You're several months pregnant and the thought of adding a new addition to your family brings you great joy. To make sure things go smoothly with your pregnancy and the health of your baby you've made sure to take your prenatal vitamins, eat right, and go to your doctor on a regular basis.
Even with all that you know you're going to gain weight and experience other body changes due to changing hormones. And unfortunately along with weight gain comes the potential for developing several foot conditions.
It's important to be aware of these foot conditions so you know how to deal with them if they arise.
Flat Feet and Plantar Fasciitis
One of the most common foot problems for pregnant women are collapsing arches and flat feet. These are a direct result of weight gain and looser ligaments. For every pound of body weight you gain an additional three pounds of force are added to your feet when you walk.
That extra force can cause your feet to flatten out and with it a condition called plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the fascia on the underside of the foot stretches beyond its capacity, causing micro-tears, inflammation, and pain in your heel.
If you're experiencing heel pain, make sure you're wearing a supportive shoe. You can test your current shoes or any new shoes you plan to purchase. In addition, replace your insoles with an over-the-counter insert like Powersteps. These inserts can help support your foot and prevent it from collapsing further.
If you have more severe pain, you'll need to come in for a foot evaluation so the doctor can determine the best ways to treat it. Very likely you'll need custom foot orthotics, a stretching program, and something to reduce the inflammation that will not affect the baby such as icing or Biofreeze, which is a topical medication.
Swollen Feet and Ankles
Swelling of the feet and ankles is another common problem for pregnant women. Your body produces 50% more blood and body fluids to meet the needs of the baby. In addition to retaining extra fluid, weight from the growing uterus compresses lower extremity veins, inhibiting the return of blood back to the heart. Other factors that can play a role in swelling are: spending a long time on your feet, a diet high in sodium and too low in potassium, high caffeine consumption, and hot environments.
Don't ignore swelling. It could be a sign of a dangerous condition called preeclampsia, a condition that causes very high blood pressure. It can cause seizures and stress on the baby.
To reduce swollen feet and ankles do the following:
- Ask for an accommodation at work to reduce time on your feet
- Drink plenty of water
- Cut coffee and tea consumption
- Reduce your intake of salt by avoiding processed foods
- Increase your intake of potassium rich foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, and salmon, just to name a few.
- Keep your feet elevated as much as possible
- Incorporate low impact exercise into your routine; swimming or short walks can improve circulation
- Wear wider shoes with a roomier toe box to accommodate the swelling.
- Wear compression stockings; thigh high stockings are preferable.
- Stay cool
- Sleep on your left side
In addition to collapsing arches, you may experience an increase in the length and width of your feet due to hormonal changes. Tight fitting shoes and socks and difficulty with trimming toenails can increase your risk for ingrown toenails.
Purchasing shoes with a wide toe box that fit can help reduce your risk.
Falls and Sprained Ankles
Your center of gravity changes when your pregnant making it harder to maintain stability when you walk. Looser ligaments can add to that instability. About 25% of women fall during pregnancy and 10% fall more than once.
Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of falling by conditioning your body to adjust to the changes in your balance and by wearing supportive shoes.
Regular exercise during pregnancy helps improve your posture and decreases discomfort and fall risk. Maintaining a strong core, thighs, and hips creates a solid foundation for your changing body and its balance. Make sure you talk to your doctor before taking on a new exercise program.
Exercises recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists include walking, swimming, riding a stationary bicycle, prenatal yoga and Pilates classes.
In addition to engaging in the exercises above, some specific strength and balance exercises to do are:
- Pelvic tilts- these maintain and build core strength.
- Squats - strengthen quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
- Hip extensions - strengthen hip and lower back muscles.
- Alternate standing on one leg and then the other, with a chair for balance if you need it.
For additional exercises, check out these offered by Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy to strengthen pelvic floor, core, and posture.
Getting Proper Foot Support
Proper foot support is essential to prevent falls and sprained ankles. The following tips will help ensure your shoes can help reduce your risk for falls.
- Make sure your shoes fit well - when purchasing new shoes, be sure to have your feet measured. It's not uncommon for pregnant women to experience an increase in shoe size.
- Don't wear shoes with worn out soles - turn your shoes over. If you see an uneven wear pattern you very likely need new shoes. Worn out shoes won't support you during your pregnancy and can increase your chance for a fall.
- Consider inserts or custom orthotics if you pronate - even if you don't have heel pain or plantar fasciitis it's still a good idea to replace your insoles with an over-the-counter insert like Powersteps, particularly if you tend to pronate when you walk. If you are experiencing foot pain not alleviated by an over-the-counter insert you'll likely need a custom orthotic.
- Shop for shoes at the end of the day - you may already have swollen feet, but they'll be even more swollen towards the end of the day. Shop too early and you risk buying a shoe that's too small.
- Be sure to avoid any exercises that increase your risk of falling.
- Avoid wearing high heels as they can throw off your already precarious balance.
- Test your shoes for stability- see more under plantar fasciitis above
Cracked heels occur more frequently during pregnancy due to increase in weight and changes in posture. The heels tend to expand which leads to cracks if the skin becomes too dry. Using an intensive moisturizer made for feet or gel socks can prevent heels from cracking.
Changes in your body chemistry during pregnancy can worsen calf cramps. Another reason to avoid wearing heels is it can make calf cramps more likely.