Are your feet swollen and aching? Are varicose veins rearing their ugly heads? Find out why this happens during pregnancy.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
As your rapidly swelling belly puts more and more pressure on your feet and joints, a remarkable number of feet issues can arise that may cause you significant discomfort.
Lee Qimin, podiatrist at NUH Rehabilitation Centre lists the common pregnancy related feet problems: swelling, edema, leg cramps, varicose veins, collapsed arches, swollen feet and shoe fitting issues.
Timothy Maiden, podiatrist at Raffles Rehabilitation Centre adds that another very common condition is heel pain, often referred to as plantar fasciitis. “There are many more conditions an expectant mother would expect to experience such as leg swelling, drying skin, fungal infections or ingrown toenails,” he adds.
What’s Causing It?
Weight gain and hormonal changes in combination are responsible for pregnancy-related feet problems.
Swelling and edema
According to Lee, swelling is caused by water retention due to hormonal changes. “The extra fluid is meant to carry oxygen and nutrients to the baby. Swelling is more obvious in the legs and feet because the growing uterus puts an increased amount of pressure on, and hence partially blocks, veins carrying blood back from the lower body to the heart. It is difficult for the blood vessels in the foot and ankle, which are the smallest in the body, to accommodate this extra fluid retention.”
Lee adds that swelling is perfectly normal and you should only worry if it is present in the face and hands, accompanied by blurred vision, severe and constant headaches and rapid weight gain. If so, these are signs of a dangerous condition called preeclampsia, and you should consult your doctor immediately.
According to Ng Shin Huey, senior physiotherapist at the Rehabilitation Department of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, another hormone which increases during pregnancy is relaxin which “relaxes the ligaments in the whole body, primarily targeting the pelvic ligaments to allow the pelvis to stretch and accommodate the baby’s growth.”
Increased flexibility often causes the arches of the feet to flatten out and feet to get longer, “which in theory may increase pronation and instability, leaving the foot more susceptible to injuries,” says Maiden.
Ng also explains how varicose veins happen, apart from causing swelling and edema, water retention and increased pressure on vein walls, “may cause the veins to stretch and become varicose, also known as spider veins. The varicose veins will lead to aches and pain, heaviness, and fatigue of the legs. Varicose veins may also be caused by increase progesterone levels during pregnancy, as it is known to have a relaxing effect on the veins.”
“Hormonal changes may also lead to a drying out of the skin, which can leave one more susceptible to dry skin or cracking of heels, which will make one more vulnerable to infections. Naturally, as the expectant mother’s weight increases, pressure on the joints and the arches of the feet also increase,” adds Maiden.
If you’re like most women, you’re likely to be experiencing this even if you’re not experiencing any of the other symptoms in the list. Leg cramps usually occur in the calf and are common at night when the legs and feet are tired, explains Lee.
“An increase in progesterone is a contributing factor to the condition. It is also believed that leg cramps occur due to a lack of calcium and potassium, or an excess of phosphorous, found in diet sodas and processed meats,” Lee adds.