Pregnant women experience countless physiological changes in their bodies. From hormonal changes to low back pain, it is no wonder many women in the prenatal period seek care for management of musculoskeletal conditions. As pregnancy progresses women experience weight gain as well as changes in their center of gravity. These changes along with hormonal shifts during pregnancy affect many of the joints and soft tissues in the body.
Changes in the feet are common during pregnancy. Many women find their feet grow a half of a size during pregnancy. Chanages in the feet are secondary to increased levels of the hormone Relaxin which contributes to loosening of the ligaments during pregnancy. The effects of Relaxin, along with increased weight gain, can cause the bones in the feet spread which can contribute to foot pain and changes in foot size or structure. The best way to combat foot pain during pregnancy include wearing supportive footwear in the correct size, using a supportive foot-bed or insert, wearing compression socks and altering your activity to spend less time on your feet if possible.
The American Pregnancy Association cites that 50-70% of pregnant women experience back pain either during or after their pregnancy. Whether it is neck, upper or low back pain, these aches can make day-to-day life difficulty for moms to be. As the fetus grows, the mom’s center of gravity shifts forward, increasing the load lumbar and thoracic spine. Additionally, as the uterus expands the abdominal muscles weaken which can also contribute to low back pain. Treatment for back pain during pregnancy can include manual therapy, exercises, as well as postural or activity modification and should always be performed by a qualified healthcare provider. A 2014 study showed what physical therapy exercises reduced low back pain and improved function in pregnant women.
Diastasis rectus is a condition about a third or new mom’s experience during pregnancy and into the postpartum period. Diastasis rectus occurs when the connective tissue supporting the abdominals separates vertically during pregnancy due to stress placed on these muscles from the enlarged uterus. Unfortunately, certain activities or exercises during pregnancy, such as crunches or sit-ups can increase a women’s risk of developing a diastasis. When a woman has a diastasis, her abdominals can’t function optimally which can lead to low back and pelvic pain. Fortunately this condition can also be treated by a skilled physical therapist. Treatment involves exercises to strengthening the abdominals and pelvic floor as well as education on exercises and activities to avoid until the diastasis is treated.
There are numerous other musculoskeletal conditions that are common in pregnancy, most of which can be addressed by a visit to a qualified physical therapist or chiropractor. Additionally, exercise during pregnancy has many benefits including management of aches and pains, but should always be approved by your healthcare provider.
Amber Davenport, DPT, Aspen Club Sports Medicine Clinic, earned her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Her specialty treatment areas are orthopedics, sports medicine, and women’s health physical therapy. Learn more about Ms. Davenport here.