Best foot forward: tackling lower leg pain in mums and mums-to-be
Survey reveals more than half of mums weren’t told to expect pregnancy-related leg pains
Lower back pain, larger breasts and constantly needing the toilet are part and parcel of the ‘joys’ of pregnancy, but women are often shocked to discover that the longed-for bump brings additional aches and pains they didn’t expect.
A new survey commissioned by Deep Freeze – makers of the Deep Freeze Cold Patch - loved and used by mums to be and mums around the globe – has revealed that nearly eight in ten mums suffered lower leg pains during pregnancy or after the birth of their babies.
Yet, more than half (54 per cent) were not warned about this and many women are unaware that hormonal and physical changes during pregnancy increase the risk of longer-term musculoskeletal problems.
This e-news will look at what causes leg pain during pregnancy, and will explore findings from the new survey of more than 1000 British women.
Let it go!
Hormonal changes are something that women live with every day – from mood swings around the menstrual period to the significant changes that accompany menopause. Yet, pregnancy brings a host of new experiences.
Changes in oestrogen and relaxin, designed to make it easier for the baby to pass through the birth canal, also cause joint ligaments to relax, leading to pain, discomfort and difficulty in walking. Writing in Rheumatology International journal, Dr Molly Thabah says: “Physiological changes during normal pregnancy are likely to give rise to musculoskeletal symptoms”. She adds that “ligamentous laxity” contributes to joint hypermobility and leads to alterations in pelvic architecture which affects posture.
This means that ligaments which normally hold joints and muscles firmly in place relax too much. And when these ‘let go’, pregnant women can experience pain and postural changes, such as hyperlordosis when the back arches too much.
Dr Thabah’s paper highlighted other important changes in pregnancy, such as:
Relaxation of the abdominal muscles can shift the centre of gravity, affecting posture and the ability to get up from a chair;
Weight gain in the final few weeks – even a 20 per cent increase in weight doubles the mechanical stress placed on joints;
Water retention causing swelling in the lower leg which can lead to trapped nerves and joint discomfort;
Mechanical strain to the back and sacroiliac joints from the growing uterus;
A drop in the pelvic floor by as much as 2.5 cm (1 inch) which can compress the pudendal nerve and lead to lower buttock pain.
Permanent loss of foot arches which can lead to foot pain, particularly during first pregnancies.
Nutritionist and mum of two, Dr Carrie Ruxton says: “My second child was two weeks’ late and weighed nearly 10 lbs when she was born. From the second trimester, my hips became so painful that my sleep quality was affected. By the time my due date had passed, I could only waddle thanks to the uncomfortable position of my hips and lower back, not to mention the huge baby bump affecting my balance. I was glad to be induced but it took months for my abdominal muscles, pelvis and back to return to their normal positions, and during that time, I couldn’t even get myself out of the bath!”.
Women speak out about leg pain
As well as finding that nearly eight in ten mums and mums-to-be have suffered lower leg pain related to pregnancy, the Deep Freeze Cold Patch survey1 revealed that most pain experiences were during the second or third trimester. Over half of women said being on their feet for too long made it worse, while a third said sitting brought on most pain. In terms of symptoms, 61 percent experienced aching muscles, 49 percent noticed swelling while 45 percent had tender muscles.
And leg pain had an effect on other aspects of life, with more than six in ten women saying they sometimes or often were unable to lift or play with their child due to leg pain. Most women also said they had to ditch their usual footwear because of aches and pains, with over a third opting for trainers, while 4 in ten switched to flatties or sandals.
GP, Dr Nisa Aslam and mum of three, says: “Muscular pain in the legs often comes as a surprise to women who have only been warned to expect back pain. However, it’s a normal part of pregnancy. Taking medication to deal with pain and discomfort is obviously out, unless your doctor prescribes it, but there are still things that pregnant or breastfeeding women can do to provide relief. One effective solution is to apply cooling therapy, such as a Deep Freeze Cold Patch which provides soothing relief in the feet, legs and back, all very common for mums and mums to be.”
Deep Freeze Cold Patch Cooling System
Deep Freeze Cold Patch is a convenient alternative to ice packs for long lasting cold therapy. The adhesive patch is specially formulated with aloe Vera, menthol fragrance and water, in a hydrogel layer. The water inside the patch slowly evaporates over a number of hours to generate lasting, soothing, cooling relief.
Deep Freeze Cold Patch works like ice, but unlike ice, it is convenient, does not burn and can be left in place for up to three hours. The patch provides cooling, soothing relief and cold therapy on the go for up to 3 hours.
So, why not just apply the ubiquitous pack of frozen peas? Dr Aslam explains: “You do get skin and muscle cooling from ice but most people can’t tolerate ice on their skin for long and prolonged application can even cause skin burns. In comparison, a Deep Freeze Cold Patch can be left in place for up to three hours so it keeps working to cool the area and soothe pain”.
In fact, the dangers of applying ice packs to the skin are well known. One study reported several cases of misdiagnosed muscle injuries where ice packs were left on too long leading to superficial burns. Another report, in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, cautioned against applying ice for more than 10 minutes at a time to avoid “compromising the skin”. However, topical cooling therapy like Deep Freeze Cold Patch has been shown to provide long-term relief by reducing muscular temperature, while remaining comfortable for the skin5.
Best foot forward
In conclusion, Dr Aslam says: “Too many women are suffering lower leg pain, which is affecting their home life and family enjoyment. The Deep Freeze Cold Patch survey found that fewer than a fifth of women are using ice or cold products to deal with muscular aches and pains, so many more could benefit from this simple, effective therapy. Dealing with pain early means that women can spend more time enjoying pregnancy and motherhood”.
Deep Freeze Cold Patch
Long lasting, adhesive patch
To cool, soothe and comfort the back during pregnancy and beyond
Suitable for legs and feet
Always check new symptoms with your midwife or GP
Exercise Tips from Deep Freeze Cold Patch Personal Trainer, Emily Williams
PT Emily Williams shares her top three exercises to help strengthen and stabilise muscles to help relieve muscular discomfort in the lower back. Great exercises that can be done at home, in minutes, with no equipment needed for mums and mums-to-be.
#1. Reach-ups: These exercises help with the transversus abdominis muscle - a muscle that reaches right across the front of the abdominal and out to the sides. Basically, it hugs the abdominals. To do the reach-ups, lie down on your back, with feet hip width apart. Breathe out and tilt your pelvis up. Hold your hands straight up in the air, palms facing each other. As you breathe out pull your shoulders and your head slightly off the floor as though you are reaching up. Hold for two seconds, then release, bringing the arms back down to the floor. Repeat this move 10 times, three to five times a day.
#2. The Bird-Dog: Start on all fours, pulling your abdominal muscles in, as though you are pulling your belly button towards your spine. Take the opposite arm and leg and extend them while exhaling out. squeeze your glutes, keeping your hips and shoulders straight. Repeat on the other side. Do this exercise 10 times, three to five times a day.
#3. Side Leg Pulse: Lie on your side, with knees at a 90-degree angle and head supported with your hand. Hips, shoulders and knees should be in a straight line. Take the top leg and extend, so it is now straight.
Bring the straight leg up, toes pointing toward the ceiling slightly and pulse for two to three seconds, then bring it back down. Repeat 10 times on each side, three to five times a day.