Are leg cramps common in early pregnancy? Well pregnancy is no joke, just how other things like morning sickness and heartburn are common in pregnancy. Leg cramps are common too and are usually seen in second and third trimester.
In fact, half of all the women who are pregnant are likely to experience the spasms by the third trimester. The cause of leg cramps can range from simple causes like dehydration and metabolic changes in blood like that of calcium and magnesium to more important causes like disc herniation and other rheumatic diseases.
What are leg cramps?
A leg cramp is a sudden episode of sharp pain in the leg muscles. It is an involuntary contraction of the muscles that won’t relax easily. It can take place in any part of the leg, but it is most common in the calf muscles. They usually happen at night.
Why do they happen, anyway?
There are different things that can lead to this condition. However, it is worth mentioning that the precise mechanism and cause of the leg cramps is still not known.
There are many suggested causes for cramps in pregnancy, let’s have a glance at some:
- Discopathy or lower back problems :
Have you ever wondered if your back problems could be causing the cramps? The answer to this question is surprisingly yes. Conditions like herniated lumbar disc usually result in leg cramps. This is one of the most common and important conditions that cause them.
The mechanism behind this is that the herniated disc in the back puts pressure on the nerve that goes down in the leg, this results in pain and spasms within the leg.
- Changes in weight:
With pregnancy comes weight gain. As the baby grows it puts pressure on the nerves and the blood vessels, especially the ones that go to your legs. This is the reason leg cramps usually happen during the third trimester.
- Metabolic changes:
Calcium or magnesium deficiencies have been seen to contribute to leg cramps.
This feeling during pregnancy is very normal. Due to the growth of the baby and the continuous weight gain, it is likely that you will have fatigue most of the times. As the muscles get fatigued there are more chances that the muscles will get more pressure which can lead to the leg cramps.
- Changes in blood circulation:
The circulation usually slows down in pregnancy.
Due to the poor circulation, oxygen and other nutrients do not reach the tissues successfully. This leads to stiffness and cramping in the leg.
Are you drinking enough water during the day? During pregnancy you are supposed to drink 8 to 12 cups of water every day. It has been seen that dehydration is one the most common causes of leg cramps. As the muscles in your body need fluids to relax, in case of low fluid level, the muscles are more likely to become stiff and undergo cramps.
- Deep vein thrombosis:
Although uncommon a clot can form and lodge in the veins of your legs thigh or pelvis. According to the research pregnant women are more likely to get DVT than non-pregnant women.
Inactivity can also contribute to DVT that is why it is important to keep moving!
How can you prevent leg cramps?
Just how important it is to take rest during pregnancy, it has been seen that doing regular exercises and being active helps in a lot of things like to prevent gaining extra weight and promote better blood circulation. Correct exercises and stretching techniques can also help in lower back problems.
In order to avoid cramping, stay physically active. Indulge yourself in gentle exercises like walking, swimming, some specific exercises like leg raises and rotating your foot multiple times a day. It increases the blood flow that helps to prevent the cramping.
Make stretching a part of your daily schedule. Do it before and after exercise to avoid cramping. Extending and stretching your leg every night before sleeping will help prevent the cramping episode.
It is best to say: “you are what you eat”
The cramps somehow depend on what and when you eat. Include the food items in your diet which are rich in magnesium and calcium.
A diet with high quantity of vitamins specially vitamin C is also recommended.
If you think you are not getting enough nutrients from your diet, try talking to your doctor about the safety of taking the supplements. Reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
As the salt helps in retaining the water in the body this can lead to fluid retention and swelling due to which t can result in cramping.
Taking adequate amount of fluid is an important factor in daily life. Dehydration can result in painful cramping. In pregnancy, it is recommended to take 8 to 12 cups of water each day. An easy way to check if you are dehydrated is to watch out for the urine color. If it is clear, it means you are adequately hydrated. It turns yellow in case of dehydration.
- Choose your footwear properly:
Choose the footwears that are comfortable and without heels. A flat and comfortable shoe which support the arch is a good option. Your comfort should always matter more than any trends or fashions.
- Trying some easy things:
Try stretching your body specially legs several times a day. Avoid sitting crossed legged for longer periods of times. Try to sleep on the side preferably on the left, it will improve the circulation.
Keep your legs elevated as compared to your body. Use a pillow to keep it under the feet or between the legs.
Take a warm shower before sleeping, this will help in relaxing your muscles and your whole body.
Try to be active and move around every one or two hours during the day.
- Avoid long travel hours:
Blood clot or DVT can result in symptoms that might feel same as cramps. While the cramps are easily preventable, DVT can be result in dangerous consequences.
It is important to differentiate between the two.
Contact your doctor and seek medical care immediately if you experience increase in the severity of pain the leg while standing for too long or simply walking.
Lot of swelling in the leg might also signal DVT. While touching the skin, it might feel warm.
If you are working on your desk the whole day set a reminder on your phone, to simply get up and walk around every other hour.
Avoid travelling in a flight for too long. If it’s necessary, talk to your doctor prior to the travel.
What can you do to relieve the symptoms and severity of the cramps?
Stretching the leg may prevent and even ease the cramps.
Applying heat to the affected area may help in relieving the severity of the pain. It helps in relaxing the muscles in the leg. You can use homemade hot packs to ease the pain. Start using the pad on the lowest possible temperature and then start going up. If you happen to have other medical conditions like diabetes or spinal cord injuries that might result in you not feeling the heat, then this is not a good option.
When you get a cramp, try not to put a lot of pressure but gently massage the affected area with your hand. Massage slowly for around 40 to 60 seconds. You can also try the professional massage; it might feel better and a whole different experience.
You can also try and walk around for a while. This will also help in circulation and it will relax the muscle and decrease the pain.
Some doctors suggest using of calcium supplement to treat the cramps, but there is no specific evidence and research that support this.
Prior to the cramp when you can feel the sensation, try to perform this exercise:
Lie down and gently move your heels and point them downwards, this will result in lifting your toes upwards. Once this is done it will immediately relax your calf muscles and hence help in relieving the pain. You can do this as your routine exercise also.
Try to be gentle whenever you are trying to fix your cramp. Do not move or pull your toes harshly and suddenly. This can result in other problems in the calf like strain.
Just like calcium, magnesium supplements are also recommended by some physicians. It can treat the cramps sometimes, but more knowledge and research are needed to prove this.
Another easy way to get rid of the cramp is to drink water and immediately hydrate yourself. It might take longer comparatively to other remedies, but it is always a good and easy option.
If you are not a fan of water, you can also drink any energy or sports drink that are filled with electrolytes.
If the pain is very severe, only after talking to your doctor, you can also use any over the counter medicines like NSAIDS to relieve the pain.
You can also perform yoga and other easy exercises, but only after talking to your doctor.
When should you see a doctor?
The cramps might be pretty common but taking care of every little thing during pregnancy is important not just for yourself but also for your baby.
If the cramps are getting in your sleep, it is time to talk to the doctor and fix them.
If the intensity of the pain is too much, you should not take it lightly. It is often bad if its persistent and worsening.
Discuss it with your doctor if you are anxious about it and it is affecting your mental health.
If it is your first experience with the cramps and you don’t know what to do, the best thing to do is to visit a doctor
You should immediately visit a health care if you experience any warning signs like increased swelling in the leg or things like pain while walking and enlarged vessels. This might be signs of a DVT which is very dangerous.
Experiencing bodily changes during pregnancy is not always pleasant. They are ought to come. You may feel anxious about them, but it is altogether a beautiful journey.
Never feel shy or conscious about asking any questions to your doctor.