Pregnancy is a time of wellness accompanied with tremendous musculoskeletal, physiological and emotional change. Many women experience these changes with pain and discomfort, which can actually be prevented. There are specific muscle groups that can be trained to help you adapt and better prepare your body for pregnancy. The idea is to combat the strain that is put on the areas of the body that are carrying the weight of the growing baby by improving muscular support and strength. These areas include the lower back and sacroiliac joints.
How Does Your Body Change During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy there are many different changes that occur within you body, but for the sake of this blog, let’s focus on the changes related to the musculoskeletal system.
Most important of all the connective tissue changes occur primarily with the release of hormones, relaxin and progesterone. These hormones cause tendons and ligaments throughout your body to become more elastic, allowing for a greater stretch to occur across joints, and in turn causing for overall joint hypermobility. This “stretch” is a good thing because it allows your body to accommodate the growing baby, and also helps facilitate the baby coming out during delivery. However, with this increased elasticity comes your body’s need to rely more on muscular support and stability within the pelvis to combat joint hypermobility.
Also, core muscular changes occur primarily due to the stretching of muscles, specifically within your abdomen and pelvic floor. This stretching increases as the baby grows, which in turn, decreases your ability to elicit a strong muscle contraction due to the muscle tension relationship. However, if these areas are trained and/or strengthened prior to or during pregnancy, they can help combat this stretch for decreased episodes of lower back pain and stress incontinence.
In this article, we are specifically looking to help decrease the occurrence and severity of the common issues of pregnancy:
• Lower back pain
• Sacroiliac/pelvic pain
• Hip pain
• Urinary stress incontinence
Building Body Core Strength
Avoiding strain on your body during pregnancy involves strengthening the muscles around your core and pelvis area. If you go into pregnancy with strong core and hip stability, you’re going to be able to help combat these issues allowing for an easier time carrying the baby and for a faster recovery post-baby.
• Lay on side with hips in a stacked position towards the ceiling
• Knees at a 90-degree angle and hips in line with knees
• Keeping ankles together, raise top knee towards the ceiling
• At the same time, lift at the hip and keep hips forward
• You can place your hand behind your hip to keep your hips from rolling backwards
• Return to start
• To increase resistance you can add a cuff weight around the lateral thigh or apply an elastic band slightly above both knees
• Perform 30 repetitions once a day
This is important with pregnancy to help strengthen the muscle surrounding the sacroiliac joint by helping to prevent sacroiliac issues with enhanced glute and hip external rotator stability.
• Lay on back with knees bent
• Pull up and in with the vaginal opening as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine
• Make sure to not squeeze your bottom and to not tighten your muscles in a way that will change the neutral position of the spine
• Perform 30 repetitions with a 2 second hold 2 times a day
This is what I call a secret exercise because when performed correctly the outside observer will see no movement. This exercise is important to help counterbalance the stretching of the pelvic floor that occurs with pregnancy which can help to decrease incontinence issues during and post-baby.
Quadruped Multifidi Activation:
• Start on your hands and knees (shoulders and hips at 90 degrees)
• Tighten your back and your stomach by pulling your belly button to your spine internally and holding
• Without shifting your pelvis and keeping the neutral position of the spine, pick one knee up slowly while also making sure to hold the opposite hip in the same position
• Then perform with the other knee as well
• Perform 20 repetitions on each side (pain free exercise)
When performed correctly, this exercise helps to strengthen your core in the back and abdomen region. It also helps to strengthen your hip external rotators causing for greater sacroiliac and hip stability.
Mobilizing Your Pregnancy Muscles
Knowing how your body is going to change is key to preventing physical discomfort and pain during pregnancy. Strengthening specific areas can lead to a smoother pregnancy, birth, and rehab post-baby by combatting any musculoskeletal imbalances.
Contact Whitney Braswell at Therapydia NOLA if you have any questions about prenatal care and strengthening. We can work with you to design a treatment program that’s unique to your body and your pregnancy.
By Whitney Braswell Fedor, PT, DPT, Specialized Woman’s Health Physical Therapist via Herman and Wallace Institute, Kineticore Dry Needling Level 1 and 2 certified practicing at Therapydia NOLA in Metairie. She can be reached at (504) 324-8345.