Congratulations! If you are reading this it means you may be embarking on a new journey with a little one – or you know someone who soon will be. There are so many changes with pregnancy and having a newborn and your feet might be the last thing you are thinking about – until something happens! During pregnancy, the natural changes that occur in our bodies result in added risk to our feet. Here are a few of the most common conditions we see more frequently during pregnancy and, more importantly, ways to try and avoid another discomfort during pregnancy.
Ingrown nails: You may have never before experienced pain or swelling in your toes and around your nails. When we are pregnant, we tend to retain more water. For some women this is more than others. As much as compression stockings sound like the worst thing, they provide support for the veins of our legs to help promote better return of fluid into normal circulation. When swelling gets back during pregnancy, our feet and toes being swollen means our shoes will fit tighter and there can be more pressure on our nails. The nail corners which may have never posed an issue before can now become painful and sore and in some unfortunate cases may even become infected. Here are some ways to reduce swelling and the risk of experiencing a painful and ingrown nail:
- Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated helps decrease swelling as our body shouldn’t feel the need to retain as much water every day.
- Elevate your feet at rest: Take it easy momma! Anytime you have a chance to take a few minutes, elevate your feet to let gravity assist with getting that extra fluid out of your legs. Growing a baby is hard work, so give yourself a break.
- Compression stockings: 8-15mmHg (that’s millimeters of mercury) is the lowest amount of compression available over the counter and it’s typically enough to help reduce swelling that occurs in the legs and also really assists in lessening the aching tired feeling our feet and legs get when we have swelling.
- Size matters: Make sure the shoes you are wearing are the correct size (which CAN change throughout your pregnancy) and also that they are shaped to allow room in the toes for wiggling and variations in swelling. If you are in a tight closed-toe shoe, pressure on a nail can cause the nail to puncture the skin and this is where infected toenails usually come from.
- Don’t wait, call! If you think you are starting to have tenderness in the toenails, a quick evaluation early can mean the difference between getting an infection or getting relief. An ingrown nail when addressed quickly enough heals and feels better quickly and usually does not require a procedure.
Plantar Fasciitis: This is an all too common condition that can happen for a variety of reasons. In the case of pregnancy, your body weight increases at a much higher rate than normal. In addition, the hormonal changes during pregnancy result in more laxity in the ligaments that can allow the arch to fall which places more strain on your plantar fascia (along the arch of the foot). This causes inflammation and pain in the heel where the ligament attaches. If you don’t want to suffer from heel pain from plantar fasciitis a few simple things can lessen your chances:
- Get support: Wearing well-constructed walking or running shoes will prevent most foot conditions. In the case of plantar fasciitis, having plenty of shock absorption in the heel reduces overall pain from walking during the day while carrying that extra baby weight. Arch support provided by the shoes and sometimes from a custom insert helps your foot to function better which reduces strain on tendons and ligaments alike. Most cases of plantar fasciitis are due to wearing flipflops or ballet flats when pregnant. These shoes offer almost no shock absorption or support.
- Stretch: You may already be doing some stretching for your back or hips, but don’t forget your feet. Stretching your calves and achilles tendon reduces the need for your foot to compensate in a way that will otherwise strain the plantar fascia resulting in plantar fasciitis. As an added bonus, staying loose and stretching (and hydrated) will reduce cramping that many women experience while pregnant.
- Take it Easy: Being active while pregnant has many benefits. That being said, deciding to take on a completely new activity or exercise with increased impact or intensity can cause overuse conditions like plantar fasciitis much more quickly when you have extra weight and joint laxity. Keeping up with the amount of walking and running you did before you were with child is sometimes doable, but don’t push yourself. Weight gain is a reality of pregnancy and is important for a healthy baby, so resist the temptation to go overboard at the gym.
Stress Fractures: Stress fractures occur as a result of increased stress on a bone over a longer period of time. They are not associated with a traumatic injury, but rather are small fractures within bones that are not typically visible on plain x-rays. Stress fractures in the case of pregnancy often result due to an increase in weight over a short period of time, couple with use of shoes that are not providing enough support and shock absorption. Stress fractures heal over the course of 6-8 weeks generally, similar to true fracture, though if protected and stabilized the pain resolve sooner and a decrease in activity is most critical in the first 2-4 weeks. Reduce your chances of suffering a stress fracture by doing the following:
- Wear supportive shoes that match the activity you are doing: Walking and running shoes are awesome when you are out and about running errands and of course exercising. Though they can’t be worn at all times, a majority of the time you are up and about with that extra baby weight you need that support as your body is under more stress than usual – especially your feet.
- Avoid the temptation to start a new exercise routine: You have probably already been advised by your OB/GYN that when you are pregnant, increasing your exercise from the norm is no recommended. Not only can this cause stress on the baby, but your body (feet included) as well. If you ran regularly prior to being pregnant, keep on running though you may need to taper as your due date approaches. If you did yoga on a routine basis, this is also great. If you get pregnant and are worried about the weight you are gaining, a simple walking program and ensuring your calories match what you OB recommended is all you need. Losing weight during pregnancy in most cases is NOT recommended. Should you choose to start a walking program, be sure your shoes still fit (your feet may have grown!) and that they are not worn out so that the shock absorption they offer can alleviate pressure on the bones in the feet.
Be smart and take it easy momma! We know you won’t be able to when baby comes – and if you already have one or a few little ones keeping you busy, reach out for help every now and then. Call your friendly neighborhood podiatrist if you your feet are making your pregnancy less comfortable, happy pregnancy and congratulations again!