Pregnancy can be the most joyful, exciting time for a couple with the thought of a tiny person slowly growing inside your belly. Simultaneously, it’s a time for the most bizarre and frustrating pains, syndromes and uncategorized bodily changes.
I have yet to run into a mom who survived pregnancy without some sort of physical ailment. Just to put my assumption to the test, I polled a small group of ladies to inquire about their personal struggles with pregnancy. The results were astounding. I compiled a list of over 20 ailments from a small group of 12 moms with an average of 3 ailments per person. The most popular results included low back pain, cankles, carpal tunnel syndrome, round ligament pain (also described as lightning pain), heart burn, charlie horses, acid reflux, and restless leg syndrome.
As a Physical Therapist, I have seen some of these conditions in the clinic. Some, however, are slightly out of my scope of practice (such as bacne or “wide nose syndrome”).
While I don’t intend for this article to diagnose or treat any pregnancy-related disorder, I hope my general guidelines give hope and relief to both expecting and fourth trimester moms. My advice is derived from both clinical experience and personal research as an advocate of preventative wellness.
Give me back my old back.
From personal experience, I can say my most nagging pain during pregnancy with was intense mid-back pain. I had no history of back pain. And as soon as I delivered my daughter, it passed. The worst pain was on my commute to work in the driver’s seat of my tiny car. Lucky for me, I had seat warmers to bring much-needed blood flow to my throbbing spine. Apparently, I wasn’t alone as 50-90% of women suffer from some sort of back pain during their pregnancy. Many other women suffer from joint related pain, such as SI joint pain, knee pain and ITB syndrome.
Understanding the cause of pain alone can be enough motivation to seek self-treatment or make small modifications to your day. Picture this: as you progress through pregnancy your body releases hormones that will eventually aid in delivering the baby, but currently cause laxity and sometimes instability to your joints. You’re gaining weight at a rapid pace in a not so convenient place causing a bio-mechanical disadvantage to your frame. You’re probably stressed out from the thought of bringing a small human into the world. And most likely not sleeping as much as you like, especially if you have other kiddos. This is a recipe for ailments that have two things in common: pain and inflammation.
While I can’t give a comprehensive list of treatments for each and every physical ailment, I can say many issues can be resolved conservatively. And possibly by the same strategies. I have put together a list of suggestions for both pregnant and postpartum moms that will hopefully reduce or resolve the most common aches and pains.
- Start with a good quality prenatal vitamin. When I say good quality, I recommend a non-GMO brand with a high absorption rate. Cheap vitamins can be filled with chemicals like formaldehyde and artificial dyes, so it’s worth the investment for a high quality brand. I would, also, highly recommend a quality omega-3, not just for the developing fetus, but because omega 3’s have been linked to reduced inflammation, autoimmune disease and risk of postpartum depression.
- Engage in physical activity. Exercise may look different during pregnancy or even as a new mom. While you may not have energy or time to get in your 3-4 days of 60 minute exercise, you can get creative. Think of activity as anything that raises your heart rate, challenges your muscles or brings your muscles into a lengthened position. My favorite activities for expecting moms include prenatal yoga, aquatics, walking, and chasing around other kids (yes, this counts!). Most musculoskeletal issues stem from muscle imbalances, lack of strength, a
nd joint laxity. Physical activity can drastically improve conditions such as back pain, sciatica, and leg cramps. If not just for the physical piece, do it for the psychological benefits.
- Get your mind right. This is a practice I have developed since having my daughter, but wish I understood when I was pregnant. Activities, such as meditation, massage and yoga, have been proven to reduce stress which increases your threshold for pain and facilitates a more positive mood. Stress is highly toxic to pregnant women thanks to the release of cortisol and adrenaline. If you can’t find time for a regular meditative routine, take a warm bath at night with some candles and classical music.
- Find a comfortable position. Whether you’re trying to find a comfortable sleeping position or unwind at the end of your work day, finding comfort is very important. If it’s sleep, invest in that fancy body pillow that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t need. If your back hurts, trying building up two stacks of pillows about a foot apart. Lay face down on the pillows with your hips on one stack and your chest on the other. If your neck hurts, make a DIY heating pack by taking a large sock and filling it with rice. You can enhance relaxation by adding a few drops of lavender essential oils!
If your painful ailment is unrelenting, consider asking your doctor for a referral to Physical Therapy. While they can’t treat every annoying pregnancy issue, it may reduce your pain if it’s related to a musculoskeletal issue.