Knee Pain During Pregnancy: Causes And Ways To Manage It

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Pregnant women often experience body aches and pains. As pregnancy progresses, your body weight increases and the bone joints become softer in preparation for childbirth at later stages. All these factors may contribute to knee pain in pregnancy.

In addition, your growing baby bump exerts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, uterus, and joints and ligaments, especially of the lower extremities. Read this post as we explain the various causes and complications of knee pain in pregnant women and give you a few tips on managing it.

 

What Are The Causes Of Knee Pain During Pregnancy?

Knee pain occurs in most women, but there are different reasons for knee pain during pregnancy.

  1. Hormonal changes: In your third trimester, the secretion of relaxin hormone loosens up the pelvic ligaments and tendons to prepare for childbirth. They will not only affect the ligaments of the pelvic region but also loosen the ligaments and tendons of the knees (1).
  1. Weight gain: The gradual increase in weight during pregnancy will exert strain on the knees, leading to knee pain. This is intense if it is your first pregnancy, as the body may not be able to bear the extra weight (2).
The gradual rise in weight during pregnancy contributes to knee pain

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Exercises: Too much exercise during pregnancy could also weaken the knees. Squats, especially, may lead to knee pain (3).
  1. Falls and injuries: Sudden falls, strain, or knee injuries as a result of the changing body will also result in knee pain (4).
  1. Walking or standing: Knee pain will also develop due to the extended periods of walking or standing when the knees are forced to carry excess weight for longer (5).
  1. Deficiency of calcium: The need for calcium increases during pregnancy (6), and might result in a deficiency if the body does not take the right amounts. It, therefore, raises the risk of knee pains.
Quick fact
A BMI equal to or greater than 30kg/m2, a history of knee problems, or age under 25 may increase one’s risk of developing knee dysfunction (13).

Are There Any Complications Associated With Pregnancy Knee Pain?

If knee pain is not treated on time, it might lead to certain complications in the future.

  • Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, will develop in the later stages. This will lead to joint stiffness, pain, and locking of knee joints (7).
  • Damage in the protective cartilage and ligament around the knee joints could lead to difficulties in walking, running, and bending in the future (8).

Managing knee pain becomes essential to make pregnancy a comfortable time for the mom-to-be.

How To Manage Knee Pain During Pregnancy?

Here are a few ways in which you can try to alleviate knee pain during pregnancy (9).

  • Exercise: Low-impact exercises such as moderate walking and swimming will strengthen your quadriceps and offer support to your knees. They might, therefore, prevent knee pain.
  • Give some rest to your feet: Do not strain your feet too much and rest more as you start to gain weight while pregnant. It will help ease your knee pain.
  • Get right shoes: Use shoes that are well-cushioned for proper arch support. The cushions act as shock absorbers and prevent knee pain during early pregnancy.
  • Manage your bodyweight: Try maintaining your weight as gaining weight too quickly is bad for the joints. On average, you can put around 15 to 25 pounds throughout pregnancy.
  • Use knee braces: Wear a knee brace that comes with a doughnut hole in the center when you are walking or indulge in other physical activities. They offer support to the loose ligaments and tendons around the knee and help to control the pain.
Knee braces support the loose ligaments and tendons around the knee

Image: Shutterstock

  • Hot and cold compress: Take a hot water bath or apply a heating pad to the knees, followed by an ice pack. This alternative therapy will reduce the pain and swelling around the knee joints.
  • Massage therapy: Getting massage therapy will help in relieving joint pains and stiffness. They also help in improving the range of motion.
  • Improve your diet: Include a balanced diet of all essential nutrients. Increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D to relieve joint pains and stiffness.
  • Rest well: Take enough rest as it helps ease the joint or knee pains.

If the above measures do not work and the pain worsens, you need to visit your doctor for proper medical treatment.

Quick fact
Acupuncture, splints, and some herbal supplements can help relieve joint pain and stiffness. However, do not consume herbs without your doctor’s consent (14).

Treatment For Joint Pain During Pregnancy

Take only small dosage as excessive use is associated with liver damage

Image: Shutterstock

The safest over-the-counter medicine your doctor would prescribe is acetaminophen (paracetamol) that helps relieve mild joint pain. Take only small dosages, or as prescribed by the doctor, since excessive use is associated with liver damage (10) ( (11).

Avoid soothing creams and ointments that contain methyl salicylate as they can cause a burning sensation on the skin (12).

Can You Prevent Knee Pain During Pregnancy?

You can’t prevent knee pain unless it is due to a fall or injury. Try and maintain your weight as increased body weight leads to sore knees and causes knee pain. Give enough rest to your body to avoid joint pains and include foods rich in calcium and omega-3 fatty acids after consulting your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I rest in the proper position during knee pain?

Use pillows to support your legs. If you sleep on your back, place a pillow beneath your legs. Similarly, place a pillow between your calves if you prefer to sleep sideways. If you have knee pain, try not to sleep with your legs crossed.

2. Why do my knees hurt at night during pregnancy?

The growing fetus might apply pressure on the blood vessels and nerves based on the position. This stress on the legs while laying on the back could result in increased knee pain at night.

Knee pain is one of the common pregnancy-related physical discomforts that can be caused due to various factors. Knee pain can impair your pregnancy if it is severe. Therefore, controlling it is critical for a safe and successful pregnancy. Although knee pain while pregnant is unavoidable, there are certain things you can do to reduce the pain, such as low-impact exercises, getting enough rest, wearing the proper shoes, and being the right weight. Following these basic steps can help you prevent any postpartum complications, but if your condition does not improve, visit your doctor.

Infographic: How To Manage Knee Pain During Pregnancy?

Expectant mothers often experience knee pain due to the added weight and pressure on their joints as the baby grows. Refer to the infographic below for suggestions on dealing with this problem. However, if the pain persists or becomes severe, it is advised to consult a doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

how to manage knee pain during pregnancy [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Hyunju Yoo et al.; Changes in the spinal curvature, degree of pain, balance ability, and gait ability according to pregnancy period in pregnant and nonpregnant women; J Phys Ther Sci (2015)
2. Spahn G et al.; [Knee-related Pain Problems during Pregnancy Correlate with an Increase in Body Weight. Results of a Prospective Study].; Z Geburtshilfe Neonatol (2015)
3. Safety of the Squat Exercise; American College of Sports Medicine
4. Knee Sprains and Strains; University Health Sciences (2011)
5. Hiroki Sugiura & Shinichi Demura; Effects of Mild and Severe Knee Joint Pain on Various Activities of Daily Living in the Female Elderly; Pain Res Treat (2013)
6. Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Bone Health; NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center (2015)
7. Osteoarthritis of the knee; Orthopedics University of Colorado (2019)
8. Knee Pain and Problems; Columbia University Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine
9. Knee Pain; Cedars-Sinai
10. A P Dwivedi and D Erkan; Top 10 Series: Lupus and Pregnancy; Hospital for Special Surgery (2010)
11. Overdoing acetaminophen; Harvard Health (2009)
12. The Burning Issue with Pain Relief Creams; Medsafe – New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority
13. ONE-QUARTER OF WOMEN IN AN OBSTETRIC POPULATION REPORT SEVERE KNEE DYSFUNCTION; Massachusetts General Hospital
14. Treating Joint Pain Naturally During Pregnancy; American Pregnancy Association

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