Have you noticed you’re suddenly experiencing painful leg cramps, particularly at night? Like so many other mysterious symptoms, hormone changes at menopause can be connected. We reveal why, and how you can help yourself.
Why are leg cramps linked with menopause?
Leg problems of various kinds are actually quite common at menopause. These can include restless legs, aching legs, swollen ankles and hot, puffy feet. Cramps in your leg muscles can be one of the most painful symptoms and you might find they wake you in the night in excruciating pain. "More than once I’ve had bad cramp in my calf," says Monica on our Live Better With Menopause forum. "It hurt so badly I wanted to cry and it took a very long time for it to go away. I tried to walk it off like I have done in the past for cramps in my feet, but this didn't work. If I tried to stand up and walk it actually made it hurt worse. I couldn't do anything but try to lie back down. I did eventually put some heat on it but it still hurt.’"
The chances are you’ve had cramps from time to time in the past but they can get worse or become more frequent at menopause because a drop in oestrogen can affect your absorption of the mineral magnesium – and magnesium deficiency is thought to be linked to muscle cramps. On top of that, stress can lead to a greater need for magnesium, so if the emotional side of menopause is getting to you, that could be contributing.
Rebalance your diet
The first thing to do is check you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and green leafy veg, some lean protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds. That will give you a good chance of getting all the nutrients you need, including magnesium and other minerals.
Consider a supplement
Some women find it’s helpful to supplement with magnesium. And if you know you don’t always manage to follow a balanced diet, you could think about topping up with a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Dehydration can contribute to muscle cramps. Make sure you’re drinking at least 1.5 litres of fluid daily, which can be made up of liquids like water, sugar-free cordials, teas and soups.
Exercise is beneficial for circulation and may help prevent cramping muscles. Try to fit in at least a brisk walk daily and aim to be generally active throughout the day.
Talk to your doctor
If painful leg cramps are severe or getting worse, speak to your doctor for advice.
Related article: Dealing with lower back pain during and after menopause