Five Common Foot and Ankle Problems in Pregnancy—And What to Do About Them

common foot problems during pregnancy

Pregnancy is amazing. Think about it—your body grows and nourishes a fully formed human from a single cell. But pregnancy is not without its struggles. Pregnant women can be susceptible to health problems, from their head (pregnancy headaches, anyone?) down to—you guessed it—their feet.

You know how important it is to take care of yourself when you’re pregnant. You take your prenatals, have regular OBGYN visits and ultrasounds, eat right and watch your blood pressure. Caring for your feet and ankles while pregnant is just as important. Here are the top foot complaints for pregnant women—and what you can do about them.

Sore Feet and Ankles

Let’s start with the obvious: Many women get more and more tired and achy as their pregnancies progress, and that definitely includes their feet and ankles. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women gain no more than 11 to 40 pounds during pregnancy, depending on their starting body mass index. Even if a pregnant woman were to limit herself to the low end, that’s still extra weight that must be carried, so it’s no wonder that her feet and ankles hurt.

There are many reasons doctors tell pregnant women not to overexert themselves. Cutting down on foot and ankle pain is one. Take regular breaks, especially if you have to stand for long periods. Stretching your calf muscles may also help keep soreness away.

Swollen Ankles

Swollen feet and ankles—often known as “cankles,” a portmanteau of “calves” and “ankles”—is a common complaint about pregnancy. Swelling happens because the blood carried in the veins from the legs back up to the heart slows down and gets backed up due to a pregnant woman’s larger uterus and the fetus carried within it.

Swelling of the legs can be uncomfortable, but it’s also potentially dangerous. Sluggish blood in the legs has a tendency to clot, and if a clot breaks up it can travel up the veins and block blood flow to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.

There are a number of ways to combat foot and ankle swelling. Compression socks, regular walking and massages can all help bring the swelling down.

Change in Foot Shape

By the third trimester, many women notice that their shoes don’t fit the way they used to. It’s true that you may jump a shoe size during pregnancy, and a 2013 study published in American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation suggests that some of these changes may be permanent.

The extra weight you carry while pregnant, combined with the secretion of hormones that can cause ligaments to loosen, may lead to a flattening of the arches. If the arches fall, the foot may appear to be longer, and that means you might have to go shoe shopping.

Your best bet is to stay off your feet as much as possible during your pregnancy, especially in the latter stages when you’ve gained the most weight. Cushioning orthotics may help to support the arches and alleviate pain.

Over-the-counter shoe inserts are good, but custom orthotics molded to your feet specifically are even better. Podiatrists will take a mold of your foot and fabricate an insert that matches your foot anatomy exactly. These orthotics can support your arches more effectively, since they’re built to accommodate your exact foot shape.

Overpronation

Closely related to fallen arches is overpronation. Pronation describes a natural movement in which your foot shifts from side to side when your weight moves from the heel of your foot to the ball when you walk. In overpronation, most of your weight stays on the inside of your foot.

Overpronation can occur due to the extra weight carried during pregnancy. It’s associated with a number of foot problems, including plantar fasciitis, bunions and Achilles tendonitis. Shoe orthotics can help correct overpronation by more evenly distributing your weight across your foot.

Toenail Fungus

Pregnant women can be at increased risk for fungal toenail infections, also known as onychomyosis. Changes in body chemistry, a weakened immune system and increased demands placed on a woman’s body while growing a fetus all contribute to a rise in the risk of infection, including onychomyosis.

One of the best methods of treatment for fungal nail infections is laser treatment. This safe and effective treatment uses high-energy light to zap fungus from the nail. This treatment is 100 percent safe, works in just one or two sessions and you can be in and out of your podiatrist’s office in 15 minutes.

Topical and oral medications are also available to treat toenail fungus, but both have their drawbacks, especially for pregnant women. Because the toenail is so hard, topical medications have a difficult time penetrating it and are therefore generally considered to be less effective than oral medications. Nevertheless, topical medications are probably better for treating a fungal nail infection while pregnant than oral medications.

While oral antifungal medications are considered to be safe to take while pregnant, many expectant mothers don’t want to take any chances. Additionally, some medications can be transferred to babies through breastmilk, so breastfeeding mothers are advised not to take them.

Caring for Your Feet

When you’re pregnant, taking care of yourself is also taking care of your child. If you’re healthy and happy throughout your pregnancy, you’ll be better prepared to welcome your new bundle of joy. It’s important to see a specialist to make sure all is well, from your head down to your feet.

Are you having foot problems related to pregnancy? Request an appointment with one of our specialists to learn more about your foot care and treatment options.