Each year in the United States there are 6 million reported pregnancies and over 4 million reported births. Researchers state that on average 70% of women report pain associated with pregnancy and 33% report persistent pain lasting more than one year post-delivery. The most common issues reported are lower back pain or pelvic pain, but pain in the abdominals (diastasis recti), neck, knees, feet and ankles was also reported.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends pregnant women exercise 3-4x/week for at least 15 minutes with a heart rate of approximately 140 beats per minute. Less than 25% of women reported meeting these recommendations due primarily to time constraints or existing pain. Physical therapy is a safe, non-pharmaceutical treatment option to manage pain during pregnancy that has additional benefits including improved posture, decreased incontinence, improved sleep and faster recovery following delivery.
Physical therapy during and after pregnancy focuses on pelvic stabilization and muscle strengthening. The pelvis is made up of two ileums (hip bones) and a sacrum (tailbone). These dense bones have large areas for muscles and ligaments to attach. During pregnancy, the ligaments often become lax due to hormones released and other stressors including fetal positioning and weight gain. Without ligament support, the bones can move causing pain and instability affecting one’s balance, walking, sleeping comfort and ability to lift. Physical therapy promotes muscle support that helps prevent too much movement of these bones and joints. When exercise and positioning do not eliminate the discomfort, a physical therapist can fit you for a supportive belt to help manage the pain.
Lastly, following delivery many OB-GYN medical groups now embrace the “4th Trimester” which is the 12 weeks following birth. During this time, women are recommended to have a visit with a physical therapist to re-establish the pelvic floor and promote strengthening to prevent incontinence, ongoing pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction and a safe return to exercise.
The best news is that physical therapy is very effective, covered by most insurances and does not require a doctor’s prescription. If you are pregnant, thinking about trying for a family or recently had a baby, please give us a call at 651-330-2286 to see how we can be helpful.
-Beth Adams, DPT