Many pregnancies and deliveries are considered fairly “typical” - relatively easy and the outcomes successful. However, no matter how well things go, pregnancy and delivery can be traumatic for mom. In the best of circumstances, your insides get compressed and rearranged for nine months. Your posture and body alignment changes as you make room for your baby and carry more weight. Delivery can place a great deal of strain on the body as well. All this change can stress muscles, joints, and ligaments resulting in pain and other issues.
Oftentimes, we moms sideline our own discomfort or pain and instead focus on the health of our babies. It’s important to remember that sure, growing a little human is hard work and may at times be uncomfortable, but we shouldn’t dismiss what our bodies are telling us.
Whether you are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, or several years done with having children, myofascial release can be a life changing gift to yourself. What exactly is myofascial release? It’s a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue - the membranes that wrap, connect, and support your muscles. While carrying and delivering your baby can be a magical time, it can also be extremely difficult and painful. Done by a professional, myofascial release can help eliminate pain and restore motion both during and after pregnancy.
Based on some statistics, you aren’t alone in any discomfort or pain you may be feeling and should certainly discuss it with a health care provider. Many of these health issues listed below can be addressed by a provider trained in myofascial release.
Problems and symptoms myofascial release may help during pregnancy…
- Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) and tailbone pain - 45% of women experience PGP, in 25% of these women it is severe and for an estimated 7% to 8%, it results in disability.
- Swelling secondary to increases in blood volume
- Foot and back pain due to hormonal changes
- Low back pain - Studies have shown that 40% to 60% of women will experience back pain during pregnancy and as many as 25% experience temporarily disabling pain.
- Neck pain and headaches due to changes in posture
- Tightness and pain in the legs due to the flattening of feet
- Arm pain or tingling caused by nerve compression associated with an increased chest diameter
- Urine leakage due to strained pelvic muscles
The good news is that myofascial release is an ideal modality to treat pregnancy-related symptoms with gentle manual, hands-on techniques and individualized home exercise programs. Pelvic floor physical therapy during pregnancy can work to treat certain pregnancy pain or discomfort as well as optimize delivery. The pelvic floor and core stabilizing muscles are intimately involved in the childbirth process and function at their maximum potential when they are lengthened, strengthened, and free of myofascial trigger points. A physical therapist can provide manual therapy and exercise resulting in improved function for a successful vaginal delivery. A physical therapist can also help with massage around the perineal area and previous episiotomy scars to help prevent tearing and other postpartum risks.
Problems and symptoms myofascial release may help after delivery…
- Urinary difficulties - 35% of new moms experience stress urinary incontinence in the postpartum period. Many women may leak urine when they sneeze, cough, or run. Some women feel a frequent or sudden urge to urinate, even when their bladder isn’t full. Others are unable to start the flow of urine at will or empty their bladder completely when urinating.
- Anal incontinence - Many postpartum women have difficulty controlling gas or bowel movements.
- Perianal pain - This is especially common for women who tore during childbirth or are recovering from an episiotomy. Tight pelvic floor muscles cause some to experience persistent perineal pain, even after their wound heals. (The perineum is the area of skin between the vagina and the anus.)
- Diastasis rectus abdominis - This affects more than 50% of women. It is the separation of the abdominal muscles from their central tendon and is a leading cause of low back pain, stress urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse.
- Pelvic pain - Some women have pain during sex for many months or even years after childbirth. And some have chronic vulvar pain, burning or itching. Others have pain during bowel movements. These symptoms are often caused by tight pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to inflamed tissue and nerves.
- Pelvic organ prolapse - When pregnancy and childbirth weaken the pelvic floor muscles the uterus, bladder, and/or bowel can slip out of place. Rehabilitating these muscles can help prevent or improve this condition.
- C-section scars - Scar tissue can grow like vines if left untreated. It is critical to release and resolve this restriction to prevent further impact on pelvic structures, most commonly leading to back pain and incontinence.
- Breast health and nursing issues - Myofascial release is very effective when mastitis or duct issues arise.
Even after what is considered a normal pregnancy and delivery, 20% of first-time moms show severe pelvic floor muscle injury and 25% of women with pregnancy-related PGP during pregnancy remain in pain after delivery. With that many mothers affected, it’s beneficial for all new moms to have their pelvic floors evaluated by a physical therapist after they’ve been cleared to resume sex and exercise. This early intervention can help address any concerns, and ultimately enable new moms to return to functional and active lives while possibly preventing future pelvic floor problems.
Postpartum care can be lacking at times. If things with your body aren’t quite what they used to be, don’t settle for thinking it is normal. It can be scary to ask the necessary questions, but very worth it in the end. Here is a checklist to help women know when additional help may save them time, stress, and pain by getting the right care.
Are you worried about or think you have:
- Diastasis rectus abdominis
- Painful sex
- Urinary leaking or incontinence
- Back pain (especially with prolonged standing)
- Increased pressure vaginally with standing or bowel movements
- Feeling any bulges with wiping or squatting
- Issues with knowing how to resume exercise safely
- Scar tissue from C-section or episiotomy or other pelvic surgeries
- Weakness in your legs even without much activity
It’s empowering for women to realize that they can get their health, fitness, and bodies back after pregnancy and childbirth and be clear from any of the birth trauma they may have endured. There is support and information out there to make it all easier!
Supporting data for this blog was provided by Amy Vander Linden, founder of Moment of Truth Physical Therapy. She has been a physical therapist for more than 19 years and specializes in John F. Barnes Myofascial Release. Amy has found this to be the most effective way of eliminating painful restrictions and restoring mobility. Her passion is to help women thrive throughout pregnancy and afterwards, whether they had a baby 6 weeks ago or 16 years ago (postpartum is forever). She assists them towards wholeness by empowering them to know their bodies, understanding healing processes and offering therapeutic touch, gaining confidence in their ability to do the things they love and providing education so they and baby can have an optimal start!