Dependent leg edema is not uncommon in pregnant women and may cause pain with each step. In addition to compression stockings and leg elevation, immersing the extremities in water is beneficial. This prospective trial evaluated a single session of immersion exercise in 9 women 32 to 36 years of age who had marked edema but otherwise uncomplicated pregnancies at 25 to 39 weeks gestation. Only one of the women was parous. A few hours after the midday meal, the women had a 45-minute session of upright water immersion exercise. A vest, worn like a backpack, kept the wearer afloat and immersed to the axilla without the need for extremity movements. After warming up for 5 minutes, the women performed coordination exercises for 10 minutes and a range of running sequences for 30 minutes. Lower leg volume was measured in triplicate by the displacement method using a polyurethane vessel with an overflow device. Supine lower leg circumference also was measured before and after immersion exercise.
A single session decreased the volume of both legs by an average of 6.3% on the left and 4.9% on the right. Lower leg circumference decreased significantly on both sides. Maternal heart rate did not change significantly after immersion exercise, but during the session, the rate increased by 15 beats per minute on average. Systolic blood pressure increased significantly 1 minute after exercise, from 124 to 130 mm Hg, and nearly significantly after 5 minutes. Diastolic blood pressure, however, remained unchanged. The women felt very positively about the beneficial effects of immersion exercise on leg edema.
A single 45-minute session of immersion exercise effectively—and safely—improved marked lower leg edema in these women. This form of exercise could complement or supplant the use of compression stockings as a means of reducing dependent edema in pregnant women.