If you suddenly wake up to searing and painful spasms around your calves at night, you’re probably experiencing leg cramps. These are normal occurrence when the body does not get the right amount of water intake during the day; but if you’re experiencing this during pregnancy, you must be extra careful and should always go down to the root of the cause.
What are the Causes of Leg Cramps during Pregnancy?
Leg cramps or leg pain during pregnancy is very common. This usually starts during the second trimester and seem to get worse as the pregnancy progresses from then onwards. While nobody has a relevant and specific answer, it can happen out of one of the reasons or a combination of probable reasons.
- Fatigue or tiredness from carrying excess pregnancy weight is a common cause of leg cramps in obese people. So when it comes to pregnancy the same rules apply. The weight issues become important when the mother to be, does not incorporate a proper vegetarian diet. It is said that only consuming 300 more calories a day can suffice for the requirements of the growing baby in the mother’s womb. Often this is misinterpreted into eating more fats, which adds more bulk than necessary.
- Your expanding uterus puts a pressure on the veins that transfer blood from your feet to your heart. That results in obstruction of blood circulation and hence the cramps. This is a common phenomenon that non pregnant people also experience. One might observe that when people sit cross legged for a long time or put pressure on one limb for a longer time, they can’t feel anything for a while until the circulation of blood comes back. The same thing happens for women who are pregnant.
- A diet that contains an excess of phosphorus but lesser calcium or magnesium contents, which, in turn, causes a shortage of nutrients and salts that circulates with your blood. Also this shortage occurs because your baby is feeding on your supplies leaving very little for your own use.
- A hormone called progesterone affects the muscles of your legs. This hormone is believed to be responsible for leg cramps during pregnancy. While these cramps can occur during the day, it mostly occurs at night, owing to the fatigue and water retention, ruining a good night’s sleep for everyone including the pregnant mother.
- Sometimes narrowing of arteries can cause cramp like pain. An extreme case of arteriosclerosis can cause cramps in the legs. Sometimes this severe pain can be triggered by exercise. This usually stops when you slow down and stop working out for a while.
- Compression of nerves in the spine also referred to as lumber stenosis can cause cramp like pain in your legs. The pain becomes acute when you walk a lot. So if you are having these pains just take complete rest. However, little physical activity is essential when you are pregnant. So try to walk in a flexed position as if you are pulling a cart to reduce pain. Consult your doctor regarding the posture and take adequate treatment for the pain to maximize comfort.
- Having diuretics and medications for blood pressure can cause mineral depletion. Too little of calcium, potassium and magnesium can cause leg cramps.
Symptoms of Leg Cramps
Muscle cramps usually disappear on their own. Especially, cramps that happen in the leg muscles or in the calf muscles. You may get a sudden and sharp pain and can feel a lump of tissue under your skin. Muscle cramps are rarely very serious and usually disappear on their own. However you must visit the doctor if the cramps cause severe discomfort:
- If there is redness and swelling.
- If cramps occur due to muscle weakness.
- If the pain happens frequently and it doesn’t improve with self-care.
- Also ask the doctor for advice if the pain doesn’t happen due strenuous exercise.
Answer all the questions your doctor asks accurately so the diagnosis is perfect. When a proper diagnosis is done, it is easier to adopt an effective treatment.
Risk Factors of Leg Cramps
There are many factors that increase the chance of cramps. They are:
- People who are higher on the age bar experience cramps more often. So if you have your pregnancy after 30 years the chances of muscle and leg cramp increases.
- Those who become fatigued and dehydrated while exercising in the warm weather have muscle cramps.
Medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders, and problems in liver, kidney and nerve cause cramps more often.
[ Read: Wearing Bra During Pregnancy ]
What to Do When You Have One?
First things first, always know the solutions when facing a problem.
- The most immediate relief should be to try standing up and preferably on a cold surface. This can be done more often than not stop the spasms.
- Alternatively, relieve your pain by straightening up your leg and then gently flex your toes and ankles back and forth towards your shins multiple times. Apply local heat for added relief near the areas. This may hurt initially but will help reduce the spasms gradually.
- In some rare cases the pain is caused by blood clots and in that case if none of the above helps then massaging or applying local heat would be a bad idea. This could aggravate the pain and it can spread to the other parts of the body.
- When you feel better it is advisable to walk around a bit to let the circulation ease out properly. Going back to sleep often makes the chances of recurrence faster.
Simple and Effective Ways to Fight Leg Cramps:
Leg cramps affect half of all pregnant women and it usually happens during the second and third trimesters. Leg cramps take place due to decreased circulation due to weight gain and hormonal changes, dehydration and the pressure exerted by fetus on nerves and blood vessels. Follow these simple strategies to curb the pain:
- Focus on stretches for your calves and feet. Make sure to stretch before bed and also do some warm up stretching exercises before and after exercises.
