The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Female Athletes Fear Pregnancy Foot Growth

Posted by on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013


Pregnancy can be a challenging time for the female athlete in many ways. In addition to the million things you now have to think about – cribs, schools, getting that reliable minivan – pregnancy brings many physical restrictions: high-impact sports are not recommended and working out for long periods of time can be dangerous. Even when an activity is allowed, like jogging, it can become awfully uncomfortable. A bouncing baby belly puts pressure on the bladder, pulls on sore round ligaments, and may cause back and leg pain. Weight gain is also a major factor since it can have a dramatic effect on stamina. But the committed athlete will still find ways to exercise, and she should. But she should also watch out for her amazing, expandable feet. Pregnancy can wreak some havoc on those tootsies, causing pain, foot and ankle swelling, increased foot size, and a greater chance of injury.

Regular moderate exercise has been shown to be extremely healthy for mother and baby: improving the baby’s birth weight; increasing the chances a pregnancy will be full-term; helping the mom to have a healthier, easier birth; and helping her to recover faster afterwards. The key: get some new, supportive shoes and be very careful. Your feet aren’t the old trusty pavement pounders they used to be.

During pregnancy a woman’s body secretes a protein called relaxin. It does just what you’d think: relaxes ligaments and cartilage to help the pelvis stretch during labor and delivery. This is a very important protein. Without it the baby’s head would never fit through the pelvis or, if it did, would cause major damage along the way. The downside of relaxin: loosened cartilage and ligaments all over the body, including in the feet.

Pregnant women’s feet typically grow between ½ and a full size during pregnancy – a change that is usually permanent. In addition to requiring a whole new shoe wardrobe, larger feet may feel ungainly, making the pregnant woman a bit wobbly or clumsy. Clumsiness isn’t great news when you’re exercising. Larger feet may also affect gait and any change in gait can be dangerous. Add to that some top heaviness, overall weight gain, and loose ligaments everywhere and you’ve got a dangerous situation on your feet. You may find yourself tripping or stumbling more easily or misjudging curbs.

Of course, any fall is scary when your pregnant, and pregnant women tend to sacrifice their limbs for their stomachs. So, what might have been a minor ankle sprain under normal circumstances becomes a major sprain or even a brake as you twist your body and give in to the pain to protect your baby. So how do you prevent injury at this delicate time while still working up a daily sweat?

  • Try low-impact, safer activities like yoga, swimming, or walking.
  • Wear great, supportive shoes and take it slow.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard, both to avoid injury and to protect your baby from overexertion. If you can talk while you work out, you’re a-ok.
  • If you do suffer injury, get it treated right away. Try The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. The longer you’re laid up, the less active you’ll be able to be 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.