How to Deal When Pregnancy Aches Slow You Down
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Some discomfort as you grow a human inside of you is normal, but you shouldn’t have to suffer. Here’s what’s happening — and how movement can help.
- Pregnancy isn’t the time to push yourself to your limit, but inactivity can make achiness worse.
- Strengthening your core and stretching your hips could ease tension in common problem areas.
- Always check in with your doc or a physical therapist if pain gets in the way of your daily life.
Read on to learn more…
*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.
For devoted athletes who expected to keep up their 10-milers through month nine of pregnancy — and, TBH, for pretty much anyone who’s pregnant — prenatal aches and pains can be a rude awakening. What gives, and how can you stay active despite all the physical issues trying to slow you down?
The first thing to know is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to movement in pregnancy (or, well, ever), because every day and every person is different. If your pain is interfering with your activities, sleep or work, check in with your ob-gyn, your midwife or a physical therapist. They can help you figure out what’s going on and how to manage your symptoms, says Laurel Proulx, DPT, PhD, a pelvic health physical therapist in Colorado Springs and the founder of FEM Physical Therapy.
But if you’re up against everyday aches related to your growing bump, you don’t have to stop working out as long as you pivot when something doesn’t feel good. In fact, the right kind of exercise might actually help you feel better and, hopefully, stay on top of your gym game. “Oftentimes folks can be fearful around movement because they’re afraid they will injure themselves, but inactivity can actually make things worse,” says Ann Nwabuebo, DPT, a pelvic health physical therapist in Philadelphia and the founder of Body Connect Physical Therapy.
Feeling uncomfortable, but not sure what your body needs? Here’s your guide.
What’s happening: As with many types of pregnancy pain, the pelvic kind — which you may feel in the pubic bone, tailbone, low back, or hips — is a result of several changes occurring in your body. Notice yourself walking with a wider stance? According to Proulx, your body compensates for your growing uterus by shifting your center of mass forward, which puts pressure on the pelvis in a new and different way.
Plus, your deep core and pelvic floor muscles have to work harder to support your expanding abdomen, says Proulx. All this, along with hormonal shifts that can affect your soft-tissue structure, can add up to “ow.”
How to deal: Strengthening muscles that support your pelvis, like the glutes and piriformis, is a great way to start taking some pressure off of it, says Proulx. Squats, bridges and lunges, for example, can make for some pretty solid glutes, she says. Lateral lunges strengthen your hip rotators, the muscles that help your leg rotate outward and your pelvic floor do its job.
What’s happening: According to Nwabuebo, pregnant people can experience pain in any area of their back. But low back and sacroiliac (often called SI) pain, which occurs where the lower part of your spine meets your pelvis, are two of the most common kinds of pain. Why? For one thing, she says, when the muscles around your torso and spine have to work harder to carry extra weight in your belly, they can get tired (same).
You can partially blame back pain on your change in posture too — shifting your center of mass forward can create more of an arch in your back, says Proulx. Some people tuck their tailbones to overcompensate, which creates less of an arch. Either posture, says Proulx, can change the amount of pressure on or support for the low back.
How to deal: According to Nwabuebo, one way to help ease back pain is by trying movements that stretch and gently strengthen the core muscles, like cat-cow, child’s pose or bird-dog. Also aim to do targeted core strengthening at least two times a week, as strong deep core muscles can better support your growing belly and decrease the pressure on your low back, says Proulx. She especially likes Pallof presses, where you slowly press a band or cable straight forward from your chest, using your core to resist the urge to rotate your torso toward the equipment’s anchor point (Google it for instructions from a certified trainer or PT).
Proulx also recommends that people with back pain wear high-waisted bike shorts or compression leggings to assist the core muscles as they fatigue. Find a fit where the waistband supports your belly without restricting your breathing (yes, this exists!).
Round Ligament Pain
What’s happening: Your round ligament is a rope-like structure that connects the top of your uterus to the inside of your groin on both sides. Your baby’s growth stretches the ligament out, which can cause spasms and shooting pain in the groin, vagina, or front of your hips, says Nwabuebo. “Often this happens when we are rotating or changing position because the bump in front moves faster than the ligament is allowed to stretch,” explains Proulx.
How to deal: Supporting that area of your body before rotating or standing can prevent that shooting pain, says Proulx. She recommends “hugging” your bump by pulling in your abdominal muscles or even using your hands to raise up your belly before you rotate, then moving with your shoulders and hips in one line.
Hip flexor stretches can also help. Try lying on your back in bed with both knees bent. Let’s say your right side is cranky. Lie close to the right side of your bed and hang your right leg off the side. Take deep breaths in and out for about 30 seconds as you feel a gentle stretch in front of your right hip. If that’s not enough, Nwabuebo suggests deepening the stretch by pulling your left knee toward your chest. If needed, switch sides and repeat.
Now, what about your actual workout routine? While rest isn’t the best medicine for everyday pregnancy aches, now’s not the time to push through them when you’re exercising either, says Proulx. Try dialing down the intensity, duration and range of motion (even if mentally you want to go hard) to make you way more comfortable, Proulx says.
No matter how you’re moving, listen to your body — if there’s any “rule” in pregnancy, it’s this — and always stop if something doesn’t feel good. Exercise should always make you feel better, not worse, and now is no exception.
Words: Ashley Abramson
Photography: Vivian Kim
CHECK IT OUT
Want more movement guidance as you navigate pregnant life? Start the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother program in the Nike Training Club app for prenatal (and postpartum!) workouts and wellness advice. Then check out the Trained episode with pelvic health physical therapist Ann Nwabuebo, DPT, for special advice regarding your pelvic floor.