We’re all familiar with the sudden, painful and involuntary tightening of the muscles in our feet or legs known as a cramp, and in pregnancy, cramps often become even more common, affecting over 50% of women during the second and third trimesters. But what are cramps, why does pregnancy bring them on, and is there anything that can be done to help with cramps? Today, our podiatrists are talking all about foot and leg cramps in pregnancy.
What Are Cramps And What Causes Them?
A cramp is a sudden and often intense muscle contraction that occurs outside of your control. Cramps can affect entire muscle groups, individual muscles, or specific muscle fibers. Cramps feel uncomfortable, and can quickly become painful. Cramps can last from seconds to many minutes, can occur during the day or night (though they tend to be reported more frequently at night), and can affect a range of muscles from those in the the feet that cause your toes to scrunch, to those in the calves.
When it comes to the cause of cramps, it is one of those tricky topics where the exact causes haven’t been fully understood or identified in the research, and the causes seem to be very dependent on a person’s circumstances – from the medical conditions or pathologies a person may have, to their exercise habits and frequencies, to a range of other circumstances. Circumstances that are thought to lead to cramps in general include:,
- Heat-related cramps during exercise, where large losses of sweat and electrolytes are believed to lead to cramping
- Age, where approximately 37% of those aged over 60 years experience occasional night cramps
- General exercise-related cramps, where fatigue and excess strain on the feet and legs may cause them to cramp
- Having conditions such as diabetes, fibromyalgia or cirrhosis
- Venous insufficiency and peripheral vascular disease
- Cancer treatment
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurologic deficits including peripheral neuropathy
Foot and leg injuries may have a similar effect to exercise-related cramps and fatigue, where changes to a person’s gait as a result of injury may result in fatigue in underused muscles, contributing to the development of cramps.
Why Do We Get More Foot And Leg Cramps When Pregnant?
In pregnancy, the increased incidence in cramps is thought to be related to the added weight, increased blood volume and potential swelling, all placing more pressure on your feet as well as compressing the blood vessels or nerves, which results in a greater likelihood of cramping. Other suggested reasons for cramps include the influx of pregnancy hormones circulating through your body, changes to your metabolism, having a vitamin deficiency, being too active or not being active enough.
Can Foot And Leg Cramps Be Prevented?
Researchers can’t confirm whether foot cramps can definitely be prevented, but there have been a number of methods suggested to help prevent foot and leg cramps, both in pregnancy and in general life.
- Given that swelling and compression are thought to be linked to foot cramps in pregnancy, keeping the feet elevated when you’re resting, or wearing compression stockings, may help prevent foot and leg cramps.
- Harvard Medical School suggests staying hydrated throughout the day, eating foods rich in magnesium (especially leafy greens) and potassium (bananas, black beans), wearing warm socks at night if you have leg cramps, and keeping your muscles strong and flexible with regular exercises.
- A 2021 study found that the combination of daily calf and hamstring stretching for six weeks may reduce the severity of night‐time lower limb muscle cramps.
- A study found that people who drank electrolyte enhanced water during and after exercise were less susceptible to muscle cramps than those who drank pure water.
What Should You Do When You Get A Cramp?
Once the cramp has started, stretching the affected muscles and other muscles in the area, using heat (like a heat pad or hot water bottle) to help promote blood flow are thought to help manage the cramp, and gently massaging the area around the cramp are thought to be helpful recommendations.
What Happens If You Also Get Foot Or Leg Pain During Pregnancy?
While cramps may have no definitive cure or treatment, foot or leg pain during pregnancy does, and is something that our experienced podiatry team can help you with. Your feet undergo a lot of changes during pregnancy – like changes in foot size, arch shape and much more, which can all lead to foot pain and discomfort. Our podiatrists can determine the cause of your foot pain and treat it while keeping your feet comfortable and supported.
To book an appointment, call us on 1800 366 837 or book online by clicking the booking button at the top of the page.