).
- Give a massage: Massaging the cramp and the muscles around it restores the blood flow and supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tightened muscles (5).
- Perform stretching: When your legs cramp, stretch them and hold them for some time. This lengthens the muscle fibers and improves the blood supply (5).
- Stay active: Getting up and walking helps reduce leg cramps. You may also gently wiggle your legs while walking (4).
- Include exercise: Regular exercise helps reduce several pregnancy-related complications. Some exercises that relieve leg cramps are (8):
- Point and flex your elevated feet while lying on your back
- Bend and stretch your feet up and down several times
- Rotate your feet on both sides
- Have Epsom salt bath: When Epsom salt dissolves in water, it releases magnesium, which helps regulate muscle contractions. Therefore, soaking legs in an Epsom salt bath can reduce leg cramps and help in soreness of muscles after cramps (5). However, do not ingest the salt, it may cause overdose or poisoning.
How To Prevent Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
- Stretch before exercising.
- Eat a well-balanced meal to fulfill your nutritional needs.
- After talking to your healthcare provider, take vitamin supplements including calcium, and magnesium.
- Incorporate exercises such as walking or dancing into your daily routine.
When To Talk To The Doctor About Cramps?
- Pain does not resolve
- Pain is severe and accompanied by redness and swelling
- Cramps make walking difficult
- Legs are swollen
- Legs have red swollen spots
- Legs have enlarged veins
Frequently Asked Questions
- Will leg cramps in pregnancy cause any problems to my baby?
Leg cramps are uncomfortable and may affect the quality of life, but in general, they do not cause problems to your baby. However, one or two in 1000 pregnant women develop blood clots in the leg vein, which may be life-threatening in severe cases. Therefore, it is important to consult a healthcare provider if your leg cramps become a cause for concern (1) (10).
In some cases, leg cramps may also occur if you have a tetanus infection due to a recent injury. This infection requires immediate medical attention as it may be fatal (11).
- Could leg cramps be a sign of pregnancy?
- Why are leg cramps more frequent at night?
Around 40% of pregnant women experience leg cramps at night. The reason for this is the additional weight of pregnancy, which exerts more pressure on the muscles (4).
- Do bananas help prevent leg cramps?
Bananas are a great source of potassium, and eating them may benefit leg cramps; however, since these cramps may occur due to reasons other than nutritional deficiency, just eating bananas would not help. Ideally, a well-balanced diet during pregnancy is essential to maintain the nutritional needs of the body. Also, it is important to consult a doctor if the leg cramps are severe (9) (13).
- What is the difference between a leg cramp and leg pain?
Leg cramps are muscle contractions that are usually short-lived. Cramps feel as tightening of the muscle and a sharp pain. Leg pain, however, may be acute or chronic. Acute leg pain may be due to a sprain, bone fracture, dehydration, or muscle fatigue. Chronic leg pain may be due to other reasons, such as deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, nerve damage, and bone infection (14) (15).
Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but the accompanying challenges may make it a little uncomfortable for some women. Fortunately, most complications are resolved after childbirth, but it is important to take care of yourself and consult your doctor if you are worried. Timely diagnosis and treatment will help you stay happy and healthy throughout the pregnancy.
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