For many pregnant women, leg pain first symptoms can appear as early as the first trimester, to gradually increase as the pregnancy progresses, and seems to get worse from the second trimester until the end of pregnancy.
Pain, night cramps, heaviness, swelling, itching, varicose veins: these are the famous legs manifestations to prevent or reduce during pregnancy by taking care of your legs.
Usually mild but unpleasant and sometimes painful, these cramps that radiate across the calves and along the legs can be felt during the day, but are most often experienced at night, when fatigue and fluid accumulation reach their peak.
Various theories refer to fatigue associated with pregnancy weight gain, blood vessel compression in the legs, pregnancy hormones, and, possibly, diet – excess phosphorus and deficiency of calcium or magnesium.
Even if leg pain is very common during pregnancy, especially in the last two trimesters, any pregnant woman who suffers from it must be very careful and always seek the root of its cause. The main possible complication to consider is phlebitis: formation of a blood clot in a varicose vein.
Some causes of leg pain during pregnancy
Many changes in your body promote leg pain during pregnancy, which can occur due to blood circulation disorders and stress generated in muscles of the lower legs. If you are already prone to circulatory disorders, there is a good chance that this problem will worsen during your pregnancy and sometimes be accompanied by varicose veins.
Leg pain or cramps that appear mainly at night are more likely to be a calcium and magnesium deficiency or dehydration. Health professionals say that low levels of calcium and magnesium or a change in the way the body treats this nutrition during pregnancy can cause pain and cramps in the legs.
Hormones like relaxin and progesterone are also considered responsible for leg pain during pregnancy. These hormones release certain ligaments in your body in preparation for childbirth, and eventually, affect the muscles in your legs and promote water retention.
Pregnancy is most often accompanied by blood circulation disorders, which can already manifest from the first trimester: Blood volume increases, flow accelerates, and vein walls dilate. As a result, blood return is more difficult, blood stagnates, giving the feeling of heaviness and pain in the lower legs.
On the other hand, you are gaining some weight and your uterus is gradually increasing in size, compressing the veins that allow the blood to return to the heart. You will also tend to move less, remaining more stable. In addition, hormones promote water retention.
second and third Trimesters:
During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, your baby gains more weight and you are physically less active than before, which can affect blood circulation by keeping constant pressure in the veins. Your baby can put extra pressure on the sciatic nerves and blood vessels that extend to the leg, causing pain, swollen legs, ankles, and feet.
In addition, a diet that contains excess phosphorus but less calcium or magnesium results in a deficiency of minerals and salts that circulate in your blood.
This also happens because your baby’s calcium and magnesium needs increase, and the loss of these minerals in pregnant women is also significant, so it is inevitable that bones will be affected and cause discomfort and pain in the legs.
In other cases, fatigue and tiredness caused by weight gain are also a common source of leg pain at a later stage of pregnancy. This often results in excessive fat consumption, which adds more weight than necessary and causes back and leg pain.
When to consult a doctor?
leg pain or cramps usually disappear on their own. However, you should consult a doctor if the pain is severe and persistent or sudden and intense, if you notice redness and swelling, and if the pain is frequent and does not improve with self-care.
Phlebitis refers to a blood vessel inflammation caused by one or more blood clots in a vein. This can occur on the surface or in the deep veins, usually in leg or arm, and manifests as pain in the calves, heavy leg feeling, moderate and inconsistent fever, and increased heart rate.
When one or more clots form in a deep vein, they can flow into the blood circulation and reach the heart, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. This is, therefore, an absolute emergency.
Even if it is not common during pregnancy, but the risk of phlebitis may increase due to uterus dilation, which exerts additional pressure on the veins of the lower body to return the blood to the heart.
Finally, be sure to answer all the questions your doctor asks you precisely so that the diagnosis can be perfect. When a good diagnosis is made, it is easier to provide effective treatment.
Prevent leg pain during pregnancy
Regardless of the cause, here are some steps you can consider to reduce leg pain frequency and duration during pregnancy and avoid such discomfort:
- Replace your high heels by more comfortable shoes, with a small heel (2-3 cm), and avoid tight socks.
- Do some exercises to boost blood circulation. No better way than walking and swimming, stretching exercises can also help pregnant women prevent cramps before they appear.
- If your legs hurt at night, sleep on slightly elevated legs or lie on your left side to avoid the uterus compression on large blood vessels.
- Avoid sitting or standing for too long, and do not cross your legs.
- To prevent phlebitis occurrence, it is recommended, whenever it is possible, to walk and avoid prolonged sitting. Resting with your legs elevated and controlling your weight gain is also necessary.
- Spray cold water over the legs at the end of the shower, starting from the bottom to the top.
- Adopt a balanced diet that contains a lot of calcium and magnesium (yogurt, bananas, eggs, milk, etc). You can as well eat more vegetables, such as kelp, beans, etc. Pregnant women should also drink at least 12 to 13 glasses of liquids a day.
- Keep alternating activity periods with rest periods during the whole day.