By Megan Thole
There’s no doubt that your body goes through immense changes during pregnancy and has to recover from them afterwards. The physical demand placed on your body is substantial and it is therefore subjected to a high risk of muscular discomfort and injury.
In your third trimester your body is preparing itself for labour, his means that it is ‘loosening’ the various joints, in particular in your pelvis, so that your baby can be delivered. During this time your body releases a hormone called relaxin which loosens your ligaments to allow for this process to happen. Although this is essential for the delivery process, it places a lot of vulnerability on your joints, which can be strained easily.
Over and above this, because of the increasing size of your tummy, your centre of gravity is shifting forward. Your posture will also be changing, in particular your lordotic curve (arch in your lower back). These factors place a lot of stress and strain on your pelvis and lower back. This change together with the ligament laxity in your joints, makes strengthening a vital component of maintaining a healthy physical well being.
I see a large number of pregnant ladies in my practice who are experiencing pelvic and lower back pain, as well as ladies who had this problem during their pregnancy in the past but it is still posing problems for them now, or it has resulted in other muscular discomfort due to compensation.
From experience, a combination of core strength and hip stability is very important in assisting with back & pelvic discomfort as well as preventing it during and after pregnancy.
What is the core?
The core is our ‘muscular corset’…it is made up of a group of muscles that wrap around our trunk (front and back) and forms a major stabilizing role for our whole body. I believe that incorporating hip stability into core strengthening is crucial in order to optimize lower back and pelvic ‘wellness’.
How do you strengthen the core & hips?
Whether you are currently pregnant, just had a baby or had a baby quite a while back, the basics are always essential and very beneficial.
Transverse abdominus (TA) activation –
Lie on your back. Gently pull your tummy in by pulling your belly button towards your spine. Place your fingers just medial to your hip bones to get an idea of which muscles you are looking for. Imagine there is a string between your fingers on the left side and right side…imagine pulling the string down towards the floor by tightening those muscles. Hold for a few seconds and then release, repeat 10-20 times, perform 2-3 sets. Don’t force the muscular contraction; this is a 60% effort. Your shoulders should remain on the floor and so should your hips.
Activate your core then gently push your lower back into the floor. Squeeze your buttocks and roll your hips off the floor in a nice smooth motion. Return to the floor. Repeat 10-20 times, perform 2-3 sets.
This works wonders when your back is feeling tired and tight, it should loosen up as you progress through the sets.
Perform a hip roll but continue lifting until your body is off the floor, with only your shoulders on the floor. Place emphasis on maintaining your core activation and buttocks contraction. Be careful not to arch your back. Repeat 10-20 times, perform 2-3 sets.
On your hands and knees…place your hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips, so that you don’t place any stress on your joints. Activate your core slightly. Extend your left arm and right leg out, think about lengthening through your spine all the way from your finger tip to your toe, this should be a smooth controlled movement and no stress should be felt in your back. Maintain a nice flat back without twisting i.e. If you placed a tray of drinks on your back, no drink should spill. Hold this for a few seconds and return to start position. Repeat with your right arm and left leg. If you feel back discomfort, touch your toe to the floor instead of lifting your leg into the air. Perform 10 repetitions and 2-3 sets.
On your hands and knees…place your hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips, so that you don’t place any stress on your joints. Activate your core and lift your knees a centimetre off the floor, hold for 5-10 seconds, repeat 5-10 times.
Ball Squeezes (Inner Thighs)
Lying on your back or sitting. Place a small, soft ball or pillow between your knees. Gently squeeze the ball until you feel your inner thigh muscles working, release and repeat 10-20 times, perform 3 sets.
Clam (Outer Thighs)
Lie on your side with your knees bent. Keeping your feet in contact, open your top knee by lifting it towards the ceiling, until you feel that buttocks muscle working, return to starting position and repeat 10-20 times, perform 2-3 sets on each side.
Increase your repetitions and sets as you become familiar with the exercises. If any of these exercises cause discomfort, leave it out or consult your closest Biokineticist for advice. Enjoy!