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Leg and Foot Pain During Pregnancy

As your pregnancy progresses, many body parts begin to ache. Your legs and feet tend to get tired, worn out, and downright achy, and the extra weight of the baby doesn’t help. Leg cramps often strike in the middle of the night, especially during the second and third trimesters. Although your legs and feet hurt, there are many treatment methods that can help reduce or relieve the pain. But first, what’s causing this pain?

Causes of Leg and Foot Pain

Many of the various causes of your leg or foot pain can be minimized or avoided, especially if you take prevention steps early in your pregnancy. Controlling things such as poor circulation in your lower extremities can help reduce the amount of pain you feel in your feet and legs during your pregnancy. Making sure you’re getting enough rest throughout your pregnancy will also help ease the pain, as will selecting exercise routines that are not too strenuous.

Unfortunately, working is a necessity for most moms, sometimes right up until the baby is born. This can mean long hours on your feet and hours of pain.

Other causes of leg and feet pain can include:

  • Swelling leading to excess weight gain from water retention
  • Not enough rest
  • Sciatic nerve pain
  • Poor circulation (regular exercise can be somewhat helpful in alleviating this problem)
  • Varicose veins
  • Leg Cramps
  • Pregnancy-related weight gain, which puts additional stress on leg muscles and bones
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Stress

Weight Gain

Weight gain during pregnancy is not only unavoidable, but also necessary for the health of mother and baby alike. Unfortunately, it is also one of the primary causes of pregnancy-related foot pain. Studies have shown that pregnant women in their second and third trimesters put much more pressure on the forefoot while standing or walking than women who are simply overweight. Pregnant women are also at increased risk for developing plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the band of tissue on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes. If your daily routine requires you to spend a lot of time on your feet, be sure that you get as much rest as possible at every opportunity.

Hormones and Weakened Ligaments

During your pregnancy, your body produces a hormone (progesterone) that loosens your ligaments in order to prepare your body for the demands of childbirth. These loosened ligaments are more susceptible to injury than they would normally be, especially in your legs and your back, so you will need to be extra careful.

Charley Horses (Leg Cramps)

The causes of these sudden, excruciatingly painful muscle cramps in the legs are not well understood (even the origin of the term charley horse is a mystery). Pregnant women are known to be especially susceptible to leg cramps, but no one knows why. Doctors suspect the cause may have something to do with dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, and certain medications for diabetes and high blood pressure have been known to act as triggers. The best guess medical science has to offer is that a variety of unrelated causes can all have the same effect. Pregnant women may be especially susceptible because their unborn children are leeching calcium from their bodies. An oral magnesium supplement taken after dinner can often reduce or prevent these nighttime leg cramps. The dose should be about 400 mg to 500 mg of magnesium.

Blood Clots (DVT—this is rare)

If you experience severe pain and swelling in just one leg, but not in the other, contact your doctor immediately. This is not normal pregnancy leg pain, and it may be a sign of a DVT or deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot deep inside the leg. This is a serious, possibly life-threatening situation. Read more about this possibility here.

Sciatic Nerve Pain

The weight gain that accompanies pregnancy can increase stress on your spine, which may trigger sciatica, a nerve pain that runs down your back and through both legs. This can feel like a shooting or sharp or stabbing pain that is brief. Trying to shift the baby off the side of the pain by lying down on the good side, or by wearing support belts, can help.

Varicose Veins

Many pregnant women develop a worsening of varicose veins during pregnancy. The tiny red spider veins proliferate, but this is more a cosmetic issue as these do not hurt. The large glue veins can become more swollen, however, and these can hurt. The legs can feel tired and achy and heavy, especially at the end of the day.

Treatment for Leg or Foot Pain During Pregnancy

A good way to reduce the pain in your legs and feet while you’re pregnant is to drink plenty of fluids and get as much rest as possible. If you have varicose veins causing pain, walking is better than standing. Support stockings can help, and sometimes prescription compression stockings are needed. To allow lower extremity blood better circulation, avoid wearing clothes that are tight at the waist.

If you must work throughout your pregnancy, try cutting one day per week out of your schedule to focus solely on rest. Lying down and elevating your legs and feet at least six to twelve inches above your heart for fifteen minutes at a time can help improve circulation. Many pregnant women have to do this as soon as they get home from work.

Monitoring your weight can also help to reduce the stress on your legs and feet. Average weight gain during your pregnancy should be 25–35 pounds. Anything over that can begin to cause pains in other areas of your body. Icing and rotating your ankles can help to prevent swelling in them if this becomes a significant problem.

Exercise can help to minimize the incidence of leg cramps during pregnancy. If you’re getting leg cramps, try to stretch the affected muscles a few times each day. The incidence of cramping in calf muscles, for example, can be reduced with this exercise (this is the runner’s stretch):

  1. Stand about three feet from a wall
  2. Stretch your arms out and lean forward to touch the wall, keeping your feet flat
  3. Push a little against the wall with one leg, maintain this pose for five seconds, then try with the other leg
  4. Relax and resume your former position
  5. Repeat, and perform a few repetitions for a few minutes.

Do this exercise three times daily, including once right before bedtime.

Proper pregnancy nutrition can also go a long way toward minimizing leg and foot pain. Magnesium supplements may also help to minimize leg and foot pain during pregnancy, although you should consult your doctor before beginning to take any type of supplement.

An even better way to ensure that your body gets the magnesium it needs is to eat foods rich in this mineral, such as nuts, seeds, beans, and dried fruits. All adults should take in 300–400 mg of magnesium each day. Magnesium regulates nerve and muscle function, and it helps reduce involuntary stress responses such as muscle spasms. It can also have a mild laxative effect, so be prepared for this as well (often an added bonus for pregnant women).



Medical References:

    ABC News http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/story?id=4561376 The British National Health Service http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/common-pregnancy-problems.aspx#close http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/legcrampsunknowncause/pages/introduction.aspx http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/legcrampsunknowncause/Pages/Treatment.aspx The Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/leg-cramps-during-pregnancy/faq-20057766 http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/plantar-fasciitis/basics/risk-factors/con-20025664 http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sciatica/basics/risk-factors/con-20026478 National Center for Biotechnology Information http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20132753 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000580.htm http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11869565 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7631676
[Page updated April 2015]