In the middle of the night a few weeks ago I woke up with a terrible pain in my leg. I cried out about it, and immediately began trying to rub and move my leg. My more-than-half-asleep husband drowsily watched me do this. He watched me try to bend my leg, to rub it, to put weight and hobble around the room on it. When I made it to the bathroom he followed me, and asked me if I thought I was just having Braxton-Hicks. In my leg. Now we know that if I go into labor in the middle of the night, I might have to take drastic measures to wake him up properly.
Pregnant women can get leg cramps in their second or third trimesters. No one’s sure exactly what causes them as a pregnancy symptom; it’s some combination of the additional/displaced weight, different strains being put on the body, changes in blood flow, etc. Let’s just blame it on hormones; everything’s their fault anyway.
Leg cramps are like contractions: you’ll know them when you have them. So if you’re having them, what can you do?
While in the middle of the cramp, do your best to stretch out your calf. Stretch your leg out straight, pointing your toes in toward your body. See if you can walk around on your leg. Both of these things should help dissipate the cramps.
If your cramp is severe enough, you might be sore in your calf muscles for a few days to a week afterward. I had two cramps, and while the soreness from one went away within a day, I was hobbling around for about three days after the other. Time’s the only permanent relief for the soreness, but you can use products like IcyHot and Epsom salt, and methods like massage (my friends liked getting a foam roller and rolling it as hard as possible on their calves) to temporarily relieve the pain.
But most importantly: what can we do to prevent future cramps? I’ve employed a number of methods that have (thankfully) prevented me from getting any more (so far).
First: move around more. Don’t sit in any one position for too long. At this point you probably have to get up to take frequent trips to the bathroom, so that will help.
If you must sit for a while, don’t cross your legs. As you’re sitting, employ foot/leg stretches to keep the blood flowing: stretch your toes inward like described above for 30 seconds, then stretch pointing your toes outward for 30 seconds. Rotate your ankles 8-10 times in one direction, then again in the opposite. You can even try these exercises if you wake up in the middle of the night, as most leg cramps occur at night.
Try taking walks during the day. They don’t have to be long, even just 10 minutes. You can take warm baths before bed to relax your muscles. Magnesium-calcium supplements help as well.
But perhaps the most important piece of advice is to stretch your calves. Do the following stretch at least once a day, most importantly before bed: position yourself arms-length away from a wall. Rest your arms on the wall, then, while keeping one foot under you, step another foot backward until you feel the calf stretch. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds, then switch.
Hopefully with all of these methods, you should be able to prevent any further leg cramps.
*(The above image by imagerymajestic is from freedigitalphotos.net).