A Charley horse is the common name for a muscle spasm, especially in the leg. They’re fairly common in the 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy and they are no fun. When a muscle goes into spasm it feels tight, almost as hard as a rock, and it hurts like the blazes.
Experts once thought that most leg cramps were caused by too little calcium or magnesium in the diet. Research, however, doesn’t back that up. (But, both of these minerals, along with potassium and others, are important to your baby’s development, so make sure you’re eating a well balanced diet. Speak to you health care provider before deciding to take any supplements.) We think that things like muscle strain from extra weight, low fluid intake, or staying in the same position for a long time contribute to Charley horses. Changes in your blood circulation during pregnancy and pressure from the baby on the nerves and blood vessels that go to your legs contribute to these leg cramps.
Stopping the pain starts with stopping the spasm. If you feel a cramp coming on, stretch your leg from the heel. Try getting out of bed and leaning into a wall, like doing a wall push-up, while keeping your feet flat on the floor. (Be careful not to jump out of bed too fast – you might get dizzy!) Massaging the muscle and putting moist heat on it can be soothing, too.
To ward them off, be proactive. Get regular exercise during the day (go for a walk) and make sure you’re guzzling plenty of water. Getting dehydrated can trigger a Charley horse. If you’re on your feet a lot during the day, try wearing support hose. Avoid getting too tired and grab a nap if you can. Lying down on your left side will improve circulation to and from your legs. Stretch your legs, especially the calves, before you go to bed. Avoid pointing your toes when stretching or exercising.
Most of the time, these nasty cramps will subside on their own without medical treatment. But if the pain is frequent and severe, if you know you have a clotting disorder, or if you notice any redness, warmth, swelling or tenderness in your leg, call your doc right away to make sure nothing more serious is going on.