Being pregnant is an exciting time for expecting moms. However, it can also come with aches and pains for some women – and understandably so, as our bodies go through many changes over a short period of time.
One of the most common areas of pain and dysfunction is the pelvis. Symptoms may be felt in the low back, tail bone, buttocks, front of the pelvis or into the groin and they often worsen with lifting, twisting, straining or changing positions. Pregnancy causes additional stress to our joints, muscles and ligaments. Our posture changes, as our base of support shifts due to growing baby. Our pelvis can become unstable as our ligaments and joints become lax due to the hormone relaxin. Our back, abdominal and pelvic muscles often become weak and underactive, contributing to pelvic instability. Trauma to the pelvis and/or pelvic muscles during labor may also cause pain and symptoms.
Now fast forward to when you take your little bundle of joy home and continue doing all the things that moms do, while caring for a newborn. The repetitive bending, lifting, carrying, feeding and changing baby while having weak pelvic floor and core muscles and lax ligaments often aggravates pre-existing pain and/or contributes to postpartum back and pelvic pain.
How Physiotherapy can help
The good news? CAMPT-certified physiotherapists can help you during pregnancy and postpartum. A thorough and detailed physiotherapy assessment will determine the specific cause of your symptoms, which will then guide your focused treatment plan. Treatments are variable, but may include education for management of pain, proper ergonomics and positioning and lifting techniques. Hands-on manual therapy can help restore normal joint and soft tissue mobility and function. Exercises can be prescribed to address pelvic instability caused by muscle weakness and ligament laxity. More specifically, improving the strength and function of your pelvic floor and inner core muscles not only helps to provide spinal and pelvic stability, but also helps to maintain good alignment, circulation, respiration, continence and support of your internal organs.
Effective exercises for postpartum women
Retraining pelvic floor and core function is especially important and beneficial for postpartum women. Initial, but effective exercises can be as easy as working on your alignment and breathing. Proper alignment places the pelvis at the best angle to support the entire abdominal wall and pelvic floor, making it easier for these muscles to fire naturally. For instance, tucking/nodding your chin down (ideal), versus poking your chin out with a forward head posture (not ideal), can help align your spine and pelvis.
Working on retraining your breathing pattern can also help improve your pelvic floor and inner core function. Your diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles should coordinate and move together. When we inhale, our diaphragm contracts and moves downward while our pelvic floor relaxes. You want your entire thorax to expand ‘360 degrees’ with each inhale to optimize the movement of your diaphragm. When we exhale our diaphragm relaxes and moves upward naturally, while our pelvic floor gently contracts and lifts. (It is important to note that we may require different breathing patterns during different activities – we need variety)!
Your physiotherapist can work with you to create an exercise program that is both appropriately challenging for your pelvic floor and core and individualized for you to meet your unique needs. Slowly progressing your exercises to improve your overall strength and function is important prior to safely returning to your activities and sports after baby.
If you experience any pain and symptoms during or after pregnancy, consult with your CAMPT-certified physiotherapist to help keep you moving safely and effectively!
About Haley Carrier
Haley is a Physiotherapist in Okotoks, Alberta at Pinnacle Health Physiotherapy. She enjoys working with people of all ages to help them move better and feel better. In her practice, she treats a wide variety of sport and orthopaedic injuries, conditions, and pain. Being a mother herself, she has a special interest in working with pregnant and postpartum women. Haley provides individualized treatments to help her clients achieve their unique rehabilitation and physical activity goals. She strives to promote health and wellness for all in and around her community! Find out more about Haley on her Website, Instagram & Facebook.