While you await the arrival of your precious baby, you may be feeling new kinds of aches and pains. Leg and joint pain during the second or third trimester may be the result of added weight, changing body shape, and biomechanics. It can also be caused by fluid retention and joint laxity.
Pregnancy pain can have an impact on daily life and cause changes in sleep quantity and quality. Some common pregnancy aches include swollen and painful feet and legs, and calf cramps. Some women also report radiating pain down the back of the legs and hip pain.
Another common pregnancy symptom is swelling. Many pregnant women report swelling of the:
Mild swelling is a normal part of pregnancy. It happens because of the 50 percent increase in blood and bodily fluids needed to support the growing baby. But excessive swelling can be a sign of a more severe pregnancy complication. If you experience severe swelling, it’s important to be evaluated by a doctor.
Pregnancy back pain is widely studied, but there’s less research on hip, knee, and foot pain during pregnancy and postpartum. A study published in the Journal of Family Practice reports a high occurrence of low body pain among pregnant and postpartum women. It’s most likely related to changes in the way a pregnant woman moves due to a growing baby belly.
Try these exercises to help decrease swelling, pain, and discomfort during pregnancy.
1. Ankle Pumps
Swollen feet and ankles are common during pregnancy. This simple exercise helps increase circulation and blood flow to the feet to decrease swelling and pain.
Equipment needed: none
Muscles worked: ankle dorsiflexors, plantarflexors
- Lie on a bed with your feet slightly elevated on a pillow.
- Begin by pulling your toes toward your face to flex your feet, then point your toes away from you.
- Repeat 10 times continuously.
- Perform 3 sets.
2. Calf Stretches
Some women suffer from sore calf muscles during pregnancy. This might be caused by weight gain, poor body mechanics, or improper footwear. Stretching can help promote relaxation of the muscles, leading to decreased pain.
Equipment needed: a wall
Muscles worked: gastrocnemius, soleus
- Stand to face a wall. Place both hands on the wall for support.
- Put one foot up against the wall with your toes pointing toward the ceiling.
- Lean toward the wall, keeping your leg straight until you feel a stretch in the back of your lower leg.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on other leg.
3. Good Mornings
Tight hamstrings can cause low back pain and discomfort during pregnancy. This exercise helps stretch the hamstrings. It also activates and strengthens the muscles of the buttocks.
Equipment needed: none
Muscles worked: hamstrings, glutes
- Stand with your feet parallel, hip-width apart.
- Put your hands behind your head and stand up tall, keeping your chest wide.
- Keep your legs relatively straight with a slight bend in your knees. Bend at the hips, moving them back as you lower yourself toward parallel. Bend until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Try to keep your back in a straight line.
- Move slowly through this movement 10 times.
- Perform 3 sets.
4. Wall Squats with Ball
This exercise can increase strength and stability in the muscles of the lower back and core. It also works the quadriceps, the important muscles that support the ligaments of the knee.
Equipment needed: exercise ball
Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, hamstrings, deep core muscles
- Stand against a wall with an exercise ball positioned between your midback and the wall.
- Place your feet far enough away from the wall so that when you lower down into a squat, your knees can bend to 90 degrees. Having your feet too close to the wall will put stress on the knee joint. Feet should be parallel and a little wider than hip-width apart.
- Lower your body down into a sitting position while rolling the ball up your back.
- Hold for 1 second, return to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
5. Glute and Hamstring Foam Rolling
Sciatic pain is common during pregnancy. It can cause shooting or aching pain down the buttocks, back of the leg, and foot. Foam rolling is a great way to soothe and relax tight muscles that may be contributing to increased pain.
Equipment needed: foam roller
Muscles worked: hamstrings, calf muscles, glutes, piriformis
- Place a foam roller on the ground.
- Sit on the foam roller, supporting yourself with your hands behind you.
- Cross one foot over the other knee in a figure 4 position.
- Slowly move your buttocks back and forth over the foam roller until you find a tender spot.
- Continue this movement over the tender area for 30-60 seconds.
- Try rolling the foam roller down the back of your upper leg until you find another tender area.
- Repeat on other side.
Exercises and stretching can have a positive effect on mobility during pregnancy. They can also help decrease pain and dysfunction. The 2002 guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy recommend regular exercise for its overall health benefits to both mom and baby.
Always see your doctor before starting an exercise program to make sure it’s safe. Discontinue exercise and seek medical help if you have any of the following symptoms:
- vaginal bleeding
- dyspnoea before exertion
- chest pain
- muscle weakness
- calf pain or swelling
- preterm labor
- decreased fetal movement
- amniotic fluid leakage
Calf or leg pain can be a symptom of a more serious condition like a blood clot or thrombosis. Seek immediate medical attention if you have pain accompanied by redness, warmth, or swelling in the calf.