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Aching Joints During Pregnancy

author image Lauren Hutchens
Lauren Hutchens specializes in health communications, developing targeted messages for a variety of audiences since 1998. Her publications include health policy analyses, guidance for medical providers, and easy-to-read health education materials. Her work has appeared in "the Washington Fax" and "Health News Daily." She holds a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Washington.
Aching Joints During Pregnancy
Pregnant woman holding her belly sitting outside next to lake. Photo Credit: Kkolosov/iStock/Getty Images

A woman’s body undergoes many dramatic changes over the course of pregnancy, some of which can bring about unpleasant side effects. Joint discomfort is one common symptom that can result from any combination of changes in circulation, posture, bodily fluids and uterine pressure. Common self-care measures can provide some relief to women experiencing aching joints in pregnancy.

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Joint Swelling

The swelling of joints in pregnancy, also called edema, often results from the pressure the growing uterus puts on major blood vessels, which can reduce circulation. Such swelling is typical in pregnancy, particularly in the feet and ankles. Women can manage edema by temporarily relieving the fluid build-up in these joint areas by elevating the feet when sitting or lying down, and avoiding crossing their legs and standing for long periods. Improving circulation can also alleviate discomfort; walking after long spells of sitting, wearing supportive tights or stockings, and avoiding restrictive clothing can help.

Back Pain

An aching back is one of the most common side effects of pregnancy. This may be due to changes in posture and back strain that the added weight of pregnancy--much of it carried on the front of the body--can bring. While severe back pain is not normal and should be reported to a health care provider, moderate back pain can be minimized using the following techniques:

• Maintain good posture and avoid standing for lengthy periods of time • Wear supportive shoes and avoid high heels • Choose chairs that provide good support for the back • Avoid heavy lifting and deep bending • Sleep on a firm mattress and avoid sleeping on your back
• Apply a heating pad set to low, a hot water bottle or cold compress to the aching area • Gently massage your lower back. • Consider exercises to help your posture and strengthen your back

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Pain or a burning sensation in the hands may be symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, a common affliction of women during pregnancy. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also appear as numbness, tingling or weakness in the hands; in pregnant women, the condition often affects both hands and appears most frequently in the second and third trimesters. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can be diminished by applying cold compresses or heat to the wrists, by rubbing or shaking the wrists, or by wearing a splint during activities that aggravate the condition, which nearly always resolves itself after delivery.


Prenatal massage can bring relief to pregnant women suffering from joint pain. In addition to alleviating pressure on the joints, massage techniques can help reduce edema, back pain, muscle tension and headaches, and can also improve circulation and relieve stress.

When to Call Doctor

Severe back pain should be discussed with your health care provider, as should sudden, dramatic swelling of the hands or feet, which could point to a condition called pre-eclampsia, or toxemia. Also notify your provider if you experience greater swelling in one leg, particularly if it is accompanied by pain in the thigh or calf.

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