Leg Cramps During Pregnancy

Sharp and painful, these lower-leg cramps often crop up during the second and third trimesters. Keep reading to find out what causes leg pain during pregnancy—and how to feel better!

Pregnant Woman Swelling Feet
Photo: Narong Jongsirikul/Shutterstock.com

Sometimes the least serious pregnancy ailments cause the most aggravation. Leg cramps are an example of this. These cramps, which usually occur in the lower leg, often at night, can be quite painful and can interrupt your sleep.

What causes leg cramps during pregnancy?

If you've ever had a "charley horse," then you're already familiar with the kind of leg pain that many women encounter during pregnancy. The truth is, doctors aren't entirely sure why these sharp, unpleasant leg cramps during pregnancy happen—especially during the second and third trimesters—but most theorize that it may have to do with the pressure of the uterus on certain nerves, fatigue, or decreased circulation in your legs from the pressure of the baby on blood vessels. In any case, you may be awakened with sudden painful spasms in your calf muscles (they most often occur at night). They aren't fun, but they're not usually cause for concern, either, unless they persist and are severe, in which case you call your healthcare provider right away.

What relieves leg cramps during pregnancy?

Beginning early in your pregnancy, alternate circulation-boosting exercise with the proper amount of rest (prop those feet and legs up!). This can prevent foot and leg problems from developing in the first place. But if those aches have already begun, some remedies for leg cramps can help.

The best leg cramps remedy is to stand barefoot on a cold tile floor and lift your toes up. This stretches the calf and can bring fast relief. Or, if you can't stand when a leg cramp strikes, try straightening your leg and gently flex your foot, with toes pointed up and heel down, to stretch out your calf muscle. Don't point your toes—this usually makes the pain worse! Massage the muscle with long, firm strokes toward your foot. If you still feel sore, apply a heating pad or warm washcloth. This is remedy is especially helpful for those suffering from leg cramps at night, as doing these movements and stretches before you go to bed can help you sleep more soundly.

Exercising daily can help, too, as can eating foods higher in potassium (bananas and kiwi fruits) or adding magnesium to your calcium supplements. Finally, making sure you are well hydrated with water is sometimes all you need. If you continue be bothered by leg cramps, consider wearing support hose, and avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time without a break.

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