Knee Pain During Pregnancy: Causes and Ways To Manage It

Published July 12th, 2022 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Pregnancy can put a lot of stress on the body, both physically and emotionally. Bearing a child is a heavy weight to carry – literally and metaphorically. And for that reason, it can do a number on your joints.

Specifically, many pregnant people notice heightened discomfort in the knees during pregnancy. Knee pain is a common byproduct of bearing a child, but it’s not something you should have to endure.

Let’s take a look at the causes, as well as some ways you might be able to manage this symptom.

What Causes Knee Pain During Pregnancy?

There are several reasons your knees and other joints might feel a bit looser or more painful during pregnancy. Here are some of the most common reasons.

Relaxin and Progesterone

Your hormones completely shift during pregnancy in ways you might never expect. Two examples are changes in the hormones relaxin and progesterone

Relaxin is a hormone that the body releases during pregnancy to give the ligaments more laxity. In other words, it’s a hormone that makes your joints looser — that’s why you tend to be more flexible during pregnancy. 

Added weight gain and increased relaxin during pregnancy can make it feel like an added pressure on the joints. The muscles and ligaments are not as tight and cannot protect the joint in the same ways that the body can pre or post-pregnancy.

Weight Gain

If you wore a weighted vest for nine months straight, chances are high that you might start to feel some knee pain. In a similar way, bearing a child adds a lot of weight to your body. 

And because of that, it can place an undue amount of stress on the knee joints, especially in individuals who do not get enough exercise during pregnancy.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a chronic condition in which the joints become inflamed, often leading to pain and discomfort.

While pregnancy does not cause arthritis, women who have arthritis may experience worsening symptoms during pregnancy because of the increased levels of relaxin and the added weight gain.

Sedentary Living

If you spend much of your day sitting or lying down, which is common during pregnancy, you are likely to start feeling some discomfort in your knees.

The muscles that would typically activate from physical activity, like your quadriceps, become tight. 

Stretching and participating in joint stability exercises like yoga is a great way to keep your joints healthy. Plenty of prenatal fitness classes specialize in movements aimed at pregnant mothers, which can be helpful.

How Can You Manage Knee Pain During Pregnancy?

Depending on the underlying cause of the knee pain, there are a few different methods you can take to try to alleviate the discomfort

Exercise

One of the best ways to manage joint pain is by moving! Exercise can help improve the range of motion in your joints and make them more flexible, especially in pregnant women and anyone with arthritis or general joint discomfort.

Doctors generally recommend low impact exercises since they reduce the strain on the joints. Swimming, walking, or cycling are gentle on the joints but are still great exercises to loosen the joints. 

Plus, exercise can help manage weight, reducing joint stress. There are even specific exercise classes aimed purely at prenatal individuals.

Proper Footwear

When pregnant, wearing shoes that provide adequate support for the ankles and feet is essential.

So, it might be time to put away the high heels until your baby is born. When pregnant, getting a set of shoes that are durable and flexible with the right amount of support is a good idea. 

It’s recommended that you get professionally fitted at a shoe store to ensure that your shoes are the right fit. You may also want to consider getting gel insoles to enhance the support of a shoe and decrease the stress on the joints.

Heat and Cold

Hot and cold treatments are among the most effective methods of reducing joint and ligament pain. Heat boosts blood flow and nutrients to an area of the body. Taking a warm bath or using a heating pad can offer much-needed relief.

Cold, on the other hand, slows blood flow and constricts the blood vessels, which works to reduce stiffness and pain. It’s best for short-term pain from a strain or sprain. However, if knee pain has recently begun during pregnancy, this might make you feel better more quickly than a heating pad.

Pain Medications

Pain-relieving medications such as ibuprofen are a great way to diminish the feeling of joint pain.

These medications keep injured or damaged cells from making and releasing prostaglandin, which forms at the injury site.

These medications control inflammation and discomfort from knee pain or other joint issues.

By preventing the release of this chemical, the brain won’t receive the pain messages as quickly, reducing the feeling of pain.

While these medications are great for making you feel more comfortable, remember that they do not address the underlying issue.

Be sure to use other methods to fix the cause of knee pain while using pain medications as a supplement to enhance your quality of life. And always consult your doctor when taking medications while pregnant.

Knee Braces

Knee braces are a relatively inexpensive way to relieve knee pain as they can support loose ligaments and tendons around the knee.

You don’t need a doctor’s prescription to get one either. In most cases, you can get a quality, elastic, donut-hole knee brace at a low cost online or in stores.

Rest

You learned why it’s important to stay active if you’re experiencing knee pain, but taking rest days are just as important.

Your body is undergoing a lot of changes during pregnancy, and you need to give it some time to heal. This is especially true when excess pressure is being placed on your knees from weight gain during pregnancy.

Treat yourself to a nice spa day or a gentle massage to relax, rest, and let your body recover from everything it’s going through on a daily basis.

Load Up on Omega 3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods like fatty fish and offer several health benefits.

Omega-3s can lessen inflammation by slowing the production of substances released during the inflammatory response.

Is Knee Pain During Pregnancy Normal?

Feeling discomfort in the joints is unfortunately common during pregnancy.

Typically, knee pain from pregnancy is minor and does not impact daily life.

If your knee pain is excruciating or if you notice knee pain persistently, it never hurts to speak with your healthcare provider. There might be underlying reasons besides pregnancy that are causing your discomfort.

In Conclusion

Knee pain during pregnancy is a common symptom often caused by hormonal shifts such as increased relaxin, which make the joints looser.

The relaxation of muscles and ligaments can cause the added pressure of weight gain to be even more intense on the joints.

The good news is that you can alleviate joint pain with several different means, including exercise, proper footwear, knee braces, rest, heat and cold, and loading up on foods that are high in omega-3s.

While you can expect a small amount of knee pain, it should not be so excruciating that it interferes with quality of life and daily living.

If your joint pain feels severe, you should contact a doctor immediately to ensure no underlying, co-occurring conditions are affecting you.

References, Studies and Sources:

Back Pain in Pregnancy - Health Encyclopedia | University of Rochester Medical Center.

Treating Joint Pain Naturally During Pregnancy | American Pregnancy Association

How Do Pain Relievers Work? | Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Foods & Benefits | Cleveland Clinic

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