WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT PREGNANCY AND FEET
By: Corinne Gehegan, DPM
“Morning sickness”, stretch marks, and food cravings are some of the hot topics associated with pregnancy; however, foot problems are not frequently in the spotlight despite the fact that many women do experience them. There are a multitude of new foot ailments that arise during pregnancy as well as some previous conditions that tend to flare up.
Many problems can be attributed to the relaxation of joints which is a normal physiologic process that occurs during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones are responsible for this process, however, which hormone or set of hormones is still being researched. The relaxation of pelvic joints is necessary to accommodate vaginal delivery, but this relaxation is not limited to the pelvis. The ligaments that bind the joints in the feet are also affected. During pregnancy, women may experience ingrown nails, heel and arch pain, tender calluses and corns, aggravated bunions/hammer toes, and difficulty fitting into their shoes. As the ligaments of the feet become more lax the feet may become wider and longer. This is often a change that persists and becomes permanent. Additionally, women may experience edema which is better known as swelling. This is another way that the feet can enlarge. Finally, weight gain during pregnancy will inevitably result in more pressure on the feet. These three factors are the primary sources of foot conditions during pregnancy.
So, what’s a girl to do? The first thing is to have your feet measured. Many of us can not remember the last time we had our feet measured. The dimensions of the feet can change throughout life in both men and women. It is important to know both the length and width of the feet. Often times an individual’s feet may be different sizes. The best advice is to not wear a pair of shoes if they feel tight. Even the most “broken in” pair of shoes can be tight during pregnancy. Tight shoes will aggravate bunions and hammer toes. The borders of the toenails may pinch the skin and result in an ingrown nail or worse, a paronychia, which is an infected ingrown nail. This occurs when the nail has actually penetrated the skin allowing bacteria to enter the skin and cause a local infection.
Arch supports and supportive shoes in general can provide relief to aching heels and arches. Women may develop plantar fasciitis which is an inflammation of the plantar fascia. This structure is a type of connective tissue similar to a ligament. It runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the metatarsal heads. It is also subject to becoming overstretched, elongated, and subsequently inflamed. Plantar fasciitis pain is usually present at the heel; however, it may occur along the arch. It is not uncommon to have only one foot affected.
Edema (swelling) can be controlled by elevating the feet as much as possible. Compression stockings are also beneficial as long as your medical history does not pose a contraindication to them. If you experience one sided swelling, redness, and tenderness you should notify your doctor immediately as these may be signs of a more serious problem known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Corns and calluses are natural thickenings of the skin. They are actually the body’s defense mechanism for areas of increased pressure. The body builds up a thick skin at these areas to protect underlying bone. The catch is that these lesions can become painful to walk on. It is wise to have a professional evaluate and address them. Be careful of seeking treatment at the pedicure salon as you and the individual performing the pedicure may mistake a plantar wart or other skin lesion for a corn or callus. Plantar warts are viruses and require different treatments to avoid spread on your own foot or to someone else.
It is easy to forget about the feet during pregnancy until they hurt. Being aware of the potential for problems and why they happen is the first step in prevention. Many physiologic changes that take place during pregnancy will disappear post-partum, however, changes that take place with respect to the feet may stick around particularly if they are not addressed early on.
Article written by Dr. Corinne Gehegan
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