Leg cramps, often referred to as charley horses, cause muscles to suddenly and painfully contract. The spasms can last for a few seconds or several minutes. Several conditions and situation can trigger frequent leg cramps after bariatric surgery. These include:
- Exercising without warming up sufficiently
- Exercising for long periods or performing heavy physical labor, particularly in the heat
- Straining or overusing muscles
- Reduced blood flow due to heart conditions or constricting shoes and clothing
- Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or disorders affecting the thyroid, nerves, or liver
- Certain medications, such as diuretics and medications for the thyroid, asthma, and high blood pressure
- An electrolyte imbalance
An electrolyte imbalance is the most likely culprit behind leg cramps after bariatric surgery. Your surgeon will most likely recommend several vitamins and minerals for you to take after your surgery. Your new anatomy and diet only allow for so much food, and it is almost impossible to obtain your daily nutrient need from food alone.
Some of these dietary supplements directly influence leg cramps. The muscles can’t relax properly without sufficient potassium and magnesium. Deficiencies in calcium and sodium can also cause leg cramps after bariatric surgery. Electrolyte drinks are a great way to ensure that you receive enough of these essential minerals. However, check the label for their sugar content. Some electrolyte beverages contain an excessive amount of sugar and calories.
Tips to Prevent Leg Cramps After Bariatric Surgery
Bariatric patients can prevent painful leg cramps after their weight loss procedure by avoiding common triggers. For example:
- Take your vitamins and minerals as instructed
- Eat foods rich in magnesium and potassium, such as almonds and avocados
- Sip water throughout the day to stay hydrated
- Avoiding beverages that dehydrate you, such as caffeinated drinks or alcohol
- Warm up before exercise and cool down and stretch after
- Exercise at your fitness level and ease into more intense workouts
- Ensure your shoes aren’t too tight or constricting blood flow
- Consult a physician to reduce the likelihood of leg cramps caused by medical conditions or medications
Bariatric patients can control or influence many of the behaviors that cause leg cramps. However, some risk factors are outside your control, such as medical conditions or medications. Contact your doctor if you continue to experience leg cramps after bariatric surgery for no obvious reason. They can order labs to check your blood for deficiencies or identify any health conditions that may be the cause.
How to Stop a Leg Cramp
Leg cramps, although short-lived, are intensely painful, and it’s natural to desperately want to stop the pain immediately. The following are several ways to release a leg cramp and manage the pain after it subsides:
- Stretch the muscle. Flexing your foot slowly can help stop the cramp. It may seem impossible in the moment, but it will make the cramp stop within seconds. Continue stretching your calf to prevent it from happening again.
- Massage. Massaging the calf after a cramp can help reduce the pain.
- Use ice or heat. Ice can help briefly numb the pain of a charley horse, while heat can help relax and soothe the soreness.
- Take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts help relax muscles, and the warmth of the water can soothe aching muscles. Epsom salts may further relax muscles due to their magnesium content, which experts believe the body can absorb through the skin.
Sometimes, no matter what preventative measures you take, you may experience leg cramps after bariatric surgery. Speaking with a knowledgeable medical provider can help find the cause of your cramps and suggest methods to reduce their frequency. Contact us to discuss what to expect after your procedure and go over any concerns you may have.