Why do I keep getting pregnancy leg cramps?
Leg cramps. Hip cramps. Foot cramps. Toe cramps. Jiggly or restless legs.
You name it. I’ve heard about it!
“Karen, I’m getting really bad pregnancy leg cramps. Especially at night. What can I do about it?”
The short answer is: Stretch the muscle. But you’ll already know this since our instinct, when experiencing muscle cramp, is to stretch the muscle or move the affected limb or joint.
Muscle cramps are generally a result of dehydration, poor nutrition or fatigue. The difficulty with solving cramps is that there are a variety of different causes.
A cramp when you’re exercising for example, is usually caused by fatigue and a drop in sodium levels, which causes the muscles to mis-fire or just not work properly.
Exercise cramps are very different to pregnancy cramps however. So it’s not as simple as ‘taking in more salt’ (as I’m sure you’ll have been advised by some helpful soul if you’ve been experiencing them for some time).
Pregnancy Leg Cramps
Pregnancy leg cramps are different. They occur most often when you’re sleeping (not the most energetic activity) or just minding your own business. And they are, like many other pregnancy related niggles, insanely annoying!
What contributes to pregnancy leg cramps?
Well guess what ladies … hormones! Yes, this time it’s tricky ole’ progesterone just making your previously lithe leg muscles a bit soft and flabby. Let’s call it enforced de- conditioning. Then, of course, by trimesters two and three you are heavier than your former self which puts extra pressure on the already sluggish circulation in your legs (again – hormones). There’s also the general inactivity.
You’re probably moving a lot less. Sitting down more and standing around are not good for circulation in the lower limbs. And finally, given you are supporting at least one extra human being in a very critical stage of development, you may be lacking in some nutrients which could increase your risk of cramps.
Sluggish muscles + sluggish circulation + reduced activity – nutrients = Increased risk of pregnancy leg cramps
What are the best ways to avoid or minimise the risk of cramps?
Exercise and nutrition. Isn’t it always?!
The difficulty I have as an exercise practitioner is that generally by the time someone asks me about cramps, they’re into their third trimester and the de-conditioning has already happened. So what advice can I give then? Keep moving.
The better condition your muscles and circulatory systems are in before pregnancy and during those early trimesters, the less likely you are to get those niggly pregnancy leg cramps.
It’s common to recommended is exercise and gentle activity. Especially lower leg muscle stretches and mobility.
Stretches include your calf. But also consider mobilising your ankles and feet and notice if your pregnancy leg cramps are worse from a particularly inactive day or perhaps from a specific pair of shoes – toe gripping can cause the calf to work harder than usual.
For details on Karen’s ante natal classes visit: Pilates for Pregnancy
More articles like this? Check out: