The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Feet Swelling and Leg Pain During Pregnancy? Here’s How to Combat Foot Pain

Posted by on Monday, February 12th, 2018

No two pregnancies are exactly alike, even if you’ve been through the process before. And sometimes your body’s response to the demands of growing a new life trickle down to affect your feet and legs. Among the most common complaints are Charley Horse cramps at night and swelling during the day. So how do you cope if you find your feet swelling and experience leg pain during pregnancy? And when is it time to get evaluated by a professional? NYC podiatrists from The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine have the answers you seek.

nyc podiatrists
NYC podiatrists offer tips for pregnancy-related foot pain and leg cramps. Image Source: Flickr user Torsten Mangner.

When to See a Doctor For Pregnancy Foot Swelling and Leg Pain

When you’re pregnant, you may not want to visit the doctor more than necessary. However, it’s important that you reach out to an experienced foot doctor if you encounter any of the following leg or foot issues:

  • Swelling of the feet, hands, or face could be a sign of preeclampsia, a medical condition involving a sudden spike in blood pressure. Preeclampsia affects about 1 in 20 pregnancies after Week 20 and can be fatal for mothers if left untreated. A urine test for elevated proteins or a platelet blood test can confirm or deny your suspicions. Sometimes, benign swelling of the feet may just be a sign of fluid retention, which can be alleviated by regularly drinking more water and eating better.
  • Itchy feet may be a sign of a rare but serious complication called cholestasis, which causes bile acids to accumulate in the liver. This condition increases the risk of preterm labor, aspiration of meconium, and fetal death, so it’s important to have yourself checked out if the soles of your feet or hands suddenly become extremely itchy and your bowel movements are pale-colored.
  • Leg cramping is often helped by stretching, walking, a potassium-rich diet, and supplementation with calcium. However, significant pain in the calf or behind the knee, along with redness and swelling, may indicate blood clot formation. Since blood clots can break free and travel to the heart, it’s best to seek a medical opinion to be safe. Persistent leg cramps, along with a host of other troublesome symptoms, have been linked to thyroid disorders and diabetes as well.

The bottom-line? Better safe than sorry. If you think you might have any of these conditions or if the pain is just getting to be too much, it’s always preferable to get a professional opinion. Still, there are some methods you can use to deal with leg cramps and foot pain at home.

How to Cope With Middle-of-the-Night Leg Cramps

One minute you’re resting easy, the next it’s like someone is stabbing your muscles with a knife. We’ve all had Charley Horse cramps at some time or another, but they increase in frequency during pregnancy due to a combination of weight gain, pressure on nerves, and changes in blood flow. Other contributing factors include dehydration, long periods of sitting or standing, and calf muscle overexertion. In addition, using diuretics and having a deficiency in calcium, potassium, or magnesium can make night leg cramps more likely. These cramps can also occur in the arches of your feet, particularly if you’ve been wearing flat flip flops or sandals frequently.

You can often prevent leg cramps by performing calf stretches against the wall before hopping into bed, taking a prenatal vitamin, drinking 10 glasses of water per day, exercising regularly, eating leafy greens, and wearing supportive footwear during the day. Sometimes, if you catch the pain in the first second or two, shaking your leg briskly from side to side and taking a deep breath will prevent the muscle from fully seizing up. Leg spasms usually resolve within a few minutes and tend to resolve quicker if you get out of bed, walk around, and stretch. Some people find leg cramp relief with heat—a warm shower or microwavable pad should do the trick. Others prefer to use 15 minutes of ice to numb the pain. Keep in mind that it’s common for the affected muscle to feel sore for a couple days after the cramp.

Plantar Fasciitis: A Common Reason For Pregnancy Foot Pain

Plantar fasciitis is a stretching and/or tearing of the thick band of soft tissue that runs across the arch of your foot to the toes. The plantar fascia supports the foot and enables heel-to-toe walking motions. Unfortunately, the fast weight gain of pregnancy can cause this tissue to become inflamed. Increases in relaxin hormone stretch the tissues that flatten the foot—sometimes permanently. Exercising and wearing flimsy shoes can worsen the sharp heel pain. Many women report the worst pain after sitting for a while or with those first few steps in the morning.

The best thing you can do for plantar fasciitis is to get a new pair of shoes, a drugstore insert, or a custom-made orthotic. Elevate your feet above heart level as much as possible. Ice the arch with an ice pack wrapped in a towel (for up to 20 minutes) when the pain is most severe; this will bring down inflammation. Stretch the plantar fascia, but cut back on exercise until you’re feeling better. Plantar fasciitis can last for weeks, months, or even years. With persistent cases, a podiatrist can give you platelet-rich plasma or biopuncture injections that stimulate the body’s natural healing processes.

Contact our NYC podiatrists to help you with pregnancy-related foot pain and leg issues. We are happy to help with noninvasive therapies that are gentle enough for you and your baby.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.