It is safe to say that women’s bodies are different after child birth. There are numerous workouts that can be found to “lose the baby weight,” but how many women feel like they can fully recover after labor? Many people believe that the weakness and pain that comes along during the scary and exciting time of postpartum are their new normal. Most people think physical therapy as somewhere you go for your back, your knees, or after a sports injury; however physical therapy can treat various body parts including recovery from postpartum ailments.
While women are becoming more empowered and body positivity is the new hot topic, it is time to learn and understand the specialty area of physical therapy that is Women’s Health/Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation. It is time for women to not be embarrassed nor hesitant of talking about “weird” symptoms they are experiencing and seeking treatment to get stronger and live a happier life.
The pelvic floor muscle is like a hammock that runs from the pubic bone in the front to the tailbone in the back and supports your bladder, uterus, and rectum. It controls bodily functions and reproduction. During pregnancy, the weight of the growing baby places a lot of pressure onto the pelvic floor muscle and can cause dysfunction – weakness which results in incontinence, muscle tightness which results in pelvic pain, or most likely both together.
Stress incontinence affects both women and men, however it is more common in women and much more common after pregnancy. Stress incontinence consists of leaking urine when someone laughs, sneezes, coughs, lifts, runs, etc. It is when there is an increase in abdominal pressure and the pelvic floor muscle is too weak to avoid leaking urine. Women think they can treat themselves with kegels. A kegel is the muscle contraction that you do with your pelvic floor muscle (stopping the flow of urine), however a lot of people don’t do kegels correctly. Along with doing kegels, core strength is just as important to avoid incontinence, and core strength is lost very easily with pregnancy.
Along with incontinence, a women’s pelvic girdle can be painful which can affect sitting, intercourse, etc. During pregnancy, the body releases a hormone called relaxin which makes a woman’s ligaments looser to open the pelvis for childbirth. With looser ligaments, muscles must work overtime and can result in spasm and pain. Pelvic pain can also be caused by scar tissue build up from tearing and episiotomies. Most women are too uncomfortable or painful to touch their scars but it is imperative to perform manual scar tissue massage in order to avoid scar tissue build up and pain. It is also imperative to relax the spasmed muscles so women can return to their previous level of activity and be even more active to care for their newborn.
While these conditions are often topics of conversation among women, it is important to start speaking in an empowering fashion about physical therapy instead of sharing woes of accepting a new normal. Most of these symptoms are preventable and treatable. With a skilled and licensed physical therapist, a woman’s medical history is noted, their muscles are assessed for strength, tightness, and other dysfunction, and a clear plan of care is established to recover quicker and better.