The majority of women are educated that the general timeline to returning to their pre pregnancy exercise routine is anywhere between 6-8 weeks. Typically at their 6 week follow up appointment, their OB/GYN doctor clears them for all physical activity, with little guidance beyond the “all clear!” While getting the all clear is amazing, it can be daunting and scary. It is important to remember that every woman’s journey through pregnancy, delivery and post-partum is different – with this is mind, the path back to recovery and fitness is going to be different for each mama as well.
Even though providing generalized advice for returning to exercise is challenging, there are some tips and tricks to help each individual mom return to their desired fitness level and goals.
Tip Number One: Prepare your body
It can be helpful to view the “all clear” at your 6 week follow up as an all clear to start prepping and building towards your end goal. For example, if pre-baby you typically ran every other day – instead of viewing your 6 week all clear as an indicator to immediately returning to running, view it as a green light to start gradually increasing the length and speed of your workout. While you are gradually increasing your exercise, keep asking yourself; Are you able to walk at a brisk pace without any episodes of leaking, abdominal or pelvic pain or pressure? Are you able to perform lunges and squats with proper core and hip control? Have you exposed your body to quick impacts (such as light jumping or jumping jacks) yet to prep for the impact of running? Prepping your body will ultimately lead to a better transition towards your end goal. It will also help you modify and adapt as necessary.
Tip number Two: Listen to your body and adapt
This tip can be frustrating for many – because it is very open ended and arbitrary. It is, however, one of my favorite phrases for every person I rehab and educate. Being able to monitor your body’s response to activity and modify or adapt as needed is empowering and allows you to keep moving forward in your recovery. Here are some key things to monitor: pelvic pressure, diastasis doming, urinary leaking, sharp pain in joints, or pain that lasts longer than 3-4 days. For example, if your end goal is to return to HIIT exercises and you start to experience pelvic discomfort with loaded squat jumps, it will be beneficial to take a step back and modify any of the following: depth of jump, amount of load, speed of exercise, height of jump. If modifications do not change your symptoms, then this is your body telling you it is not ready YET and to continue prepping.
Tip number Three: Seek guidance from a women’s health physical therapist.
Knowledge is power. However, in this social media day and age, our access to information and knowledge can be overwhelming. Seek out an expert in the field of women’s health physical therapy to help tailor a return to exercise routine for you. Growing and delivery a baby is indeed a life changing experience, however it does not mean you have to experience urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, and low back pain. This does not have to be your new normal. If you are struggling to return to the fitness routine you desire and you feel like your body is still experiencing limitations post baby, seek out care from a physical therapist.
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In our fast-paced world a lot of people are looking for a quick fix. When a tire goes flat, we just replace the tire. When the phone screen breaks, we replace the screen or get a new phone. Well, the human body is not so easily “fixed” because we are not simple machines. While there are certain things that do require immediate medical attention to fix, such as a severe bone break or a fully torn muscle, most sprains and strains can’t be “fixed” in such a simple way.
As physical therapists, we give you the tools you need to help your body heal. Our brains and bodies are amazing at healing and adapting. The brain can even produce its own pain relievers. You have everything you need right inside of you!
The best physical therapists not only provide options to help the body heal, but they also consider the brain when treating everyone. We cannot separate the two. New research is showing pain is much more complex than we ever thought. For many years it was believed that pain was just in our tissues, but pain is multidimensional and involves more than that. It is now known that pain comes from the brain and pain is bio-psycho-social. These three things impact our pain experience and include:
All the tissues in the body will heal with time. However, if pain after an injury persists for more than 6 months, it is likely that the tissues have healed but other factors such sleep, diet, stress, anxiety, etc. are keeping the nervous system on high alert. It is important to figure out what those factors may be so that you can problem solve with your physical therapist on how these other factors can be managed. This will help to calm the nervous system down and therefore help to reduce your pain. So, the next time you see a physical therapist instead of asking, “How are you going to fix me?” I dare you to ask, “What do I need to do to help my body heal?”
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