Leg cramps are very common among pregnant women, and more than half of them suffer from them during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Although leg cramps can attack you any day, most expectant mothers suffer from cramps at night. This can make pregnancy nights unnecessarily difficult and painful.
Leg cramps are contractions of muscles in your legs, triggering pain in your calves at first, ultimately radiating through your leg. The spasms in the leg can become excruciatingly painful during the night if the cramps last longer.
While there are no major causes of leg cramps, dehydration, less exercise, weight gain, and less nutrition can be related.
Cramps in the legs during pregnancy are usually not very severe, but if the pain becomes extreme, it can also be a sign of another problem. So, it is better to bring medical attention from your prenatal caretaker regarding the problem when you start getting cramps.
Causes of leg cramps during pregnancy
The immediate cause of leg cramps is the spasm and tightening of leg muscles which stiffens your legs and toes and sometimes even blocks the blood circulation in the blood area. Needless to say, it is very painful. However, there is no known major cause of leg cramps, although the following points have some say.
Dehydration can build stress and fatigue while also weakening your body. This stress and weakness can easily lead to leg cramps.
2. Improper diet
Diets that are not nutritious can not only hamper your baby’s growth but also weaken your body and keep you unhealthy. This ultimately results in cramps during pregnancy.
3. Stiff muscles
Sometimes, lack of exercise can stiffen your muscles, triggering leg cramps.
Having a lot of stress during pregnancy can hamper you mentally and physically. Moreover, the same stress built in your legs can give you very painful leg cramps during pregnancy.
5. Weight gain
During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, your body gains significant weight. This weight gain can bring stress and weaken your legs which need to carry the extra weight, which becomes a reason for your leg cramps during pregnancy.
Symptoms of cramps in legs during pregnancy
More than half of expectant mothers suffer leg cramps that last a few seconds to hours.
The longer the cramps, their aftermaths last longer, i.e., painful legs for hours after cramps. The following are major symptoms shown during a leg cramp.
- Sudden pain in leg muscles due to involuntary muscle contraction.
- Muscles tighten, and legs and toes become stiff.
- Sometimes redness can appear in the area of cramp.
- Long-lasting pain in legs after an episode of cramps.
- Excruciating pain if the cramp last longer.
- Weak and shrinking legs.
Remedies for leg cramps during pregnancy
While leg cramp can produce excruciating pain, it generally is not that harmful. There are cases of pregnant women getting leg cramps during sleep as well. But fear not! Simple home remedies and treatments can be used to eliminate the leg’s pain. Here are a few that you can try for yourself if you are suffering:
1. Regular stretches
Stretching your legs repeatedly every day in a moderate amount can help your muscles relax, ultimately preventing you from having leg cramps. Stretching muscles can also make you active and relaxed, which can be very beneficial during pregnancy.
Your pregnancy should not bar you from having those thirty minutes of exercise every day. When you exercise regularly, although it is mild and only for thirty minutes, your body becomes healthier, and your muscles relax. This helps to prevent leg cramps.
3. Keep your weight in check
During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, you gain weight as the baby grows. This adds extra weight to your legs which can stress them out and lead to leg cramps. To check this, you must be aware of your weight gain and balance it with healthy food. Keeping your weight in check can lift off a lot of weight from your legs, preventing you from having leg cramps.
4. Use proper footwear
Proper footwear like soft slippers or shoes with a little alleviation at your heels can help you relax your feet. Also, ensure that your footwear is warm, and avoid using heels during pregnancy. Proper shoes not only help you have comfortable walks, but they also relax your feet and easily prevent leg cramps.
5. Change position
Your days may require you to stand or sit in the same position for a long time regarding what your job is. However, you must change your positions from time to time to stretch and ease your leg muscles.
If your job requires you to sit all day long, try standing up and walking time and again while you are pregnant. And if you need to stand all day for your job, take time to sit down and relax your feet.
Also, try to alleviate your feet while sleeping by putting on a small pillow or blanket. Note that the alleviation should not be more than 20 cm. This can get your blood circulation going on and helps lessen the stress of all day from your legs.
