Leg cramps are muscle spasms that occur most frequently at night but can happen at any time. The exact cause of leg cramps during pregnancy is not known. Proposed contributing factors include pressure of the enlarged uterus on the pelvic nerves leading to the legs and pressure on the pelvic vessels causing impaired circulation.
Natural Relief for Leg Cramps
To prevent leg cramps:
• Stretch your calf muscles a few times during the day and before going to bed. The following stretch is safe during pregnancy (if your activity has not been restricted by your health care provider):
- stand in front of a wall, at arm’s length
- place your palms on the wall
- bring your right leg forward about 12 inches and slightly bend your knee
- lean toward the wall while bending your elbows and keeping your heels on the floor
- hold for 30 seconds
- repeat with your left leg forward
- do this about 5 times with each leg.
• Exercise daily (if permitted) to prevent leg cramps. The safest exercises during pregnancy are brisk walking, swimming, and indoor stationary cycling.
• Avoid heels, standing for long periods of times, and crossing your legs.
• If sitting for long periods of time, elevate your legs and periodically wiggle your toes.
• Avoid tight fitting clothes that can restrict blood flow to your legs.
• Wear support stockings that are not too tight.
• To help prevent leg cramps during the night, avoid sleeping on your back while pregnant. Lying on your side (especially your left side) reduces pressure from the uterus and improves circulation. Placing a pillow between your knees can alleviate pressure on your back.
• Stay well hydrated (preferably with water) and include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
To treat leg cramps:
• Straighten your leg (without pointing your toes - this causes leg cramps) and gently bring your toes toward you (this can hurt at first but gradually the cramp should go away).
• If allowed and no harm of falling, walk around for a few minutes.
• Massage the muscle.
• Apply heat with a hot towel, hot water bottle, or heating pad (not too hot though).
Although leg cramps during pregnancy are common, you should inform your health care provider of this problem, especially if you have constant pain, tenderness, or swelling in your legs.
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