Your feet are your body’s unsung heroes. They’re comprised of a complex combination of bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons that support and move you through your day. For all the work your feet do, they’re the body part that gets the least amount of focus. That is until they start to hurt. For many women, the first time that they notice foot pain is during pregnancy, when increased body weight and changes in foot shape can trigger discomfort and pain.
Here’s a rundown of the factors that can cause foot pain during pregnancy and fixes that you can use to ease your aching feet.
During pregnancy, hormonal shifts and reduced venous return can cause the lower extremities to swell with edema (fluid build-up). If you’re noticing an increase in edema, monitor your daily sodium intake to see if you’re over the recommended level. Additionally, increase your water intake to help prevent water retention. If you’re not drinking enough water, your body will increase fluid retention, making the problem worse.
Take breaks throughout the day and lay down or sit with your feet elevated. If your job requires a lot of sitting or standing, make a habit of getting up and walking for several minutes every hour. If you have access to a pool, spend some time swimming in the cool water. The hydrostatic pressure of water and the cool temperature is ideal for reducing edema. If these tips don’t help your swelling, consult with your health care provider and ask about prescription support hose. Although support hose aren’t the most comfortable thing to wear, they can decrease lower body edema when worn consistently.
One of the most critical factors in avoiding foot pain is the type of shoe that you wear. During the span of pregnancy, hormonally induced ligament changes can cause feet to grow one-half to one full size and they can remain at the larger size permanently. With changes in foot size and swelling during pregnancy, it’s essential to wear shoes that provide stability, cushioning, and a correct fit.
Have your feet measured when shoe shopping to make sure that you buy a shoe that fits your foot width and length. There should be a little extra room to allow space for foot swelling. Your shoe checklist should include: correct fit, good support, extra shock absorption, and lightweight material. If you must wear heels, do a Google search for “comfortable heels for pregnancy” to find a good selection of dress shoes that provide extra cushioning, better heel placement, and balance. You may love your high heels, but you need to put any heels higher than 2 ½ inches away until after your pregnancy.
Research on the foot pressure exerted during pregnancy has suggested that pregnancy increases forefoot pressure and floor contact time during the last trimester. This shift in foot pressure and floor contact time, combined with the added weight of pregnancy can flatten arches, causing feet to roll inward and overpronate with weight bearing movement. These changes put a strain on foot ligaments and increase the risk of developing conditions such as plantar fasciitis and heel pain. Stretching your foot before walking, wearing shoes that provide support, and getting fitted with orthotics for correcting overpronation can all help reduce foot pain.
The loss of arch support and a shift to overpronation when weight-bearing puts additional stress on the plantar fascia. This can result in an inflammation of this fibrous band that spans from your heel to forefoot. Signs of this condition are intense pain with the first steps you take when getting out of bed, pain that is worse after walking, running, or other weight-bearing exercise, and heel pain. Stretching your foot before getting out of bed in the morning can help. Also, icing painful feet after exercise reduces inflammation. A prescription orthotic can provide better foot support and minimize overpronation, as well.
It’s difficult to maintain your feet and toenails when you can’t reach them because of your growing belly. This can lead to ingrown nails and cracked painful heels. If you are having trouble cutting your toenails, or can’t apply lotions to ease cracked heels, ask a family member to help. If you prefer to go for a pedicure, check to make sure that the salon is up to code on sterilization (all tools should be autoclaved) and soaking tubs disinfected after each use. Feel free to bring your own tools if you prefer to ensure their cleanliness. Don’t have a pedicure if you have any broken skin on your feet.
Along with the solutions above, there are some exercises you can do to help. Try these three pain-relievers:
Use a small ball (golf balls work well) and roll it up and down and side to side on painful areas of your foot while in a sitting position. Don’t press down so hard that it causes pain, though. The rolling should feel like a moderate massage, so move the ball slowly and take your time.
Step up with both feet on the first step of a stairway and take turns moving one foot back, so it’s halfway off the stair. Press down on the heel until you feel a stretch.
If you’re lucky enough to have a family member willing to provide a foot massage it’s a great way to ease foot pain. If not, most massage practitioners can provide therapeutic foot massage.
Ice and Heat Treatments
Icing aching feet can help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. An ice bath is the easiest way to ice feet. But, if you can’t tolerate that much cold, an ice pack also works well. If muscle soreness is more of an issue, heat may be a better choice. Soak your feet in a warm foot bath or use microwavable heat packs.
In the case of foot pain that isn’t helped by the above suggestions, it’s a good idea to consult with a podiatrist. This type of medical specialist can diagnose and treat severe foot pain conditions with treatments such as orthotics, splints, pregnancy-safe medications, and other treatment modalities.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
- Swelling increases markedly in a short period
- Foot pain is so intense that you’re unable to your daily activities
- You can’t exercise without pain
- Your foot pain is the result of an injury