A common question that our pregnant friends all ask us is why they get leg cramps during pregnancy. In fact, almost 50% of pregnant women suffer from leg cramps during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. These are sudden painful spasms that occur in the foot, calves and thighs but are most common in the calf. Leg cramps also occur most often at night and some of us know that making that quick exit from the bed with a cramp whilst heavily pregnant is not an easy thing to do! And OUCH!
The causes are largely unknown as with cramps in the general population, but it is believed to be a lack of salt, magnesium and/or calcium.
In pregnancy, there is a 50% increase in blood volume and blood plasma is high in salt. This may reduce the ideal levels of cellular salt in the muscle. There is some evidence to suggest that adequate salt in the diet may improve leg cramps.
In the general population research now suggests that a cramp can be caused by an un-coordinated signal between the brain and the muscle. This often happens when a muscle is fatigued or overloaded. Perhaps with changes in posture, weight gain and activity levels in pregnancy this could also contribute.
If you do get a cramp it is often when the muscle is in a shortened position. Taking the muscle to a lengthened position i.e. stretching it will stop the cramping.
As an example: There a few different options to stop lower leg cramps in the calf once they are occuring:
If in bed, either pull your leg up in the air and grab onto your toes, pulling both your leg and toes back towards you or sit up with your affected leg out straight in front of you (the other leg can be bent) and reach towards your foot pulling your toes back towards you.
If these options will not break the cramp then stand up and get your weight onto your foot so the foot is flat on the floor then take it into a gentle calf stretch by placing the foot behind you in a lunge position.
If you have commonly occuring cramps in the quads (front of leg), hamstrings (back of leg) or adductors (groin) then speak to your SquareOne Physio about the best way to help these.
After any cramp, it is likely you will have an aching muscle for the next few days, but this should resolve within 2-3 days. As with any pain, if it does not resolve, it is recommended you seek professional advice especially whilst you are pregnant.