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Dr. Neil Segal, University of Iowa – Pregnancy and Changes in Foot Size

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Neil Segal of the University of Iowa reveals why having a baby could have you shopping for new shoes. 

Neil Segal is an associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Iowa where his research interests include knee osteoarthritis and the musculoskeletal effects of pregnancy. He is a member of the Iowa Board of Medical Examiners and he earned his medical degree at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

About Dr. Segal

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Dr. Neil Segal – Pregnancy and Changes in Foot Size

Several years ago, I noticed many women talking about having to buy new shoes after pregnancy, but I could find nothing in medical textbooks or journals about this. So, I decided to study whether this really happened by surveying 111 women in a mall. This study revealed that shoe size increased since age 18 in only 13% of women who had never been pregnant, but in 1/3 of women with 1 pregnancy and 2/3 of women who had carried 2 or more pregnancies. It was interesting that there was a dose response, meaning that with each additional pregnancy, there was an increase in shoe size.

I knew that their bones would not be growing inches, so I conducted another study to examine what could account for these findings. I followed 60 women from the first trimester until 5 months after delivery. The measurements showed that, on average, their feet became longer, wider and flatter with pregnancy and that the changes did not resolve long after the hormone levels returned to normal, suggesting a permanent effect.

We know that women are disproportionately affected by chronic joint pain, arthritis, and low back pain. Also, women who have carried pregnancies are at higher risk for musculoskeletal disorders, including joint replacement. The combination of additional weight on joints that become more flexible during pregnancy could potentially lead to permanent changes that predispose women to plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, knee pain, and outer hip pain in later life.

I am currently studying how interventions may be used to avoid these changes, through protecting the feet at this critical time in women’s lives. Through this line of research, I hope that women’s health can be improved in their post-reproductive years.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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