Updated: Apr 22, 2021
So many changes occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy and in the postnatal period. Do you know that a Woman’s Health Physical Therapist, or Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, can explain how to best understand and support your changing body?
Some Common Pregnancy and Postnatal Discomforts that PT’s address:
-pain- in the lower or upper back, pelvis, hips, neck
-leaking urine with a cough/laugh/sneeze/lift, urinary frequency
-core weakness, or diastasis recti
-swelling of legs
-difficulty taking a deep breath
-carpal tunnel (tingling and pain in the hands and fingers)
-prolapse, or feeling of heaviness or something falling out of the vagina
How Your Body Changes During Pregnancy and Postpartum
Early in pregnancy, the body begins to release hormones that prepare the pelvis to open for the passage of a baby, but circulate throughout the entire body. At the same time, an expanding belly often starts to effect a woman’s alignment, and this shifting center of gravity can cause subtle changes in alignment and muscle holding patterns throughout the entire body, from the head to the toes.
A Woman’s Health PT can help a woman prepare for a normal vaginal delivery. As the baby needs to pass through the pelvic outlet or “birth door,” the muscles of the pelvic floor need to be able to stretch and expand. Manual work before labor to the joints and muscles of the pelvis can be beneficial to prepare the body for this process, helping make labor more efficient and decrease risk of injury or tearing.
The Postnatal Period
While it took 9 long months to grow a new person, once that baby has made it’s way to the world, it is yet another big change for the new mother. This is a vulnerable time when the care of a PT is instrumental. After the birth, the body, and pelvis in particular, requires rest, and also gentle and appropriate stabilization. How a woman feels during this time is quite variable. Even for women who are feeling quite well, muscles have been stretched to their greatest capacity and need to be gently rehabilitated.
Return to Exercise
Most women eagerly anticipate being cleared to exercise around 6 weeks postpartum. Aside from that clearance, most are not given any clear guidelines about how to return to exercise. Here is where the role of a Woman’s Health PT is of paramount importance. On a foundational level, a woman needs to be able to reconnect with the muscles of the pelvic floor, as this is literally the base of the core, and the muscles where energy is transferred from the upper to the lower body during exercise. Any scar tissue in either the abdomen or perineum (where woman often tear) can be also be released with manual work, ensuring proper functioning for exercise, sex, bowel and bladder control.
What is a Woman’s Health Physical Therapist?
A Physical Therapist, or Physiotherapist (depending on where you are located) holds a Masters or Clinical Doctorate degree, and is an expert in the musculoskeletal system. A Physical Therapist, (PT), who practices Women’s Health or Pelvic Health, has additional training in the pelvis, and all of the organs and muscles that live there. These therapists are well versed in how a uterus that grows 500 times its size over the course of 9 months will have effects on musculoskeletal health, balance, strength, and overall body functioning. The expert will often have solutions on how to treat many of the aches and pains that women assume are a normal part of pregnancy.
How you can be helped
It is always good to know what you can expect when working with a Woman’s Health Physical Therapist. A session will start with an evaluation, when the therapist obtains a thorough history of a clients’ pain, medical history, and goals for treatment. The therapist then determines a plan of care after evaluating a woman’s alignment, muscle strength, joint flexibility, and holding patterns in the body. A woman’s health PT may also access the muscles of the pelvic floor internally if this is appropriate.
What is most important to know is that many of the pains and discomforts that women report during this period are common, but not normal. Physical Therapy is conservative, non-invasive, often highly effective, and considered the gold standard of care for women in the pre and postnatal periods.