Your Pelvic Floor and More: The Benefits of Physical Therapy in the Childbearing Years

Part I:  Prenatal Care

Most pregnancies come with the occasional aches and pains as relaxin loosens ligaments, the weight of a growing baby stresses the back and round ligaments, and the pelvis expands to accommodate baby.  Massage and chiropractic care including the Webster Technique, even flotation in a sensory deprivation tank, can all help ease the everyday discomforts, but physical therapy (which is often covered by insurance), can also help balance and strengthen key areas to not only relieve pregnancy-related pain, but also prepare you for an easier birth and recovery!  In talking with our phenomenal partners at Body Central Physical Therapy, we discussed some key topics as follows:

How can Physical Therapy help a woman while she is pregnant?

Physical Therapy (PT) can help a pregnant woman with various pains and aches she has during her pregnancy. Contrary to popular belief, some pain is not just “part of being pregnant” and can actually be decreased with therapy.  PT can help ease the common discomforts of round ligament pain, sciatica, lower back pain, pelvic pain, and rib pain.  Incontinence can also be treated while a woman is pregnant.

Can Physical Therapy actually make birthing easier?

Yes!  Learning your own best positions for birth can be determined during therapy using biofeedback.  Physical Therapists are able to assist the mother-to-be in getting to know her pelvic floor tone and giving her the opportunity to look at various birthing positions with the biofeedback machine in terms of learning which muscles she is supposed to use and which ones will fight her during delivery.  A general understanding of pelvic floor activation/relaxation/bulge coordination allows for a better birth as the mom has better control of the musculature and this can reduce risk of muscle dysfunction, tearing and some discomfort.  Also, there are specific exercises to strengthen the transverse abdominus, a deep core muscle that helps support the baby belly during pregnancy and also works to help push the baby out during delivery.

What is this biofeedback machine and how does it work?

The machine we use is called surface electromyography (sEMG for short). It uses an electrical current to visually show what the pelvic floor is doing during exercise and relaxation techniques. We place external electrodes on either side of the anus and one more on the gluteus maximus for a ground for the current to run through. The machine does not send electrical signal to the patient’s body, it simply reads what your body is doing. It’s challenging to feel what the pelvic floor is doing until you are tuned in with your body and this machine helps people get there.

Why is the pelvic floor so important in labor?

The pelvic floor is used as a major support in our body, especially during pregnancy. Your pelvic floor needs to be strong enough to support you and your baby but also relax enough to deliver safely and efficiently. Even if you didn’t have a vaginal birth, your pelvic floor just carried an extra 20-25 pounds for several months, it needs to recover and be strengthened again.  After labor and birth, re-learning how to use these muscles to remain continent, support your body, and have a normal sex life are other very important aspects of life.

Check back soon for Part II of this series on Physical Therapy discussing postpartum recovery!

Many thanks to Doctors Maria, Madeleine, and Sarah for their contributions to this article.

Visit one of Body Central’s five pelvic floor physical therapists at four locations in Tucson and Oro Valley.

Call 520-345-4002 To Make an Appointment Today!

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