Pregnancy is often accompanied by changes in the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine and lower extremities. This is often due to multiple factors including weight gain and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. Changes that occur within feet can include the following.
Changes in foot length, width and arch height
During pregnancy, women may note that the size of the feet will increase. This is due to an accumulation of fluid and tissue within the lower extremities. The overall effect of this is an increase in volume. Hormonal changes also occur that lead to laxity or looseness of the ligaments within the foot. This loosening results in increase in foot length and width with a decrease in arch height, meaning the arch becomes flatter. Pregnant women may notice their shoes feel tighter or that they can no longer fit into certain shoes. Many feel these changes are most pronounced with the first pregnancy and less evident with subsequent pregnancies. While these changes tend to reverse themselves in the post-partum period, some women may notice a permanent change in the shape of the foot or limitations in shoewear.
Changes in joint mobility
Women can expect laxity within the joints of the foot and ankle. This can cause instability. Weight gain can worsen the instability. This can also lead to alterations in gait as a woman progresses through pregnancy. The curvature of the back becomes more pronounced in pregnancy. All of these can lead to a broader-based gait to maintain balance.
Calf swelling, cramping and pain
Calf swelling and cramping are frequent during pregnancy. Blood flow returning from your legs back to your heart is slowed due to the increased size of the uterus and fetus. This leads to a buildup of fluid within the legs. Wearing compression stockings can help reduce swelling. Regular walking and low-impact aerobic exercise during pregnancy will also reduce swelling. Staying properly hydrated and frequent stretching of the calves can help to reduce symptoms. Massaging the area can also provide relief. Rarely, blood clots can occur in the legs during pregnancy. Symptoms of blood clots include persistent pain, swelling, possible redness, warmth and tenderness. If you notice any of these symptoms or suspect you may have a blood clot, you should contact your healthcare provider.
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