Among the many discomforts we women barely tolerate during pregnancy, foot and leg pain are among the most common. Foot and leg pains usually develop during the home stretch – the third trimester – but thankfully, they typically skedaddle not long after delivery.
What can you do in the meantime? Consult our handy-dandy guide to ease your pregnancy foot pain.
1. Swollen Feet and Ankles During Pregnancy
As your pregnancy progresses, you might notice your feet and ankles swelling like a marshmallow in the microwave. What’s going on? In medical circles, this is known as edema: swelling, particularly in the extremities, caused by excess fluid. During pregnancy, your increase in hormone levels causes water retention. This is generally a good thing. The fluid helps your body circulate nutrients to the developing fetus.
Just because the swelling is normal and healthy, doesn’t mean it’s always comfy! Both because they are supporting your weight and because their blood vessels are already so tiny, your feet and ankles often bear the heftiest burden during pregnancy edema. Follow these tips.
- Rest: Make sure you rest your swollen feet by elevating them often to get the blood flowing again. Raise them 8-10 inches above the heart for 10-15 minutes at a time. Sleep on your side and avoid sleeping on your back to improve circulation.
- Hydrate: Although it seems counter-intuitive, keep drinking lots of fluids. Dehydrating your body will only cause it to retain more water.
- Circulate: Practice some easy exercises to get your blood moving. While seated, raise one leg and rotate your ankle clockwise and counterclockwise for ten seconds, then switch ankles. Repeat 8 times.
- Ice: Press some ice to the insides of your ankles for 10-15 minutes a few times per day to relieve some of the discomfort and swelling.
2. Leg Cramps
Just when you’ve drifted off to a restful sleep, you’re suddenly awoken by a painful muscle cramp in your calf. Leg cramps, or Charlie Horses, typically strike at night, when your muscles are tired. Medical circles haven’t quite pinned down the exact cause of leg cramps, but it’s probably due to multiple factors, including diet, circulation, and exercise habits. Try these suggestions to put Charlie to rest.
- Nutrients: Some people are prone to muscle cramps if they’re not getting enough potassium or calcium, or if they’re getting too much phosphorus. Limit your intake of diet sodas and processed meats, which are both chock full of phosphorus. Add some dairy or calcium supplements to your diet, and for potassium, munch on nutritious bananas and apricots.
- Circulate: Take a short walk before bed (not longer than 20 minutes) to stimulate blood flow in the legs. While you should be sure to rest and elevate your legs often during pregnancy, try not to sit in one position for too long. Adjust your positioning so that your blood doesn’t pool.
- Heat: Keep in bed with you a hot water bottle – or at least someone who can get you one! Heating the calf can ease a leg cramp in progress.
- Stretch: Get up and out of bed and walk it off. Flexing your foot will stretch the calf muscle, allowing it to relax its grip. Not the ‘get-up-and-go’ type of person? You can stretch your foot by grabbing it with both hands, and firmly massaging your arch with your thumbs, working toward the toes.
3. Varicose Veins
Ahh, varicose veins. As though we needed to know exactly which route our blood is taking as it journeys down our legs, varicose veins are there to tell us. Around 20% of women will develop these swollen, twisty, bumpy, vessels of azure in their legs during pregnancy. Why, legs? Why?
Amazingly, pregnant women’s circulatory systems pump about 40% more blood than usual. The extra blood puts pressure on the veins, stretching them and preventing the valves from closing all the way. This causes pooling, which produces that signature varicose look. Gaining too much weight or standing for too much time each day can increase your chances of developing varicose veins. They’re also genetic (thanks, Mom).
- Varicose veins can be ugly, but they can also cause aches and pains and muscle fatigue. Luckily, they won’t last: usually the symptoms vanish after delivery. What can you do in the meantime?
- Circulate: As you’ve probably already discerned, many pregnancy-related leg pains are caused by poor circulation. Taking a daily walk or bike ride can help increase circulation and prevent or relieve varicose veins. If exercise isn’t right for you, rocking yourself with your foot in a rocking chair can do the trick. Kick back with an icy lemonade while you’re at it!
- Compress: Long socks or stockings gently pressing on the veins of your legs can help prevent blood pooling. Your foot and ankle specialist can also recommend prescription-strength compression socks. Prescription socks? Weird, right?
- Surgery: If your case of varicose veins is severe, then post-delivery, you can talk to your foot and ankle specialist about surgery or laser therapy.
4. Swollen Feet & Shoe Choice
After all the fluid built up your legs and feet are dealing with, chances are they won’t fit into your usual shoes anymore. Many pregnant women are surprised to walk into a shoe store and discover their feet have grown a full size or more! Not only are the fluids causing your feet to swell, but also the pregnancy hormones that allow your pelvic bones to relax are also working their magic on your foot bones, changing their shape and size.
All this means is, it’s time to go shoe shopping. Here are some tips for buying shoes while pregnant.
- Afternoon: Shop in the afternoon, when your feet are at their largest from the day’s activities.
- Type: This probably goes without saying, but avoid excessively high heels. A broad heel no more than an inch high is alright, but your comfort should be your first priority. Choose a shoe that easily balances and supports you, with lots of cushioning for shock absorption. Running shoes are a great choice.
- Size and fit: If your feet are extra-wide, go ahead and shop in the men’s section. Avoid pointy-toed shoes, as these are notorious for causing bunions in pregnant women. If you’re buying boots, make sure they have plenty of room for your swelling calves. And lastly, don’t count on “breaking them in.” Your changing feet don’t have time for that. Make sure your shoes fit comfortably in the store.
If you would like more information, we encourage you to call us at (877) 989-9110 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com.