Leg cramps in pregnancy

1. How frequent do pregnant women have leg cramps?
Having cramps in the calves is an extremely common occurrence among pregnant women in the 2nd and the 3rd trimesters. It is particularly common during sleep when the legs are being stretched. The calf muscle twitches causing severe pain.

2. Are leg cramps caused by calcium deficiency?
Somehow, it has been interpreted as a symptom of calcium deficiency. However, clinical research has found no proof that calcium supplement helps to prevent or reduce the frequency of leg cramps. The cause is more likely to be associated with muscle fatigue. The extra weight of the pregnancy may put more pressure onto the leg muscles.

3. Do leg cramps affect the pregnancy outcome?
No. Leg cramps do not affect the pregnancy outcome.

4. How to deal with the leg cramps?
Leg cramps usually happen during sleep and start with the extension of the ankle so that the foot points down and away from the leg (termed ‘plantar flexion’). When the cramps start, drawing the toes back towards the shin, i.e. flexing the ankle forward (termed ‘dorsiflexion’)(see photo) will immediately stretch the calf muscle and reduce the spasm. Then, slowly flex the hip and knee so that the hands can reach the calf muscles. Gentle massage of the calf will allow the muscles to relax and hence stop the cramps.

Of course, if the partner is around and awake, he can be the one to dorsiflex the ankle and massage the calf!

5. Are there any ways to prevent further leg cramps?
In general, the clue is to be mindful of physical fatigue and to ensure enough rest. Some practical measures include:

  • Massage the calves before bed to relieve the fatigued muscles;
  • Rest the lower legs and ankles on a pillow during sleep;
  • While sitting down at home and relax, rest both legs on a stool;
  • Do some stretching of the calf muscles in the free time. One such exercise is like this: first, stand in front of the wall, bend the upper body slightly forward and place both hands onto the wall for support. Keep the heels on the floor and lean forward towards the wall. This will help to stretch the calf muscles. Another exercise is to place both legs on a stool and then repeat dorsiflexion and plantar flexion of the ankles.

These above tips should be more useful and practical than taking calcium supplements alone.

This article is contributed by Dr. T.N. Danny Leung
Updated on 26.04.2023