My mother has been diabetic for 10 years now. Although her blood sugar has been controlled, it does not let her off the neuromuscular complications of diabetes. Oftentimes, she would get painful leg cramps that even made her cry and all I could do is comfort her. I never really had an idea how painful leg cramps feel until now that I am pregnant.

A leg cramp is an involuntary, sustained tightening or contraction of one or more of your muscles in the legs, usually at the back of the lower leg (calf muscles). The intensity of the pain that is brought about by these contractions varies. However, it can result to a very severe pain that will unable one to use the affected muscles. In fact, residual muscular pain and fatigue can still persist for a day or two in intense leg cramps. They usually occur just when you are about to go to sleep or when you are about to wake up.

Perhaps, almost everybody has experienced leg cramps at some point in their lives. Although the precise mechanism of leg cramps is not yet known, it is observed to be more common in individuals with the following conditions:

• Pregnancy
• Diabetes
• Dehydration
• Neuromuscular disorders
• Prolonged sitting
• Muscle overexertion or exhaustion
• Use of alcohol and certain medications like diuretics

According to some experts, leg cramps are common in pregnancy possibly because there maybe some abnormal level or processing of electrolytes, essential elements and chemical substances, which are needed for the proper functioning of the muscles. The old concept that having leg cramps means you need more calcium element has been shown by several studies to be undependable. Instead, a growing body of scientific evidence now pointed out that magnesium supplementation, in addition to prenatal vitamins, could significantly help pregnant women with leg cramps.

Another possible explanation why leg cramps are common in pregnancy is that the leg muscles could be exhausted from carrying the extra weight of the abdomen, most especially if the pregnant woman has been standing most of the time during the day. Also, the expanding and heavier uterus puts pressure on the blood vessels and nerves that supply the muscles of the legs, which results in muscle cramping.

The best way to relieve leg cramps when you have one is to immediately straighten the involved leg and gently flex your toes toward your shin. Or if you can, try walking on the affected leg. These maneuvers will ease the spasm and the pain will eventually go away.

On the other hand, to minimize recurrences of leg cramps, you may try the following tips:

• Try to keep yourself hydrated by drinking ample amount of water regularly.
• Avoid sitting or standing too long during the day. If you must sit, do not cross your legs as this will further impede blood circulation.
• Make it a habit to wiggle your toes and rotate your ankles. This will improve blood circulation back to the heart.
• Have enough time to rest. Lie on your left side to avoid the major blood vessel located at the right side from getting impinged by the weight of your uterus, thereby improving circulation to and from your legs.
• Stretch your leg muscles before bedtime
• Increase potassium intake from the diet
• Take prenatal vitamins and magnesium supplements. However, consult your health care provider first before taking any supplements.

Remember that if your muscle cramping is constant, pain is persistent, or if you notice swelling in your leg, call your doctor. These could be signs of a blood clot which needs immediate medical attention. Blood clots, if left untreated, can irreversibly damage your leg due to prolonged circulatory failure to the area brought about by the obstruction.