Des Moines University Clinic, Physical Therapy and Pregnancy

Physical therapy and pregnancy: As one little body grows, yours doesn’t need to fall apart

As I get further into my twenties, it has been such a treat to be surrounded by more pregnant women than ever before. Having never been pregnant myself, I always have many questions about what it is like to carry a tiny human inside your belly. But the little new life is often not the only thing that seems to be upsetting a mother’s regular routine.

As every mother knows, new aches and pains come with a level of irritation that may leave them feeling uncomfortable. Through the adjustment of a pregnancy and in the post-partum months, physical therapy can be of a huge benefit to every mother. Physical therapy is often not the first route of healthcare that is pursued during the pregnancy journey. But the addition of physical therapy can ease the pains of carrying a large load in front of your body. I hope to provide insight into the many ways that physical therapy can assist women during their pregnancy journey.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapists are movement experts that look at the body holistically. They aim to heal the body through exercise, manual therapy, and movement analysis. Physical therapists can teach mothers to move their bodies in beneficial and pain-relieving ways in order to prevent or relieve discomfort.

How can physical therapy help me during pregnancy?

Physical therapists understand the physical changes that occur in the body and how they are  driven by the hormonal changes that are occurring simultaneously. A physical therapist can provide education on what to expect, if your experiences are typical, and ideas of what can be done if anything atypical is found.

Therapists can provide education and personalized exercise recommendations for the athlete and non-athlete. Exercise can help regulate weight gain, uplift the mother’s spirits, and even benefit the baby’s development.

Therapists can assist with upper and lower back pain, sciatica, pelvic girdle pain and hip pain caused by a new center of gravity and changes in body mass. They can assist with swelling control, and urinary incontinence. A physical therapist can assist in finding new ways to move and hold the body in order to assist with lifting, sleep positions, sitting and walking. Therapists can assist with finding positions for labor and delivery that best suit the individual woman. A recent systematic review of physical therapy interventions and pregnancy concluded that “exercise and education have positive outcomes for women by decreasing lumbopelvic (lower back and pelvic) pain during pregnancy.”

How can physical therapy help me recover from pregnancy?

Physical therapists can examine movement and muscle strength to provide treatment that is specific to the mother’s body to best engage it for healing. Physical therapy can help strengthen and re-align the body while the mother is adjusting to the hormonal and physical changes, alongside the physical and emotional demands of a new baby. Therapy can help a mother strengthen and coordinate movement in her many new functional activities, all that involve a precious but constant load—like bottle or breast feeding, lifting, standing up and down, and using a car seat. Physical therapists can educate the patient on body mechanics that will be the easiest on the body to minimize pain but allow the body to heal correctly.

After a vaginal delivery, the pelvic floor—the muscles that the baby travels through—are stretched and may be torn. Weakness in this area is common. Additionally, women may lack abdominal control; abdominal muscles and fascia are stretched as the baby grows. Subsequently, urinary incontinence, back, pelvis or hip pain or abdominal wall separation (diastasis recti) may result. Issues that extend past six weeks post-partum should be addressed. Discuss them with your obstetrician and ask if a physical therapy referral is appropriate; after initial healing, incontinence, back and pelvic pain are not normal post-partum responses.

Post-caesarian section, abdominal muscle weakness occurs. After initial tissue healing, a physical therapist can assist with strengthening the abdominal muscles and give activation strategies during lifting and carrying the baby in order to prevent low back, pelvic or hip pain.

A physical therapist can provide treatment to heal and prevent prolonged detrimental side effects after giving birth. They are equipped to come alongside you at every step of the way to create the best experience for you and your body. The role of physical therapy and post-partum care is not well known, but can entirely and positively change the entire life of a woman. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a physical therapist in your community to discuss what they can provide for you during your pregnancy journey.

If you are pregnant, healing after birth or struggling with postpartum pain or incontinence, the Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic can help. Visit our website or call 515-271-1717 to schedule your appointment today.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Rebekah Trost

Rebekah Trost is a student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Des Moines University. She enjoys spending time outdoors doing anything active, trying out healthy recipes, spending time with her family and her incredible classmates.

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