Your body goes through a lot of changes throughout nine months of pregnancy. The baby bump is the most obvious example, but far from the only one! Hormonal changes, increased blood volume, weight gain … your body has a lot of hard work to do to nourish a new life and prepare it for the world.
Unfortunately, sometimes these changes cause extra stress, discomfort, and pain for Mom as a side effect. This includes problems involving the feet, ankles, and lower legs. As your local podiatric team, it’s part of our job to help you understand how these changes might affect your life—and what you can do about them!
Swelling feet, ankles, and calves—usually caused by edema—is probably the most universal lower limb symptom of pregnancy. Fluids pool in the lower extremities, causing them to increase in size and look a little puffy.
During pregnancy, your baby’s circulatory system is “hooked up” to yours. Blood volume increases by up to 50% to meet the demand, and your heart has a harder time pumping blood back up from your feet and legs.
Some mild swelling is normal and even beneficial, but if you’re swelling excessively or developing varicose veins you may try these tips:
Hopefully, your anti-swelling tactics will keep cramping to a minimum! Unfortunately, they remain common, especially during the third trimester. Circulatory problems, along with weight gain and pressure on nerves and blood vessels, may contribute to cramping legs.
As with swelling, regular exercise, elevation, and compression stockings may be effective countermeasures for calf cramps. We also recommend a nice calf massage. Recruiting a loved one to provide one is the best option, but self-massage can be effective too. You might also try temporary use of a heating pad.
If cramps are severe, persistent, or otherwise getting in the way of your day-to-day functioning, seek medical attention.
We’re not just talking about swelling here. Pregnancy can actually alter the underlying bone structure of the feet. These changes may not completely be reversed even after giving birth and returning to your previous weight and fitness level.
During pregnancy, your body produces and releases specific hormones that relax and loosen ligaments, which are connective tissues that attach two or more bones to one another in a joint. This is what allows the body to stretch the way it needs to both during pregnancy and the birth itself.
But the affects are not limited to ligaments in the abdomen. The joints of your feet loosen, too, and there are a lot of them—66 total at ankle level and below! This combination of loose ligaments and weight gain can flatten your arches and make your feet both longer and wider than before.
You may have to go up a half size or two for your shoes, possibly temporarily—or possibly permanently. If foot pain is more serious, we may set you up with a pair of cushioned insoles to help support your feet and relieve pressure points.
Pregnancy alters the way you walk and carry yourself physically. Developing flatter arches is one contributor to this process, but it’s mostly a function of how your overall body shape and center of gravity shift when carrying a child.
To accommodate the additional weight at the front of the abdomen, the back curves more and the hips shift forward. Feet tend to be a little wider set to maintain stability. The combination of these factors can give some pregnant women a distinctive “waddle” as they walk. Feet may roll further during the load-bearing phase, with toes pointed outward instead of straight ahead (overpronation).
Because pregnancy places extra stress on certain muscles, and often forces women to “accommodate” their gait to fit their situation, they may be more prone to injury and pain in the feet, legs, hips, and lower back. Again, light exercise and comfortable shoes can be helpful here. Shoe inserts or custom orthotics may be needed to relieve pressure and stabilize abnormal motion or joints that may be giving way.
Not everyone experiences pregnancy the same way, although almost everyone deals with some degree of achiness, nausea, or other side effects. However, while some mildly uncomfortable symptoms are nearly unavoidable, significant foot or leg pain is never normal, even when you’re pregnant.
If struggles with your lower limbs are keeping you up at night or impairing daily functioning, please contact our office as soon as possible so we can help. You can reach our Bloomington, IN podiatry practice at (812) 333-4422 today.