Medical studies indicate that between 50% and 90% of women experience low back or pelvic-region pain when they are pregnant. While many women find that this pain goes away when the baby is born, more than a third of women still have pain 1 year after giving birth. A recent study published by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy once again confirms that physical therapy during and after pregnancy can help decrease low back and pelvic pain. Common treatment options include education, exercise therapy and manual therapy.
Physical therapy during pregnancy can be helpful for alleviating back and pelvic pain and for enhancing your body’s ability to have an easier and smoother pregnancy and birth. In addition, since a third of women experience pain for one year after giving birth, postnatal physical therapy can help eliminate that pain faster. So, if you are having back or pelvic pain or other pain associated with your pregnancy or after your pregnancy, you should talk to your doctor about the benefits of adding physical therapy into your prenatal or postnatal care.
Pregnancy Back and Pelvic Pain
The reasons for back pain and pelvic pain vary, but the majority of the pain results from one of the following reasons:
- Increase in hormones
- Change of the body’s center of gravity
- Gaining additional weight
- Decline in correct posture
- Added stress
Over the last 40 years, the average age of women having their first child has risen from 21.4 to 25 years. Since many women are earning college degrees and then establishing their careers, more and more women are having their first child after the age of thirty five. Therefore, many women becoming pregnant are less physically active in their daily lives. This decreased activity, along with the increasing national prevalence of a sedentary lifestyle, leaves an alarming number of women less prepared for the strenuous journey of carrying and delivering a baby.
Women searching for ways to get relief from this pain will be happy to learn that four of five factors listed above can be addressed with a proper physical therapy program. Physical therapy is a medically-based profession specializing in pain relief. Physical therapists work with you to develop a treatment plan to decrease pain by identifying and addressing its causes.
In Texas, you need a doctor’s prescription to see a physical therapist. With this prescription, the therapist can begin treating your pain on the first visit, so you walk out the door feeling better than when you walked in.
Additionally, since physical therapy is a medically-based profession, the services are covered by most medical insurance plans with limited out-of-pocket costs. Treatment plans take a comprehensive approach by working on pain’s typical triggers:
- Joint alignment
- Muscle strength
- Nerve involvement
Additional weight, incorrect posture, stress and control of the center of gravity are not independent from one another. A change in your center of gravity affects your posture which causes the muscles to work harder. Increased exertion creates fatigue which leads to decreased motivation to be active. The absence of exercise often results in increased stress. Though it is difficult, the domino effect can be slowed greatly with the help of physical therapy.
Lower back pain is a common reality for many expecting mothers. As the uterus and baby grow, the mother’s center of gravity moves forward. This shift increases the amount of force the muscles must generate for everyday support causing women to slump forward. Over time this poor alignment creates muscle tightness in the pectoral muscles, rolling the shoulders forward and creating increased stress on the muscles of the neck, shoulders and mid-back. If these muscular factors are not addressed, these forces will ultimately be translated down to the low back, an area which is already under a great deal of stress because it is supporting the increased center of gravity.
Additionally, exercise increases physical endurance and muscle strength, especially in the hips, back and abdomen, which can also provide relief from pelvic pain. Improving these areas can prepare the body for the physically demanding event of delivering a baby, and help you have a better labor experience. Finally, therapeutic exercise during pregnancy can assist the recovery after the delivery and lessen the postnatal pain. It tones muscle which will improve metabolism, decrease the severity of fatigue, and assist in getting back to your pre-pregnant weight.
Physical Therapy during Your Pregnancy
There are no guarantees, but it is reasonable to expect that your pregnancy and labor will go easier and possibly even quicker following any strength and flexibility improvements. In addition to regular visits to your physical therapist, it is essential to incorporate home exercises into your physical therapy program. Your physical therapist is going to provide you with specific exercises that target what you need to make your pregnancy easier and even healthier. You can also rest assured that your physical therapist will guide you through proper usage of these exercises so that you can gain the most benefits.
Choosing the Right Therapist, Clinic and Program
Today’s expectant mothers have a wide variety of options to consider for prenatal and postnatal care. The key is finding the appropriate therapist, clinic and program.
Choose a therapist that has vast prenatal and postnatal physical therapy experience.
Choose a clinic that has a large array of exercise equipment to help you increase your strength and flexibility.
Be wary of treatment programs that are passive, place increased stress on the joints and do not address muscle strength and flexibility with exercise. Here is what you should look for in a prenatal or postnatal physical therapy program:
- Managed by a certified professional physical therapist licensed in your state
- Focused on building strength, increasing flexibility and improving posture
- Encompasses home-based exercises and stretches for you to do yourself
- Proactively looks for any weakness which may become a problem later
Pregnancy is the ultimate strain on one’s body, and is a condition that physical therapy can be used to lessen this strain. A proactive strength, flexibility and stabilization program can be very beneficial to preventing or decreasing the intensity of painful symptoms, thus making your pregnancy and postpartum experience a more positive one.