- You can try doing a seated calf stretch. For this you need two chairs and a scarf. Sit down on one chair and put the foot on the second chair. Tie the scarf on the ball of your foot and pull the scarf towards you. You should feel the stretch of muscles of your calf and foot. Stay in the position for 30 seconds and switch legs to repeat the exercise.
- You can try the standing calf stretch to relieve leg cramps during pregnancy. For this exercise you need to wear well-fitting shoes and stand on a flat surface. Maintain 2-3 feet distance from the wall. Lift the arms and place it on the wall. Slowly lean forward and feel the stretch in your calf muscles. To complete the stretch, move your hands back up the wall till you are standing straight.
- Sip water in between exercises if the climate is hot to avoid overheating and fatigue.
- You can try prenatal yoga and take rests between exercises. Light exercises like walking and aqua aerobics can help to improve circulation and reduce the chances of leg cramps.
- Change your positions frequently. Avoid standing and sitting for long periods of time. If you have a desk job take frequent breaks to work and stretch. Take breaks to sit and elevate your legs if you have to stand throughout the day.
- Take a prenatal massage since it helps to improve circulation and reduce swelling.
- Medical support or compression stockings can help to reduce inflammation, increase blood circulation in the legs and ankles thus preventing leg cramps.
- Straighten your leg through your heel and wiggle your toes to help alleviate pain during cramps.
- Use a rice sock or a hot water bottle to apply heat in the affected area to reduce pain and swelling.
A Few Things to Avoid:
- Avoid crossing your legs or pointing your toes. Since crossing your legs can restrict blood circulation and pointing your toes can cause tightening of calf muscles. This increases the chances of leg cramps.
- Discuss your leg cramps with your doctor if they are severe and frequent. Get immediate treatment.
- Make sure the prenatal massage therapist is licensed. This is because pregnant women needs special care and has to be extra careful. Since, pressure points at ankles and wrists can stimulate the uterus and some essential oils can also be harmful for pregnant women. It is absolutely necessary to exercise caution while massaging. Only an expert masseur knows the right technique and the knowhow to deal with pregnant women and understand their special needs. You should consult the doctor before taking the massage to know if it is suitable for you.
- Stop exercises if you feels dizzy or faint and also if you have any contractions. Address your concerns to the doctor.
- Avoid stretches that require you to lie on your back.
How to Avoid Foot Cramps:
Keep these simple tips in mind to avoid foot cramps. Since cramps cause discomfort and it can give you sleepless nights! So take charge. Here are some easy ways to avoid foot cramps:
- Never cut out the circulation to the feet.
- Stretch the ankles gently but don’t exert too much pressure. Rotate it slightly as much as you are capable of.
- Always keep the feet moving.
- Increasing fluid intake, it can be water or your favorite juices or smoothies.
- Wear well fitted shoes to get extra comfort, make sure it is sturdy and firm.
- Add enough fruits to your diet to boost the potassium levels in the body.
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps:
Sometimes muscle gets contracted by force that is when muscle cramps happen. It happens by accident. It takes some time for the muscle to relax but the pain can be really sharp and throbbing.
Muscle cramps can occur due to electrolyte imbalance and lack of nutrition. There can be other reasons of muscle cramps that can affect any part of the body. Follow these easy steps to ease pain and feel relaxed:
- Drink water throughout the day and while exercising. You must drink water before going to bed because the body loses fluids while you are sleeping.
- It is important to do warm up before exercise even if it happens to be a short one. It is important to prepare your body before you start stretching your muscles. Always do some stretching exercises before you hit the bed at night.
- You can avoid muscle cramps by being consistent in your exercise regimen. Your body should know what to expect. You can keep a personal trainer and chalk out a flexible program that helps to build exercise intensity gradually. Since abrupt variations introduced can suddenly cause muscle cramps. Being consistent in your exercise can help the body to build resistance against cramps.
- The night time is particularly bad for pregnant women because they get cramps and pain is intense. So ask your doctor to recommend calcium and magnesium supplements if you are pregnant and getting very painful muscle cramps.
- Don’t allow your body to become overly exhausted. Take enough rest so that you can prevent cramps.
- Have bananas, raw avocadoes, baked potatoes, cooked spinach and skimmed milk to increase your intake of potassium.
- You can have tender coconut water to regain the lost electrolyte balance and thus reduce muscle cramps to a great extent.
10 Natural Remedies to Tackle Leg Cramps:
It is best to follow natural remedies to counteract leg, foot or muscle cramps. Cramps can occur when your body is working very hard and this result in deficiency in some essential nutrients like magnesium and vitamin B6. Also lack of physical activity, gain in weight and expecting more than one baby can result in leg cramps. The intense pain can wake you up at night and make you restless and jittery.
Here are some simple remedies that you can follow to prevent leg cramps.
- Eat a healthy diet. Include foods like dates, apples, green vegetables, figs, dried beans, pulses, dairy products, sunflower seeds, salmon and green leafy vegetables to your diet. A balanced diet ensures good health and keeps all muscle cramps at bay. A vegetarian diet comprising of fruits and vegetable salads and juices help to prevent the severity of leg cramps.
