Pregnancy and Feet
Leg and foot pain is experienced by many women during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester when your baby bump is getting bigger. The most common issues associated with leg and foot pain include plantar fasciitis (heel or arch pain), swelling, varicose veins and cramping.
Pregnant women often experience heel and arch pain, which is known as plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis occurs when there is extra strain put on the plantar fascia, a band of connective tissue that runs long ways across the bottom your foot. During pregnancy this is due to two main factors: the release of a substance called ligament relaxing hormone and the weight gain that is an inevitable part of pregnancy.
Towards the end of pregnancy a hormone called ligament relaxing hormone is made in order to relax and stretch the ligaments around the pelvis to prepare for child birth. This also has an effect on the ligaments that hold the many bones in the foot together. As this decreases the structural integrity of the foot, the bones are now able to move slightly further apart allowing the arch to flatten. As the arch flattens the plantar fascia is stretched across a greater distance. It can become irritated and pull on its attachments to the bone. This causes the pain that is felt in the arch and bottom of the heel bone.
The arches of your feet may not return to their previous height after pregnancy but wearing an orthotic device during the last half of a pregnancy can both reduce or eliminate foot pain and also be protective of ongoing foot problems after pregnancy.
Swelling occurs when there is an excess of fluid in the fleshy tissue of your lower leg and foot. As the uterus grows bigger during pregnancy its puts pressure on many of the blood vessels that carry blood from your limbs back to your heart. The increased pressure on these veins slows down the flow of blood, causing it to pool and put increased pressure on the blood vessel wall. This causes the clear fluid in the blood called plasma to leak out into the surrounding tissue of the ankles and feet and causes swelling.
As well as this, during pregnancy, raised hormone levels cause the body the keep more of the fluid that the body receives. This fluid circulates in the bloodstream but due to the process explained above the extra fluid is most noticeable in the feet, ankles, and calves where it settles towards the lowest points due to gravity.
A combination of the swelling of the feet and the ligament relaxing hormone causing the arches to lower, may cause shoes to feel tight or increase shoe size by half to a full size. It is important to wear properly fitted shoes that offer support and cushioning. It is also important to note that if swelling is not symmetrical or the feet swell very rapidly to make an appointment in order to rule out any other complications.
Pregnant women have increased fluid retention and as a result the volume of blood circulating around the body is increased. This creates an increase in pressure on the walls of the veins causing them to stretch and put extra pressure on the valves within the veins that work to return blood back to the heart. The extra strain on the valves causes them to not close as efficiently and become faulty, which allows blood to flow back and pool. You are more likely to get varicose veins if you gain too much excess weight, stand for long periods or have a hereditary predisposition, for example if your mother had varicose veins. Some of the symptoms that accompany varicose veins include aching legs, heaviness, fatigue, and pressure. Increasing circulation can help relieve discomfort, this can be done through low impact exercises including swimming or a short walk. Resting with the legs elevated is more beneficial than sitting with the legs hanging down.
Leg cramping occurs most commonly in the calves during pregnancy but can also occur in the feet. Cramps in the legs and feet commonly occur at night. The reason as to why cramping occurs is not quite known but it is thought to be due to the muscles being fatigued at the end of the day or possibly a vitamin and mineral imbalance. Adequate hydration is also important so be sure to keep up your water intake even though the pressure of the baby on the bladder makes it likely that you will need to urinate more often.