With pregnancy, comes significant body changes, some of which can actually take place in the feet. Added body weight and fluid retention, combined with hormonal changes, can cause increased swelling in the lower extremities, foot pain, and ligament laxity that may result in structural changes in the feet. These effects can lead to abnormal gait patterns and further musculoskeletal problems further up the kinetic chain, including the knees and back (3). Therefore, it is important to understand how some of these changes affect the body and learn ways to possibly prevent, manage, or treat them.
PREGNANCY & FOOT EDEMA
There are several contributing factors to swelling during pregnancy. First, the body produces more blood and body fluids while pregnant (4). It also retains several liters of water during pregnancy (1). As the uterus grows, it compresses the venous system, impairing blood flow back up to the heart. Lastly, hormonal changes can cause fluid retention (4).
The added fluid can lead to increased foot volume (1), sometimes making it uncomfortable to wear shoe gear, ultimately leading women to buy bigger shoes during pregnancy.
Much of the extra fluid is lost with the birth of the child, so the swelling is temporary. While pregnant, though, elevating the feet and compression/support stockings may help with the symptoms.
PREGNANCY & LIGAMENT LAXITY
During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin increases to relax the pelvis, but it can also cause laxity in the ligaments of the foot, which, alongside weight gain, may be the cause of the decreased arch height, increased foot pronation, and increased foot length observed in pregnant women (1,2,3). Changes in foot shape appear to be most drastic during the first pregnancy but could potentially be permanent (3). This means, a flatfoot deformity may result, which can lead to other problems, including other foot deformities (e.g. bunions, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction), as well as knee and back problems.
Custom orthotics may help cushion and support the feet during pregnancy. Wearing good, supportive shoe gear is also important but sizes may vary throughout the pregnancy.
PREGNANCY & FOOT PAIN
According to Varol et al, up to 42% of women could have foot pain during pregnancy (5). As mentioned above, feet swelling itself can cause pain. The extra fluid can make feet feel achy, especially while standing for long periods of time and even more so while in certain shoe gear.
Foot pain during pregnancy may also be the accumulation of added and uneven distribution of body weight in addition alterations in foot structure as a result of hormonal changes (3).
Heel pain, and specifically plantar fasciitis, may also occur during pregnancy.
Treatment of the foot pain will depend on the underlying cause of the pain; therefore, it is recommended that you discuss any new or unusual symptoms with your physician or OBGYN.
DISCLAIMER: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult the doctor, or your own healthcare professional, should you have questions or concerns related to your health.
1. Alvarez, R., Stokes, I. A., Asprinio, D. E., Trevino, S., & Braun, T. (1988). Dimensional changes of the feet in pregnancy. J Bone Joint Surg Am, 70(2), 271-4.
2. Gijon-Nogueron, G. A., Gavilan-Diaz, M., Valle-Funes, V., Jimenez-Cebrian, A. M., Cervera-Marin, J. A., & Morales-Asencio, J. M. (2013). Anthropometric foot changes during pregnancy: a pilot study. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 103(4), 314-321.
3. Segal, N. A., Boyer, E. R., Teran-Yengle, P., Glass, N., Hillstrom, H. J., & Yack, H. J. (2013). Pregnancy leads to lasting changes in foot structure. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation/Association of Academic Physiatrists, 92(3), 232.
4. Things That Make You Swell When You’re Pregnant. Retrieved from https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=e668bf44-c376-459e-b263-41f48810373a
5. Varol, T., GÖKER, A., Cezayirli, E., ÖZGÜR, S., & YÜCEL, A. T. (2017). Relation between foot pain and plantar pressure in pregnancy. Turkish journal of medical sciences, 47(4), 1104-1108.