First of all – congratulations! Pregnancy is an exciting time and your body will be going through a lot of changes, including your feet. At Dubai Podiatry Centre, we see the full range of foot issues – from fungal skin and toenail infections to ingrowing toenails, verrucas and biomechanical issues such as ‘flat feet’ and bunions.
Pregnant women can experience all of these foot complaints. However, pregnancy affects women’s feet in two extra ways. As Michelle Champlin, Chief Podiatrist at Dubai Podiatry Centre says that ‘firstly, pregnancy can exacerbate an existing condition, such as bunions or collapsed foot arches and secondly, it also impacts on treatment for a range of foot complaints.’
How does pregnancy affect feet?
Pregnancy affects the biomechanics of your feet – or the function and engineering. This is because of two main reasons: the first is the increased weight on your feet and the second is the release of hormones that serve a great (and necessary) purpose during pregnancy. These hormones cause your ligaments and muscles to become more soft and stretchy. Mrs. Champlin advises that ‘this is an ovarian hormone called, appropriately, relaxin. It makes the ligaments and muscles more elastic, like chewing gum and specifically works to stretch collagen, helping to prepare the pelvis for birth.’
The most common foot and leg issues in pregnancy:
• Swollen legs, ankles and feet: particularly in the later stages of pregnancy, as the womb puts pressure on veins in the pelvis, slowing the venous return of blood to the heart particularly from the legs.
• Collapsed arches: a common biomechanics problem from both the extra weight of pregnancy and the hormonal-related laxity of muscles and ligaments that normally hold foot posture in place. This can lead to collapsed medial and transverse arches, splaying (broadening) of the forefoot and even early bunions. Your feet and particularly heels may become painful.
• Varicose veins: Due to both the slower venous return of blood from your legs and the pregnancy hormones, your veins dilate and relax, causing blood to pool in your veins and in turn varicose veins.
• Increased risk of ankle / knee sprain: Due to the release of the hormone relaxin, your muscles and ligaments throughout your entire body become more loose and flexible. This hormone is especially working to widen the pelvis for birth. However, the hormone affects all of the ligaments and muscles, and in weight bearing areas of your ankles and knees, this can cause your joints to be less stable and more at risk of injury through twisting your ankle or knee accidentally.
Tips for Foot & Leg Health in Pregnancy
• Put your feet and legs up whenever you can to aid circulation
• Avoid crossing your legs when sitting
• Do daily foot and leg stretches, such as circling your ankles
• Stay active – exercise with your GP / Midwife’s advice
• Wear comfortable, wide fitting shoes, preferably with a small heel (no higher than 3cm), a Velcro or lace strap to hold the shoe in place, and plenty of cushioning in the sole. Sports shoes are ideal, or a cushioned low-heeled ‘mary-jane’ style for work – avoid unsupportive footwear such as flip-flops, ballet bumps and stilettoes
• Wear support stockings with the advice of your GP / Midwife.
Treating Foot Issues in Pregnancy
Always tell your Podiatrist, or any health professional, if you are pregnant or even if you suspect you might be and if you are breastfeeding. Some medications are not advised during pregnancy, even over-the-counter medications that do not require a prescription. As a general rule, ailments such as verrucas or fungal toenails can be safely left untreated until after baby is born and you have finished breastfeeding. If an issue such as a verruca is causing you pain when standing/walking though, this can be safely reduced though to clear the build up of dead skin that is causing the pain, and you can return after baby’s arrival and breastfeeding to start treatment (such as Dermojet).
Likewise, corns and callous can be reduced for your comfort also. Avoid taking oral medications without the advice of your Doctor and check with your Doctor / Pharmacist also prior to using any topical creams, sprays or ointments, even non-prescription ones.
Again, for issues such as ingrowing toenails, conservative treatment in the way of sterile corrective nail trimming by a qualified Podiatrist is usually the preferred and most cautious option. If you suspect bacterial infection of an ingrowing toenail (pus, swelling, redness) see your Doctor immediately.
If you are experiencing foot pain from fallen arches or bunions for example, your Podiatrist is on hand to offer special cushioning and padding for comfort. It is generally not advisable to make and fit custom corrective orthotics during pregnancy though, as the body (and feet) should be allowed to recuperate post-pregnancy and return once your feet are not under the hormonal and weight forces of pregnancy. Should a biomechanical issue persist post birth, such as heel pain (plantar fasciitis) treatment can then commence. Corrective orthotics work to tighten and tone the muscles and ligaments of the feet and the temporary pregnancy hormones would fight against this.
If you are experiencing any foot or leg pain, and are pregnant, contact the UK qualified Podiatrists at Dubai Podiatry Centre on +971 4 3435390 for our friendly advice and individual care.
Caution: Information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice and you are advised to seek detailed consultation and treatment from your GP or Podiatrist if you are experiencing any foot, ankle or leg complaints and are pregnant.