Relief from the “Back Pain” of Motherhood
Motherhood and back or neck pain seem to go hand in hand. Ever wonder why? Well, there are structural and hormonal influences contributing to the infamous back pain, and there are also remedies for them.
How it begins: During pregnancy, the expanding uterus elongated and essentially rendered the abdominal (stomach) muscles useless. The abdominal muscles play an essential role in stabilizing the trunk or core. When this trunk support is lessened other body parts then try to compensate and are used improperly or overused.
Back muscles and ligaments, for example, too often pay the price for these weakened stomach muscles.
Particularly following a pregnancy, special attention needs to be paid to re-educating and strengthening the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. Without this attention, the overstretched muscles only partially function, and a cascade of misalignment, overuse injuries, and musculoskeletal problems progress over the years.
However, there is good news.
It is never too late! Whether you do it for vanity purposes – the flat or at least flatter belly, or you do it for your health and to be pain-free, just do it. This is not a Nike ad, however, nor is it about being an athlete. It is about protecting your spine, becoming pain-free, and allowing mothers to be fully available and capable of caring for their little ones.
In addition to re-training the stomach and pelvic muscles, women (particularly new mothers) can remedy back pain through proper body mechanics and posture. Even up to six months after pregnancy the body is still producing the hormone, Relaxin. This hormone is responsible for creating ligament laxity (soft ligaments) and therefore further reduces core stability. This is particularly felt along with the sacral ligaments of the low back. In order to protect the spine against this decreased support, it is crucial to lift properly and maintain good posture throughout all activities of daily living.
1) Keep the back as straight as possible when lifting. Bend at the knees and use the legs as the source of power for the action.
2) Hold all objects against the body or as close as possible keeping the arms to your side.
3) Avoid twisting, particularly bending and twisting together.
4) Push rather than pull.
5) Tighten the stomach when lifting or carrying.
6) Take small frequent breaks and find time to rest! Take care of yourself.
Pelvic tilts, Kegel exercises, and walking are three basic ways to restore and maintain a healthy spine. Do not underestimate the healing power of a little exercise.
Most mothers find it difficult to find time for themselves. However, everyone can do these basic three things.
1) A pelvic tilt can be done when you are lying on your back with your knees bent. You then flatten your low back into the bed or floor by using your stomach muscles and assisting by pushing evenly down with both feet. Hold this for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
2) A basic kegel exercise can be done while going to the bathroom. Simply practice stopping the flow of urination a few times during the stream. This contracts and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles.
3) Take a short walk while maintaining a proper upright posture. Imagine yourself lengthening upward like an elevator ascending one floor as you walk. Try to walk with the foot rolling from heel strike to ball to toe-off. Practice: heel, ball, a toe with each foot. Start with 10 minutes if you can and add just one minute a day.
You may also choose to visit a qualified physical therapist for proper training in body mechanics. At Integrative Physical Therapy, we specialize in women’s spinal health by providing therapeutic massage, combined with individualized training and home exercise programs.
Kimberly DelVecchio, Licensed Physical Therapist, is the director of Integrative Physical Therapy in Clifton Park, a comprehensive physical therapy clinic specializing in women’s health issues.