Avoiding Foot Pain & Keeping Your Feet Healthy During Pregnancy

By Golden Harper & Dan Hoopes, M.D. (Originally written as a guest post for the Mumberry Pregnancy Workout Clothing Blog)

Did you know that in America, 73% of us report having foot pain or problems? Contrast this with only 3% of people in countries where they only wear sandals or don’t wear shoes at all! Unfortunately, our “fashionable” shoes are wreaking havoc on our feet, and surprise, it’s even worse for pregnant women. Pregnant women tend to complain of even more foot pain, due to the excess load their feet have to bare, the swelling that naturally occurs, and the sensitivity in the feet that comes along.

Dr. Dan Hoopes, a fellowship-trained Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeon, says:

“Your feet will feel different and will not fit any shoes you have that are tight. This is because the hormones which are causing the ligaments to relax in the pelvis are also affecting the foot architecture. Your foot will need more space, especially in the area of the toes. It might go back after the baby is born, but it might be your new normal. Look for shoes that either have no toe box (no shoes, flip-flops, slippers) or a “foot-shaped” toe box (see my recommended shoe list here). For more information on these changes in your foot see this article from my professional society for Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons.”

Keep in mind that many foot problems during pregnancy—which stem from weak foot muscles, extra sensitivity in the feet, pointy toe boxes, and elevated heels— may be exacerbated due to extra weight. Here are a few tips to help your feet fare better through your pregnancy:

  • Start a foot strengthening routine early in your pregnancy so your feet can handle the excess load they will be called to bare later. Practice standing on one foot with your eyes closed, pull a towel in with your toes while you’re watching TV or reading a book, etc.
  • Try buying your socks a size larger to make your feet more comfortable when they swell. Also note that many women’s feet grow as well, so you may need to buy bigger shoes also.
  • Use thicker socks to help out with the extra sensitivity on the bottom of your feet.
  • Many women comment that normally wear very lightweight or low profile shoes note that they experience less discomfort in a more cushioned athletic shoe than they would normally wear due to the extra weight & sensitivity that they experience.
  • Avoid wearing shoes with heels of any size, as they put extra pressure on your forefoot and leave you more susceptible to rolling an ankle.
  • Avoid wearing shoes with tapered toe boxes. Hint: Put your foot down next to your shoe—if your shoe is more pointy than your foot then don’t wear it. Consider buying shoes that are more shaped like feet as these will let your feet take on their natural form and help to accommodate swelling, excess weight, and sensitivity better.
  • Stay active and exercise to increase blood flow. Take breaks from sitting more often.
  • Since your growing uterus puts pressure on your veins, and slows blood to the heart, causing swelling—try lying on your back with your feet elevated for 10-15 minutes.

    Altra X-Ray Image

    X-Ray of a Foot-shaped Altra athletic shoe vs. a traditional shoe w/ a tapered to box

Dr. Hoopes adds that to keep in mind that swelling is sometimes part of the deal with pregnancy and that you can lessen it further with these tips:

  • “Lie on your left side since that will get the baby off your vena cava. That’s that largest vein in your body pulling blood from all parts of your body (and reducing swelling) and it is on the RIGHT side of your spine, just behind the uterus.
  • Putting your feet up. I always tell my patients that gravity is your enemy and your friend. Enemy when your feet are down and your friend when they’re up!
  • Use knee or thigh-high compression stockings if you aren’t able to put your feet up.

*If you have excessive or rapidly increasing foot/ankle swelling, see your doctor ASAP. It could be a sign of preeclampsia, which is a very serious pregnancy condition. One recent study suggests that taking Vitamin D could reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Vitamin D supplements have almost no risk, are pennies a day, and have many possible upsides. More information is available here.

Although many women have major problems with their feet during and after pregnancy, nearly all of them are preventable. With the proper care & preparation, most women can go through pregnancy without any significant foot pain or problems. My wife is nearly 7 months pregnant and she has been free of foot pain thus far. She strengthened her feet prior to pregnancy, and doesn’t wear shoes that have tapered toe boxes or heels of any height. She has tried to stay active with running, Yoga, Tennis, core workouts, and more. As she has gained weight, she has started to wear more cushioned running & athletic shoes, and she is wearing looser socks than she wore in the past.

Show your feet a little love and treat them right, and they’ll treat you right, even during a long, hard pregnancy!

Golden Harper graduated with a degree in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Fitness & Wellness. He did his collegiate studies on running technique & running injuries & has studied feet & foot problems extensively. He grew up working in his family’s running store and holds a world-best for a 12-year old in the marathon at 2:45:34.

Dan Hoopes MD is a fellowship-trained Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeon who has done extensive research and a special interest in runners and how they can get (and stay) healthy. See his bio here.

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