Every person who has experienced pregnancy has at some point stopped for a moment and thought, “Wait. My body is gonna have to do WHAT NOW?!” It’s a pretty incredible feat of biology to grow another human inside your own body and then bring it safely into the world. So, why is it that we have somehow convinced ourselves that our bodies have to “bounce back” to the way they were before this life-altering event?
Pregnancy changes our bodies. What’s surprising is how many frustrating issues can arise that we might never suspect are actually linked to the postpartum period. The good news is that all of these are treatable with a great physical therapist and getting the knowledge is already a big step in the right direction.
The physical therapists at Freedom Physical Therapy join us today to educate us on five common issues we can experience that often have strong ties to the changes our postpartum body goes through and how they can be remedied. Visit them at one of their four area locations in Fox Point, Grafton, Brookfield, and Mukwonago.
5 Common Issues that Might be Tied to Your Postpartum Recovery
Pregnancy can bring about great changes to a person’s structure and alignment. The body changes to accommodate the quickly growing fetus inside. These changes to our body often persist through the postpartum period. If these changes to our body’s structure are not addressed through exercise and bodywork, problems can begin years down the line. While some problems are commonly associated with postpartum, some problems that can arise you may be unaware of may be related to postpartum.
The most common problem postpartum is incontinence. Incontinence is the involuntary loss of bladder or bowel function. Around 20% of women encounter some form of incontinence immediately or years down the line after pregnancy and even 15% of women who have NOT given birth struggle with it. During pregnancy and delivery, the pelvic floor muscles can become overworked, overstretched, or injured in the birthing process. If the pelvic floor muscles are not rehabilitated with the proper exercises and stretches, urinary or fecal incontinence (leakage) can become a problem. The pelvic floor is a very important muscle that needs to be able to contract well to keep urine and feces in, as well as be able to relax and expand well to let urine and feces come out. If the muscle is weakened, overstretched, or damaged, incontinence (leakage) can happen.
2. Pelvic Pain
Another more common problem some experience postpartum is pelvic pain. According to some studies, pregnancy-related pelvic pain affects up to 65% of women. About 20% still struggle with pain 3 months after birth, and 10% of women continue to have symptoms 2 years postpartum. If the pelvic floor muscle contains scar tissue from a birthing injury or becomes too active because of postural changes that persist, pelvic pain can be a problem. Often pain in the pelvis is related to sitting, having a bowel movement, or having intercourse. These activities require the pelvic floor musculature to stretch, but with hypertonicity or scar tissue present, pain often presents. Chronic pain can lead to depression, anxiety, and fear-avoidance of activities that are painful. Sitting pain-free, having pain-free bowel movements and intercourse is important to our well-being.
3. Lower Back Pain
In addition to the pelvic floor, the other muscles of the core can become weak and ineffectively stabilize the spine. It is common, up to 50% of women, will experience low back pain related to core weakness that likely started around the childbearing years. After years of having a poorly functioning core, the back is overworked and or overstressed. Core rehabilitation (including the pelvic floor, deep abdominals, deep back musculature, and the muscles of breathing) after having a baby is imperative to keeping your spine moving well and stabilized. Although it is quick and easy to Google core exercises, it is important to work with a trained professional to make sure you engage the muscles of your core in the correct order. It isn’t worth your time to work them out if you aren’t getting them to contract properly.
4. Plantar Fasciitis
It is common during pregnancy to experience changes in how one carries the body as the baby grows. Often the pregnant person will shift their pelvis forward, shift the thorax backward, round the shoulders, and externally rotate the legs (toes out). If the muscles that become tight in this pregnant posture do not get stretched in the postpartum time, often plantar fasciitis will develop. With the toes pointing outward with standing and walking, increased stress goes through the arch of the foot. Over time the arch becomes irritated and plantar fasciitis can occur. It is also thought that collapsed arches, common with pregnancy and ligament laxity, can contribute to plantar fasciitis that is hard to get rid of postpartum. Working with a physical therapist can help establish good walking and standing habits that will help reduce the likelihood of developing foot pain (plantar fasciitis) down the line. Making sure the calf muscles, glute muscles and posture are addressed postpartum is important.
5. Headaches & Jaw Pain
Did you know your neck and jaw pain or headaches could be caused by your pregnancy and postpartum body positioning? With the shift of the thorax and rounding of the shoulders during pregnancy and in the early years postpartum, the head may move into a forward position. When the head moves forward there is increased tension in the back of the neck and muscles of the jaw due to gravity’s force on the body. When this happens, pain, headaches, TMD and neck pain can develop. Sometimes this takes months or years to develop due to the overwork of these muscles of the neck and head. Proper care should be taken postpartum to address postural changes, stretch the upper back and chest, and develop alignment awareness. There are great positioning pillows and other pregnancy and postpartum tools out there that can help with posture and positioning. Using them will help prevent poor postures and decrease your risk for neck and jaw pain or headaches.
These are just some of the hidden problems of postpartum that can cause problems in the future. Even if you don’t feel like your body needs attention right after giving birth, having a PT assessment with a pelvic floor specialist PT can help prevent possible problems years down the road. They can make sure you regain your flexibility, mobility, and strength to allow for pain-free and injury-free years ahead. CLICK HERE to book an appointment at Freedom Physical Therapy to start your journey to pain-free living.