I bet you are thinking, hey doc, use spell check next time! Or maybe he is speaking slang and dropped the G, doesn’t he know its spelled R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G. Well, the relaxin I am referring to is a hormone released during pregnancy, that only pregnant females understand the consequences of its increased release.
While all woman secrete the hormone relaxin in small amounts during their menstrual cycle, once they become pregnant the levels increase. Pregnancy requires increased levels of relaxin to modulate the cardiovascular system due to the increase demands for oxygen and blood flow to help support the growing fetus. This increased activity of the cardiovascular system can result in swelling of the feet, ankles and legs results in pain after prolonged walking, or resting with feet down for long periods of time. In this case relaxing actually does help these symptoms.
Things to do to decrease swelling during pregnancy:
- Elevate your feet when at rest. You are doing all the work during your pregnancy, get your feet up and elevate them! Elevate at least higher than your waist so the blood can drain from your feet and legs.
- Don’t be a couch potato. Long periods sitting with pressure to the back of the knee can allow blood to pool in the legs.
- Wear compression socks. Most people hear compression socks and they think, "that’s for old ladies!" Wrong! Compression socks come in all different colors, and they often look just like tall dress socks, though the fashion statement they make with shorts on is not the greatest. Compression socks also prevent the formation of those unsightly varicose veins.
In addition to making changes to the cardiovascular system, relaxin also loosens the ligaments of the body. The theory is this release loosens the pubic symphysis which connects the two hips bones together. Loosening this ligament allows for easier passage of the fetus during delivery. Unfortunately, it also loosens the ligaments of the foot, most notably the plantar fascia.
Heel pain during pregnancy is a common complaint made to the patient's obstetrician. Prevention of this heel pain, called plantar fasciitis, is simple to prevent.
Things to prevent heel and arch pain during pregnancy:
- Walk in supportive shoes. Athletic shoes or shoes with built in arch support help prevent excessive collapse of the arch, decreasing risk for arch pain.
- Inserts. Inserts keep the plantar fascia supported and stretched. Gel inserts can be comfortable but do not stretch the plantar fascial band and these type of inserts are not helpful in prevention.
- Stretch. As a general rule, pregnant or not, stretching of the foot and calf muscle can reduce plantar fasciitis risk. It is best to stretch immediately after waking up, or after any period of inactivity.
- If stretching, shoes and inserts don’t help, see a podiatrist!
Pregnancy is an amazing time in a woman’s life, and is not a time to suffer. Make sure to take these simple precautions, and if foot pain creeps up on you because of relaxin, request an appointment so you can get back to a pain free pregnancy!