6. Drink enough fluids
As one of the causes of leg cramps is dehydration, there is no better remedy than drinking a fair amount of water or fluids during pregnancy. Try to drink 8-10 glasses of water every day and if plain water does not appeal to you, try having soup, juices, infused water, or any type of fluid by checking their sugar content.
7. Get prenatal massages
Getting prenatal massages not only helps you savor your joyous pregnancy phase, but it also helps your body relax. This also includes your legs, which means no leg cramps during the night or any other time of the day.
8. Take vitamins
Sometimes, you can get leg cramps due to insufficient nutrition in your body. So, take good care of your diet and add more vitamins and proteins to it. Moreover, having enough vitamin intake helps you lead a healthy pregnancy. This also helps in keeping your muscles healthy and prevents leg cramps.
When taking required vitamins, you must get permission from your doctor as you have a different body condition while pregnant. Some over-the-counter vitamins can also harm your pregnancy. So, never take a chance to use drugs without consulting your doctor beforehand.
What to do immediately after getting a leg cramp during pregnancy?
If all the odds go against you and you are having a leg cramp during pregnancy, you can use the following methods to ease yourself at the time.
When you get a cramp, immediately try to stretch your legs. This can help blood circulation in the leg and comfort for some time. If you can stretch your legs right at the time of cramps, there is a high chance that cramps will go away soon.
2. Apply heat to the area
Applying heat to the area where you just got cramps can also be very helpful in easing the pain. As we know, heat can get your blood flowing and relax your muscles. Using a hot water bag on the area of your leg where you are getting cramps is one of the best methods to ease down your painful leg cramps.
3. Talk to your prenatal caregiver
If none of the above-mentioned methods applies, talk to your doctor or prenatal caregiver, who can help you by recommending some painkillers. Some popularly prescribed medicines for leg cramps are acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. This can ease you out of your leg cramps.
When to seek medical help?
Sometimes, no home-based remedies and tricks can be helpful to ease your cramps, and you must know when your problem can not be taken care of at home. You must consult your doctor when the following happens:
1. If you get leg cramps quite often
Some moderate leg cramps, like once a week or so, can be tolerable. However, if the frequency of leg cramps rises and you start getting cramps very often, it is high time you seek some medical attention.
2. If the cramps last longer than ten minutes
Usually, the cramps last for a few seconds to hours. You must be concerned about the length of your cramps and if they start extending to ten minutes or more, getting help from your doctor is a must.
3. If the pain due to cramps is unbearable
If your cramps give you excruciating and unbearable pain, you should seek advice from your doctor and opt for some medicines and painkillers on permission.
4. If you get cramps when in touch with some specific substances
Sometimes, the cramps you get may not always be due to pregnancy. When you get in touch with some substance like soil or if you were cut somewhere, and then your cramps started, it can be a symptom of bacterial infections like tetanus. This must be taken to a doctor and diagnosed properly.
5. If the area where you get cramps becomes red
Sometimes when the cramps are extreme, it generates red rashes on the skin. This can be the cause of seized blood circulation in the leg area. Also, in further extreme cases, the legs start getting blue. If this happens, there is no other choice than to go to a hospital and apply heat to the area.
To add more, leg cramps during pregnancy are pretty common, and most of the time, this is not a serious concern. However, you can take the above-mentioned remedies and home-based tricks to ease your way out of the unnecessary pain which can come as a hurdle in your joyous pregnancy.
Tell us how you coped with leg cramps during your nine months in the comment box below!
Dr. Mashiach has completed his MD at the Sackler School of Medicine, TAU; specialization in gynecology at the Lis Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center; fellowship in Endoscopy at the Polyclinique de I’Hotel-Dieu, Universite d’Auvergne, Clermont, France.
He is a Senior Physician, Director of the Department of Gynecology, which provides routine and preventative care services to its patients and a full range of gynecological surgical procedures for adequately managing its patients with benign gynecologic disorders.
He offers advanced care in all gynecological subspecialties such as Urogynecology, Colposcopy, Fetal Loss Clinic, and Post Menopausal Clinic.