Welcome to my world. My current season of life includes baby showers, birth announcements, and playing with an ever-growing group of friends’ children, I have both professionally and personally discussed the role of a physical therapist during pregnancy. I often see women in my clinic that did not know they could have less pain and better function during their pregnancy. Hoorah for the possibilities!
Some of the common aches and pains during pregnancy include spine pain, hip pain, knee pain, and foot pain. Women may have difficulty walking, sitting, standing, sleeping, caring for older children, working, or getting dressed. As your baby (and baby bump) grows, your body experiences hormonal changes, particularly one called relaxin, that make ligaments and connective tissue looser. Subsequently, your posture, gait (the way you walk), and your range of motion can all change. Physical therapy is a great option to address these problems through manual therapy, soft tissue mobilization, posture and gait assessment, recommendations for positioning, ergonomics for you workplace, and body mechanics for doing your activities of daily living. Individualized exercise prescription may include stretching and strengthening for muscles that are tight or weak.
Not pregnant yet? The American Physical Therapy Association recommends 5 ways to prepare for pregnancy.
Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. This is commonly referred to as Kegels. You want to be able to tighten the correct muscles, instead of your buttocks and thighs, as this can help prevent leaking during pregnancy. However, doing this incorrectly can worsen conditions such as incontinence, pelvic pain, and low back pain. A women’s health specialist in physical therapy can instruct you in how to perform these exercises safely and correctly. We just happen to have one of those in our clinic!
Prepare for “baby belly” by focusing on your core. This can help prevent a diastasis recti, which is where the abdominal muscles separate vertically between the muscles that make a “6 pack.” This separation can contribute to low back pain, pelvic pain, and other injuries when other joints try to take up the slack from a weakened core.
Breathe! Sounds easy, but most of us do not do this well. Proper breathing and relaxation techniques can reduce your stress and help with pain whether or not you are pregnant.
Begin a regular fitness routine. Exercise helps many things in general, but specifically in pregnancy it reduces cortisol and increases your muscle and cardiovascular strength to have a healthy pregnancy. Once you are pregnant consider lower impact exercise, such as swimming, walking on even surfaces, biking, or using an elliptical machine. If you are already a runner, be aware that your ligaments loosen as you progress during pregnancy and you may develop different aches and pains. Also, to prevent organ prolapse with the jarring motion during running, you may want to wear undergarments to support your pelvic floor or compression shorts.
Practice good posture. Good posture is helpful throughout the lifespan and can drastically change during pregnancy. A physical therapist can evaluate your posture and show you how to correct it for optimizing muscular balance.
Pregnancy is a miracle of life, but from what I’ve heard it can be a long 9 months. A physical therapist is an asset before, during, and after pregnancy in improving pain and function. For more resources on how a physical therapist can help you go to www.apta.org.