Ankle Swelling During Pregnancy: Causes and What to Do

Ankle swelling during pregnancy is a common condition. Here, we'll tell you what causes it and what you can do to find relief.
Ankle Swelling During Pregnancy: Causes and What to Do

Last update: 31 January, 2022

Ankle swelling is a common condition during pregnancy, often accompanied by edema of the legs and feet. Although it’s most noticeable in the evening, it can be seen throughout the day.

This symptom worsens as the pregnancy progresses and isn’t usually harmful to either the mother or the baby. But sometimes, lower limb edema can be a sign of a gestational complication.

Here’s everything you need to know about it.

The causes of swollen ankles in pregnancy

Swollen ankles indicate that the woman’s body is retaining more fluid than usual and this is to be expected during pregnancy.

According to a publication by Pregnancy, Birth & Baby, during pregnancy, the volume of maternal blood is greater in order to meet the needs of the baby. In turn, the hormones of pregnancy cause an increase in the dilation of the veins of the maternal body, which predisposes her to water retention in the tissues.

In general, excess fluid tends to accumulate in the or lower areas of the body, especially when standing for long periods of time or in hot weather.

Another cause of edema in the legs and ankles is the pressure exerted by the uterus on the large abdominal vessels, such as the inferior vena cava. This causes greater resistance to the flow of blood returning to the heart and favors the accumulation of fluid in the lower areas, such as the feet.

A woman massaging her swollen ankles.

Preeclampsia, a dangerous cause of swollen ankles

Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy that’s characterized by an increase in the pregnant woman’s blood pressure, among other issues. Although the initial symptoms of such a condition are subtle, it’s potentially serious for the mother and the baby.

One of the first manifestations of preeclampsia is sudden swelling of the ankles or feet. Therefore, when edema appears, you need to consult a physician as soon as possible.

As the condition progresses, other manifestations begin to appear and should be attended to immediately:

  • Severe headache
  • Sudden worsening of swelling of the hands, feet, or face
  • Problems with vision (intermittent flashes or blurred vision)
  • Stabbing pain below the rib region

While the above symptoms are highly suggestive of preeclampsia, sudden swelling of the legs or ankles may also have to do with other causes. For example, when it appears suddenly and on only one side of the body, it could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis.

Measures to reduce ankle swelling during pregnancy

Swelling of the legs can occur at any time during pregnancy but is most often seen after the fifth month. Even more so in the last trimester of pregnancy.

In general, this swelling tends to increase gradually, so certain measures can be taken to prevent or improve it:

  • Avoid standing for prolonged periods of time.
  • Rest with your feet up (a few centimeters above heart level).
  • Choose comfortable footwear, without straps that tighten the instep too much.
  • Drink plenty of water. Contrary to popular belief, sufficient hydration helps eliminate excess water from the body.
  • Take regular walks or exercise.

Exercises for ankle swelling during pregnancy

Another effective alternative to improve swollen ankles is exercise, which can be practiced while standing or sitting. All movements help to improve blood circulation, reduce local edema, and prevent muscle cramps.

Here are some simple techniques:

  • Flex and extend the foot up and down for several repetitions as if you were pressing the car pedal and releasing it.
  • Draw imaginary circles with the movement of your foot. Ideally, with your legs up and still. First, do it in one direction and then in the other.

Finally, avoid clothes that fit too tightly around the abdomen, legs, or ankles, as they limit proper blood flow and promote water retention.

You may also want to read: How to Avoid a Swollen Face During Pregnancy?

A controlled diet

Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet during pregnancy is essential for the management of ankle swelling. In addition, it ensures a sufficient supply of nutrients for the proper growth of the baby.

Some of the main tips in this regard are as follows:

  • Reduce salt intake.
  • Avoid sausages and ultra-processed or packaged foods.
  • Drink at least two liters of water a day.
  • Avoid spicy food.

Adequate rest

A woman sleeping with a pregnancy pillow.

It’s best to sleep on your side, on the left side of your body, for as long as possible. This position helps to keep the inferior vena cava free, which is responsible for returning blood from the body to the heart.

It’s also a good idea to elevate the legs when the pregnant woman is lying down to promote the drainage of accumulated fluid.

Lymphatic massages

One of the treatment options most recommended by specialists is lymphatic drainage. This can be done through massage or also through obstetric physical therapy.

Compression stockings are also an acceptable option to use during the day, as they’re designed to keep the blood flow in the legs as active as possible.

Ankle swelling in pregnancy and its evolution

In conclusion, most women have swelling in the ankles and feet at some point during pregnancy, which is a normal condition.

However, sometimes this edema is accompanied by other symptoms and signs and this could lead us to think of something more serious. For this reason, whenever it appears or worsens, you should contact your doctor.

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