Pregnancy is an exciting and special time but it can also come with a lot of questions. Whilst Google gives us access to a wonderful world of information, it can lead to more questions and sometimes concerns. This article will discuss the effect of pregnancy on the mother in terms of pelvic pain and the pelvic floor and returning to running after pregnancy, backed up by evidence and research. It is important to remember that not any one pregnancy is exactly the same!
Pelvic Pain & Exercise during Pregnancy
Based on various studies, approximately 50% of women experience low back pain or pelvic girdle pain (pubic, buttock, tailbone, pelvic floor regions) during pregnancy and 25% continue to have this pain 12 months after delivery (Davenport MH, et. al., 2019).
A panel of experts looked at 32 studies, which included a total of 52,297 women without absolute or relative contraindications to exercise (Davenport MH, et. al., 2019). For the absolute and relative contraindications, please click here. From this, it was found that physical activity during pregnancy decreased the severity of low back, pelvic and lumbopelvic pain. (Davenport MH, et. al., 2019). This is both during the pregnancy and in the early postpartum period. The exercise components of these studies included yoga, aerobic exercise, general muscle strengthening and a combination of resistance and aerobic training (Davenport MH, et. al., 2019).
Another study by Owe et. Al (2016) looked at 39, 184 pregnant women who had not previously given birth. This study found that exercising up to five times weekly prior to pregnancy was protective against pelvic girdle pain and also those women who reported participating in high impact exercises prior to pregnancy had the lowest risk of pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. (Owe KM, et. al, 2016).
The most current guidelines state that an accumulation of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week is recommended in order to achieve the health benefits and reduce risks of pregnancy complications (Mottola MF, et al., 2018).
Pregnancy & the Pelvic Floor
In relation to the pelvic floor, the main recommendation part of the most current guidelines state that pelvic floor muscle training is associated with a reduction in prenatal and postnatal urinary incontinence (Mottola MF, et al., 2018). These exercises can be performed daily HOWEVER, it is crucial that women seek instruction from a trained health professional (such as a women’s health physiotherapist) to ensure proper technique in order to obtain the best outcomes/benefits from performing these exercises. This is especially the case for women who have never trained these muscles.
Returning to Running after Pregnancy
More recently (March 2019), three highly experienced physiotherapists – Tom Goom, Gráinne Donnelly & Emma Brockwell combined their areas of expertise to release a paper on returning to running postnatal and the guidelines for this population. The main findings that were included in the paper were that women in the post-natal period benefit from an individualised assessment and guided pelvic floor rehabilitation in order to prevent and manage pelvic organ prolapse (bladder, bowel or uterus descending into the vagina) (Hagen, S et al., 2014), manage urinary continence (Bø, 2003) (Dumoulin, C et al., 2018) (Price, N et al., 2010) and improve sexual function.
Based on expert opinion only, the following suggestions were made:
• Return to running is NOT recommended at all prior to 3 months post-natal OR beyond this time point if any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are identified before or after attempting return to running
• Pelvic health, load impact management and strength testing should be assessed in order to establish if a patient is ready to return to running in the post-natal period
• Additional factors that should be considered in the postnatal evaluation are weight, fitness, breathing, psychological wellbeing/status, abdominal separation, breast support and feeding, running with a buggy and relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S)
How we can help you at Physiotec:
It is imperative to see your physiotherapist before commencing physical activity, especially if planning a pregnancy, already pregnant or in the post-natal period.
Here at Physiotec, your women’s health physiotherapist can:
1. assess your pelvic floor muscles to ensure you are using them correctly
2. assess and address other areas of concern such as low back pain or pelvic pain
3. advise you on the safest exercises during pregnancy as well as into the post-natal period
4. perform a physical assessment to determine whether you are ready to return to running or other exercise after pregnancy
5. perform a running assessment to ensure that your technique places minimal loads on your pelvic floor and joints following pregnancy
You might also like to join one of our Pilates classes to stay strong or build strength and control before, during or after your pregnancy.
Bø, K. (2003). Is there still a place for physiotherapy in the treatment of female incontinence? EAU , 145-153.
Davenport MH, et. al. (2019). Exercise for the prevention and treatment of low back, pelvic girdle and lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53, 90-98.
Dumoulin, C., Cacciari, L. and Hay-Smith, EC. (2018). Pelvic floor muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence in women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(10).
Hagen, S., Stark, D., Glazener, C., Dickson, S., Barry, S., Elders, A., Frawley, H, Galea, MP, Logan, J., McDonald, A., McPherson G., Moore KH, Norrie, J., Walker, A., Wilson, D. (2014). Individualised pelvic floor muscle training in women with pelvic organ prolapse: a multicenter randomised controlled trial. 282(9919), 796-806.
Mottola MF, et al. (2018). 2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52, 1339-1346.
Owe KM, et. al. (2016). Exercise level before pregnancy and engaging in high-impact sports reduce the risk of pelvic girdle pain: a population-based cohort study of 39 184 women. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50, 817-822.
Price, N., Dawood, R. and Jackson SR. (2010). Pelvic floor exercise for urinary incontinence: A systematic literature review. Maturitas, 67(4), 309-315.