Pregnancy Leg Cramps- Why are they here, and how can I make them go away?
You're pregnant! Congratulations!
But as the months go by and your weight increases and center of gravity starts to shift, you may begin to notice that you are increasingly getting cramped up leg muscles. They always seem to come at the most inopportune times (like right as you're about to fall asleep), in your calf, in the soles of your feet, in your hamstrings... and you may be thinking to yourself, "How in the eff do I make this go away?!?".
Let's start with the basics.
Why are they here?
Leg cramps are mainly caused by a few things:
1. Low amounts of minerals in your diet.
Calcium and Magnesium are largely involved in nerve conduction and muscle contraction. If you have too little, or more rarely too much, of these minerals in your diet they can sometimes cause increased instances of muscle spasms in your body. Low blood levels of either calcium or magnesium directly increase the excitability of both the nerve endings and the muscles they stimulate. Also, because you are growing a precious tiny human, sometimes the minerals you eat will go to baby instead of you. The end result either way is usually to increase calcium and magnesium in your diet. You can talk to your doctor about whether or not a calcium or magnesium supplement may be right for you, or you can consider eating foods high in these minerals such as nuts and dark leafy greens.
2. Not enough water
There is a theory that if your fluid intake is low, your body will not effectively be able to flush waste out of it's tissues. The idea being that waste may sometimes be trapped inside the contractile tissues of the muscle, irritating it and causing it to spasm. However, in recent studies, hydration has been shown to have little effect on muscle spasms. You can read up on that here. However, I personally do believe that good hydration is key to good muscle health. I sometimes tell clients to picture their muscles as a steak... and then to picture it as jerky. Which one do you think is going to perform better? Additionally, increased fluid intake (about 2L/day for women, 3L/day for men) is good and healthy for many other organ systems as well.
3.Increased Physical Activity
With your weight increasing from your growing babe, your muscles are now working harder than they're used to to move your body. The increase in strength and endurance required of your muscles can irritate them, sometimes causing minor strains or microtearing in the tissues. While they attempt to heal (while still supporting an increased load) they may begin to spasm.
Okay. So What Can I Do About It?
1. Increase the amount of calcium and Magnesium in your diet
2. Increase your fluid intake
3.Take a break! Let your muscles rest, heal and recharge.
4. (My favourite) Get a Massage! An RMT should be able to help you to stop the cramp, if it is happening currently, and describe to you how to stop them if one is happening while you are at home. You can book online with Kelly (myself) or Seana here
So what should I do if I am having a cramp RIGHT NOW?
If your muscle is in a spasm and you are at home, you should attempt to slightly contract that muscle, this will confuse your golgi-tendon organs, found in the muscles tendons, to relax the muscle when you stop contracting it. Slightly contract it, and then relax it. Repeat this process until the spasm stops, and then use some sort of heat pack afterwards on your muscle for 20 minutes, in order to maintain that relaxation.