- You can try aromatherapy to prevent leg cramps. You should ask your doctor whether essential oils are safe during pregnancy. You can use lavender and chamomile. Blend 1 tsp. of either lavender or chamomile oil to grape seed oil and massage on the affected area to get relief. Use lavender oil occasionally in the first trimester because it can cause uterine contractions.
- A warm bath can relax you and remove pain in the calf area.
- Do gentle exercise to help blood circulation.
- Have your prenatal vitamins regularly.
- Reduce the salt intake to prevent fluid retention in the body. This can cause swollen ankles. Also reduce the phosphorus intake by cutting down on red meat, processed food and soda water.
- Don’t flex your toes downwards as it can aggravate the cramp. While relaxing try to circle your ankles slowly in one direction.
- Stretch your calf muscle several times during the day to reduce cramps. You can go on tiptoes for a while and then go down again to allow stretching to happen. This is a good exercise before you go to bed.
- You can massage the cramped muscles with ice or cold compress to reduce pain.
- Have vitamin B supplements to reduce cramps.
What are the Probable Precautions?
Practicing stretching exercises can help prevent leg cramps during early pregnancy, often occurring at night. A few stretches at bedtime are all it takes. Here is how you do it-
- Stand two feet away from a wall.
- Place your palms against the wall.
- Lean forward with your heels firmly on the floor and hold it for 10 seconds.
- Return and relax for five seconds.
- Repeat this at least thrice.
- Avoid standing for a long time or sitting cross legged for a prolonged period.
- Stretch your calf muscles several times during the day to avoid muscle pulls.
- Make a habit of rotating your ankles and wiggling your toes when you sit down to eat or watch TV.
- Unless the doctor strictly asks to avoid exercising use at least 30 minutes of your day for walking.
- Avoid being fatigued and over worked. If there’s a slightest discomfort then lie down on your left side to improve blood circulation. Also if your legs pain in the calf area, then sleep on the side of the paining leg to help ease it down.
- Remain hydrated at all times. Drink the usual eight to ten glasses of water religiously to keep these pains at bay. Do not include any caffeinated beverages in your daily diet. If your urine is dark yellow it means you are not drinking sufficient amount of water.
- If you are worried about the trips to the bathroom at night, then it is advisable to drink the last glass of water at least 2 hours before bedtime so that whatever urine has to pass does so before you pass out on your bed.
- Run a warm bath before bedtime as it will help relax your muscles. Include aroma oils and bath salts to give a very tranquil environment as it will make you feel completely at ease.
- Follow a balanced diet and include fruits and vegetables which will give you an adequate input of calcium and magnesium, the shortage of which causes the cramps. Take them in their natural form and avoid taking supplements.
- You can stretch your calf muscles to get relief. Doing stretching exercises before hitting the bed can prevent leg cramps during pregnancy, which usually strikes at night. You can try this stretching exercise also to get relief from pain. Stand at an arm’s length from the wall, place your hands on the wall in front of you and put your right foot behind in the left foot. Slowly bend your left leg forward without bending your right knee. Keep your right knee straight and right heel on the floor. Hold and stretch your legs for 30 seconds. Make sure you keep your back straight and hips forward while doing this stretching exercise. Switch legs and repeat the exercise. Don’t rotate your legs inward and outward and also avoid pointing your toes.
- It is important to stay active during pregnancy. However, before starting exercise please take your doctor’s permission.
- It is also important to wear appropriate footwear to get maximum comfort and reduce leg cramps. Wear shoes with long counter (the firm part of the shoe that surrounds the heel).
- Taking magnesium supplement during pregnancy will help to prevent leg cramps. Consult your doctor which brand or dose will be appropriate for you. You should include magnesium rich foods in your diet like whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and dried fruits.
- If a leg cramp strikes then stretch the calf muscle on the affected side. Walking and elevating your legs can prevent leg cramps from recurring. Stack up two pillows and prop your leg on it and relax. A hot shower, a warm bath or ice massage might help to relieve the leg cramp.
Follow these precautions to treat pain in legs during pregnancy.
[ Read: Soft Drinks During Pregnancy ]
What to Do For a Persisting Pain?
While pregnancy is a miracle of nature it is not the easiest nine months in anyone’s life. Often the smallest things can lead to bigger problems that can set the alarms ringing. If these cramps are few and far in between then you may consider yourself lucky as persisting cramps can have far grave consequences. Call your obstetrician gynecologist specialist in case these muscle pulls and sharp pains are constant and not just an occasional phenomenon. Also consult your doctor if you notice redness, swelling and tenderness in the area. If the area feels relatively warm to your touch then it is a sign of a blood clot. Although blood clots are rare they are not uncommon, hence these require immediate medical attention.
Hope this article soothes you with your queries related to cramps & leg pain during pregnancy and makes you enjoy a happy and safe pregnancy! Do share your experiences and views on the comment section below.
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