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Osteopathy to aid pregnancy

Updated: Feb 23

Introduction

The female body has incredible potency for change. Its ability to adapt as it harbours life is truly remarkable. During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant changes for women, including hormonal changes and changes to posture and body biomechanics. These changes can lead to discomfort, pain, and a higher risk of injury. Osteopathic care can play a vital role in supporting the bio-mechanical changes during pregnancy and postnatal, providing safe and effective treatment to help support the body and provide some relief.


New mothers often don't prepare themselves for the physical demands of lifting and caring for a baby in the same way that people do when preparing for physical activity. This is partly due to a lack of awareness of the potential risks and partly due to the fact that caring for a baby is not seen as a strenuous physical activity.


When people engage in physical activity such as sports or exercise, they often take steps to prepare their bodies for the demands of the activity. This may involve warming up, stretching, and gradually increasing the intensity of the activity over time. They may also be aware of the potential risks of injury and take steps to prevent them, such as wearing protective gear or using proper form.

However, caring for a baby can be just as physically demanding as many sports or exercises. Lifting and carrying a baby can put significant strain on the muscles and joints, especially if the baby is large or if the mother has a pre-existing injury or weakness. In addition, the repetitive motions of feeding, changing, and holding a baby can lead to overuse injuries and chronic pain.

Despite these risks, new mothers often don't take the same steps to prepare themselves for the physical demands of caring for a baby. They may not be aware of the potential risks or may not view caring for a baby as a strenuous physical activity. Additionally, they are often focused on the needs of the baby and neglect their own self-care.


Bio-mechanical Changes During Pregnancy


During pregnancy, a woman's body undergoes a range of bio-mechanical changes. As the fetus grows and develops, the mother's body must adapt to support the increased weight and shifting centre of gravity. This can lead to changes in posture and gait, as well as increased pressure on the joints and muscles.

One of the most significant changes during pregnancy is the increased lordosis of the lumbar spine caused by the centre of gravity shifting forward as pregnancy progresses. This results in the hips tilting forward and the spine curving more. This increased curve in the lumbar spine can lead to increased pressure on the lower back (and nervous structures exiting these spinal segments), resulting in pain and discomfort.

Additionally, the hormone relaxin begins to circulate, preparing the body for childbirth by loosening the soft tissues. This, coupled with increased weight and pressure on the hips and pelvis, can cause the joints to become excessively mobile, leading to instability and pain. This can be especially problematic during activities requiring much standing or walking.


Another common musculoskeletal change during pregnancy is the weakening of the abdominal muscles. As the baby grows, the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the growing uterus.

This can lead to a loss of support for the spine and pelvis, contributing to lower back pain and postural changes.


The Importance of Osteopathic Care During Pregnancy


Osteopathic care can help support the bio-mechanical changes that occur during pregnancy. This is done through a range of techniques, including soft tissue manipulation, joint mobilisation, and muscle energy techniques, to help alleviate pain and discomfort and improve the function of the musculoskeletal system.


One of the most significant changes is the woman's gait as the body accommodates the growing baby. Many women report having a "waddling" or "shuffling" gait. Depending on the baby's size and the size of the bump, this altered gait can persist for many months. In turn, the body adapts to the new gait, switching off muscles that are no longer engaged, but would typically be used in normal gait, and the newly recruited muscles become stronger. Osteopathy can help address resultant tissue soreness from these bio-mechanical changes

during pregnancy and help restore functional movement patterns postnatal.


The pelvic floor is an important area of focus for osteopathic care during pregnancy. It comprises a group of muscles that support the pelvis and play an essential role in bowel and bladder function, sexual function, and childbirth. During pregnancy, the pelvic floor can weaken due to the increased pressure from the growing fetus. This can lead to issues such as incontinence and pelvic pain due to compromised musculoskeletal tensegrity of the pelvis. Osteopathic care can help strengthen the pelvic floor, reducing the risk of these issues and improving overall function.


Postnatal Osteopathic Care


Osteopathic care is also essential in the postnatal period. After giving birth, women may experience ongoing issues related to the bio-mechanical changes that occurred during pregnancy.

The pelvic floor muscles, in particular, may be stretched or injured during delivery, leading to ongoing issues with incontinence and pelvic pain. Additionally, the abdominal muscles may remain weakened for some time after giving birth, which can contribute to lower back pain and postural changes. It is also important to note that as long as the mother is producing milk, the hormone relaxin continues to circulate and continues to have a loosening effect on the soft tissues.


The joints are at particular risk for causing pain during this period, as the mother is required to lift and care for her newborn whilst having excessive joint mobility, weak muscles and dysfunctional movement patterns.


Osteopathic care can help address these musculoskeletal changes using soft tissue manipulation, joint mobilisation, and muscle energy techniques to help alleviate pain and discomfort, improve joint stability, and strengthen muscles. This can lead to better overall function and a quicker recovery after childbirth.


Conclusion


Bio-mechanical changes during pregnancy can lead to discomfort and pain and an increased risk of injury. Osteopathic care can be essential in supporting these changes, helping alleviate pain and discomfort, and improving overall function. Therefore, it is essential for women to seek out qualified and experienced osteopaths who are trained in providing prenatal and postnatal care to ensure the best possible outcomes for themselves and their babies.

It's important for new mothers to be aware of the potential risks of injury and take steps to prevent them. This may involve engaging in exercises to strengthen the muscles used in caring for a baby, such as the back, shoulders, and arms. It may also involve using proper lifting techniques and taking breaks to rest and stretch throughout the day. Additionally, seeking out professional care, such as osteopathic treatment, can help address any underlying musculoskeletal issues and prevent further injury or pain.


By taking steps to prepare themselves for the physical demands of caring for a baby, new mothers can reduce their risk of injury and pain and enjoy a more comfortable and fulfilling experience.


 

Jonathan Hall M.Ost, BAppSci (Human Biology), PGCertHSc (Acupuncture), GradDipHeal


Jonathan Hall is the founder and principal Osteopath at Movement Mechanics Osteopathy. Jonathan specialises in Shockwave Therapy and Western medical acupuncture. A fully qualified Osteopath registered with OCNZ, PNZ, PAANZ and ACC, Jonathan also founded Auckland Shockwave Therapy to help bring evidence-based Shockwave treatment to New Zealand using the industry-leading EMS Radial Shock Wave device.


Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.






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