For many pregnant women, leg pain first symptoms can appear as early as the first trimester, to gradually increase as pregnancy progresses. And seem to get worse from the second trimester until the end of pregnancy.
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Pain, heaviness, swelling, tingling, night cramps, and even varicose veins in some cases: these are the famous legs manifestations to prevent or reduce by adopting certain lifestyle habits, and taking care of your legs during pregnancy.
These unpleasant complaints that radiate across the calves and along the legs are generally mild, yet sometimes painful. They can appear during the day but are most often felt at night, when fatigue and fluid retention reach their peak.
Various theories refer to blood vessel compression in the legs, fatigue associated with pregnancy weight gain, hormones, and possibly diet: excess phosphorus, and calcium or magnesium deficiency.
Some causes of leg pain during pregnancy
Many changes in your body promote leg pain during pregnancy. If you are already prone to circulatory disorders, there is a good chance that this problem will worsen during your pregnancy, and can sometimes go hand in hand with varicose veins.
blood circulation disorders
Pregnancy is most often accompanied by blood circulation disorders, which can already manifest from the first trimester: Blood volume increases, flow accelerates, and walls of the veins dilate.
In addition, the uterus gradually increases in size, compressing the veins that allow blood to flow back to the heart. As a result, the blood stagnates, giving the feeling of heaviness and pain in the lower legs.
During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, your baby gains more weight, which can put additional pressure on the sciatic nerves and blood vessels that extend to the leg.
You will also tend to move less than before, remaining more stable. This can affect blood circulation by maintaining constant pressure in the veins, resulting in pain, swelling of legs, ankles, and feet.
In other cases, fatigue and tiredness provoked by weight gain in late pregnancy often lead to over-fat consumption. This adds more weight than necessary, causing pain in the legs and back.
calcium and magnesium deficiency
Leg pain or cramps that appear at night are more likely to be calcium and magnesium deficiency or dehydration. Health experts say that low levels of calcium and magnesium, or a change in how the body treats this nutrition during pregnancy, can cause pain and cramps in the legs.
This also happens because your baby’s calcium and magnesium needs increase, and the loss of these minerals in your body is also significant. So it is inevitable that your bones will be affected, leading to pain and discomfort in your legs.
Moreover, a diet that contains excess phosphorus but less calcium or magnesium results in a lack of minerals and salts that circulate in your blood.
Leg pain during pregnancy is also known to be due to hormones such as relaxin and progesterone. These hormones release some ligaments in your body before childbirth, and eventually affect your leg muscles and promote water retention.
When to consult?
Leg pain or cramps usually disappear on their own. However, you should consult a doctor if:
- The pain is severe and persistent.
- You notice redness and swelling.
- The pain is frequent and does not improve with self-care.
The main possible complication to consider is phlebitis: an inflammation of the blood vessel induced in a vein by one or more blood clots. Even if it is uncommon during pregnancy, the risk of phlebitis may increase due to uterus dilation.
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.
- 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.
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.
How can you prevent and relieve the pain?
Regardless of the cause, here are some steps you can consider to prevent leg pain or reduce its frequency and duration during pregnancy:
Avoid High-Heeled Shoes
Replace your high heels with more comfortable shoes made of small heels (2-3 cm). The regular use of high heels reshapes the muscles in the legs. The calf tendons, and muscles in the back of the leg actually tend to shorten, creating pain when they are not worn.
Knee-high compression socks are specially designed to help increase venous blood flow and reduce leg swelling, but also to prevent phlebitis and blood clots in the lower legs.
They exert a gentle pressure on your legs and ankles, promoting blood circulation to your heart. Wear them on both legs (or just on 1) during the day, and remove them before going to bed.
Adopt the Right Postures
Avoid sitting or standing for too long, and do not sit with your legs crossed or in any other position that could block your blood circulation.
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.
An ice pack or cold compress can also help to stop spasms. If you have cramps at night, take a bath before going to bed and spray cold water on your legs at the end, starting from the bottom to the top.
Do some exercises
If your doctor agrees, 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.
Stretch your calf with your heels flexed. If you have cramps at night, slowly flex and release your feet several times before going to bed.
Eat a balanced diet
Choose a well-balanced diet that contains a lot of calcium and magnesium: yogurt, bananas, eggs, milk, kelp, beans, etc. You should also drink plenty of water and fluids during the day to keep your leg muscles hydrated.
Talk to your doctor if you think you need calcium or magnesium supplements.