Are you expecting a baby and wondering why you have sore knees?
You’re not alone.
While pregnancy is among the greatest joys you can experience as a woman, unfortunately, many physical changes accompany impending motherhood, from dreaded morning sickness to joint pains, heartburn, and many others.
But considering all the extra weight we must lug around during pregnancy, it’s not a surprise that we get leg pain while pregnant. Especially pain in the knees – because the primary cause of knee pain during pregnancy is the additional weight on your knee joints.
Most women experience this type of knee pain in the final trimester, when your growing baby bump starts to feel like a ton weight.
However, knee pain can begin much earlier in your pregnancy in some cases. Sometimes as early as 6-12 weeks, when your body starts moving and stretching to accommodate your baby and their symbiotic placental home.
What Are The Symptoms Of Knee Pain In Pregnancy?
Before seeing the two positive lines on a pregnancy test, most women expect to experience a bit of lower back and joint pain when pregnant. We expect minor grumbles and aches and pains.
It’s par for the course. But knee pain – the type that causes extreme discomfort and hampers mobility – can come as a bit more of a surprise. The limping around (and for some women – constipation, pelvic organ prolapses, incontinence, and cystitis) also take the shine off your “blooming” phase and your grand plan to glide through pregnancy like an archetypal feminine goddess.
The most common kinds of knee pain we see in women when pregnant are:
- Pain in the knee joints when standing for a long time or while walking.
- A chronic dull throbbing pain in the knee that worsens over time.
What Causes Knee Pain During Pregnancy?
- Changes in your hormone levels: In the final trimester of pregnancy, your body releases hormones that prepare the pelvic region for childbirth. But apart from the pelvic region’s ligaments and tissues becoming looser, other body parts, including the knees, are also affected by this “slackening.” Consequently, your kneecap, other bones, ligaments, or tendons might move out of their proper position, which leads to pain in the knee.
- Strained Veins: Your pregnancy may also cause stress and pressure on the veins in and around your knee joint, resulting in pain.
- Increase in weight: The most prominent reason for pain in the knees during pregnancy is increased body weight (100% normal). Most women gain between 10-40lbs, depending on their starting weight. But although it’s normal, the additional weight places a lot of stress and strain on the knee joints, as your body is not used to the extra weight.
- Too much exercise: While doctors recommend a certain amount of activity when you’re pregnant. Excess exercise can weaken the knees in pregnant women due to altered hormone levels and excess weight. Doing “Squats,” in particular, can affect the knees.
- Any injury: An old or new injury can also result in knee pain during pregnancy, under certain circumstances. This historic or newly acquired weakness in the knee could be due to a fall or strain, balance issues, or weight gain during pregnancy. In cases of extreme pain, you should seek medical attention right away.
- Excessive standing/ walking: Occasionally, staying on your feet too long due to excessive standing or walking could lead to knee pain. However, this type of pain has not been a problem for you before pregnancy. During pregnancy, this knee pain occurs because of the extra weight you must bear, which can cause your knee to ache and throb.
- Lack of calcium: This is an unusual one. It only happens in rare cases – usually because of pre-existing health conditions. Still, lack of calcium during pregnancy can also lead to knee pain.
- Change in your center of gravity: Too much movement during pregnancy may change your center of gravity, leading to more stress on the knee joints, which can result in knee pain
Knee Pain During Pregnancy: Important Points To Consider
If you have knee pain during pregnancy, it’s essential not to ignore it and expect it to go away on its own magically. Unfortunately, this strategy is likely to lead to more problems with your knees later after childbirth.
But two of the critical reasons why you shouldn’t put off getting treatment for knee pain during pregnancy are:
- Women who experience pain in the knees during pregnancy are at risk of getting osteoarthritis later. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that develops because of the wear and tear of knee cartilages. It leads to the extreme pain, stiffness, and the knee joints locking.
- As we mentioned, extra weight gain during pregnancy will cause stress on the knees. It can damage the ligament and cartilages of the knee joint, leading to mobility issues and restricted limb movement. Reduced mobility can affect your quality of life and prevent you from doing all the activities you want to do with your child in the future. So, if you have knee pain during pregnancy, it could be a sign of damaged ligaments – get them checked out.
How We Treat Knee Pain During Pregnancy
There are generally two reasons why you might have knee pain during pregnancy:
- Pregnancy-related physical changes
We can handle pregnancy-related physical changes with preventive measures – to treat the issue and prevent things from getting worse. In the case of injury, we need to examine your knee to find the root cause of your pain and take steps to treat it.
You don’t need to feel overwhelmed by knee pain during your pregnancy or after you’ve given birth. There are plenty of measures available to help relieve your pain and resolve the issue once and for all. These include:
- Low impact exercise: You can do low-impact exercises – like walking, Pilates, and specific therapeutic exercises under the supervision of a physical therapist. These exercises strengthen the knee and the muscles and joints around it.
- Prop up your feet: The easiest way to relieve pregnancy-related stress on your knees is by staying off your feet. Instead, prop them up on a pillow to elevate and drain excess fluid build-up whenever possible. This elevation helps to relieve pain and acts as a preventative measure.
- Wear proper footwear: Continuing with the female goddess theme. It’s tempting to continue wearing heels during pregnancy, but it isn’t advisable. Wearing the appropriate footwear with good arch support, padding, and flat heels helps to reduce any impact on your knees.
- Control weight gain: Scientific studies have shown that women with average weight before pregnancy can increase their weight by another 25-30 pounds safely while pregnant. However, overweight or obese women should keep their weight increase restricted to 15-25 pounds.
- Consider using OTC medication: Doctors consider it safe to take Tylenol and certain other over-the-counter pain-relieving medicines during pregnancy. However, you should only do this under the supervision and in consultation with your obstetrician or gynecologist.
- Use a supportive aid: You could also consider using a supportive aid like a knee brace during pregnancy to support the tendons and cartilage in your knees. But we only tend to recommend this if you have had previous knee surgery, an injury, or existing knee weakness.
Is Physical Therapy For Knee Pain Helpful During Pregnancy?
If you’re suffering from knee pain during your pregnancy, it can be hugely beneficial to consult with a specialist Physical Therapist. Here’s why:
- Get the correct diagnosis: The most critical factors in knee pain during pregnancy are diagnosis and treatment, which the physical therapist determines.
How can you fix it if you don’t know what is causing your pain? Right?
- Advice on knee-safe activities: After a complete physical evaluation and detailed medical history, your physical therapist will determine which activities are most suited to you. They’ll explain which ones you should stop or change – both during and after your pregnancy.
- Advice on how to exercise during pregnancy: Your physical therapist can advise you on low impact exercise and draw up a customized exercise program for you that is low impact and aimed at improving lower body strength and preventing knee pain.
- Alleviate pain: Perhaps most importantly, if you’re suffering now, a physical therapist has various techniques at their disposal that can alleviate knee pain. In addition, most pregnant women experience some form of relief right from their first PT session.
At Nancy Branberg PT, we specialize in Pregnancy and Postpartum Care.
We know that pregnancy is one of the most wonderful and exciting but also one of the most challenging and scary times of your life – and all these emotions hit you all at once. But our support and expertise allow women to overcome many of the obstacles, so they can focus on the positives and enjoy a happy, pain-free pregnancy. We can’t guarantee pain-free childbirth, of course.
Still, regular physical therapy sessions before and after labor have been shown to shorten labor, reduce recovery time and prevent postpartum complications.
Get in touch with me anytime to arrange a chat, or to book a physical therapy session. I look forward to helping you get back to health!