17 May Osteopathy and Pregnancy
The female body undergoes numerous postural, hormonal, emotional, functional changes during pregnancy.
Osteopathy recognises that the body’s structure and function rely intimately on each other. As such, treatment is focused on maintaining balance throughout the body, as well as maintaining freedom of joints, ligaments and muscles to enable the body to perform to its usual capacity as far as possible.
Osteopathic care during pregnancy can work to reduce pain and improve postural alignment, as well as cultivate feelings of calm, wellbeing, relaxation, and emotional and physical nurturing, which may have significant physiological effects on both mother and baby.
Some common conditions experienced during pregnancy, arising from both mechanical and/or hormonal factors, are explained briefly below:
Ribs and Upper Back Strain
To accommodate the growing foetus, the mother’s abdominal contents are pushed upwards and outwards. This can push directly against the ribs and also places stress on the diaphragm muscle. The diaphragm, a large dome-shaped muscle which attaches to the lumbar spine (lower back) and lower ribs, is the major muscle responsible for breathing. This stress can lead to rib or back pain and/or shortness of breath, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. Osteopathic treatment aims to increase the range of motion of the rib and back and release the diaphragm and intercostal muscles.
Postural changes occur as the baby grows, causing the woman’s centre of gravity to move forward which may demand more of the muscles to adequately control posture, gait and/or other functional movements.
The body also releases a hormone, Relaxin, which causes the ligaments in the body to become more flexible and lax in preparation for childbirth.
Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) is pain of the joints, ligaments or muscles which constitute the pelvic girdle. The pelvis is the connection between the legs and torso, allowing for gross movement as well as stability. Pain can occur at the back through the sacroiliac joints, at the front through the symphysis pubis, and in the coccyx, lower back, groin, or hip regions. Both the mechanical and hormonal changes affecting the pelvis can lead to excessive stress and pain is typically indicative that the body is not adequately coping with the changes.
It is important that the pelvis is balanced and free of restrictions to support the change in mechanical and hormonal stress it has to undergo.
An osteopath can identify and correct restrictions and imbalances through the pelvis and associated areas as a more mobile and pain-free body will be more comfortable and perform better during the birth.
Postpartum PGP can also occur due to pre-existing restrictions through the pelvic region, ongoing release of Relaxin during breastfeeding, as well as the pressure and strain put on the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles during childbirth.
Lower Back Pain
As the pregnancy progresses, the production of Relaxin increases to facilitate the joint laxity necessary to allow the pelvis to accommodate your enlarging uterus. Joint laxity is typically more pronounced in women who have had more than one baby (mulitiparous). This weakens the supporting ligaments of the lower back and may result in back pain coming from the discs & facet joints. Lower back pain during pregnancy is common, especially in women with a history of pain prior to pregnancy, but can be treated safely, effectively and usually quite quickly with osteopathic manipulative treatment.
The body typically retains more fluid during pregnancy. This happens at a cellular level and can manifest in different ways. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition in which fluid collects around the wrist, putting pressure on the median nerve which runs down to the hand. Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the thumb and three middle fingers, visible swelling, and potentially weakness of the hand. This is usually resolved a few months after giving birth when body’s fluid levels readjust. Osteopathic treatment aims to promote blood flow and fluid drainage of the wrist and arm and will also assess the neck and shoulder girdle to address any other causative factors.
As mentioned above, increased fluid retention can contribute to the swelling of the feet and ankles during pregnancy. Additionally, the growing uterus puts pressure on the abdomen and the large veins of the body which can alter the return of blood to your heart. An osteopath may treat the pelvis, lower back and lower limbs for any restrictions to encourage blood flow and fluid drainage.
While being pregnant is a special time in a woman’s life, it is also a time in which she may feel stressed, exhausted and/or uncomfortable. In understanding the postural and hormonal changes that your body will undergo; we can help you to maintain a strong and healthy body throughout your pregnancy as well as after the birth of your beautiful bundle.