Q: Is there any way to minimize the aches and pains of pregnancy between massage treatments?
A: Pregnancy produces some profound bodily changes in a very short space of time. Muscles and joints are having to continually adjust as the baby grows in order to move and balance effectively. The body’s ability to cope is made even more difficult by the presence of relaxin, a hormone designed to soften joints and connective tissue. This allows the hips to widen in preparation for birth.
Unfortunately, relaxin is undiscriminating and affects all the joints, not just the hips. As a result, muscles, tendons and ligaments are not only adapting to continually shifting weight distribution but are also trying to reinforce joint instability. The good news is that it doesn’t last forever and there are lots of simple ways to ease aches and pains.
A few of them are listed below.
- Avoid standing in one position for long periods of time. Walking is better than standing still.
- Avoid high heels as they cause your body weight to shift forward even more. Wear low heeled, comfortable shoes.
- When doing any task that demands prolonged standing, such as ironing or doing dishes, put one foot up on a step or sit on a high stool. This will reduce the sway in your lower back and prevent strain.
- Consider a maternity support belt.
- Maintain the pelvic tilt with a low back pillow and avoid slouching. This will ease back aches as well as indigestion.
- The length of your thighs should be supported by the length of the chair to keep knees on the same level as hips.
- Do not cross your legs. This position decreases circulation and can increase fluid retention in the legs.
- Use a body pillow to prevent arms and legs from crossing in front of the body’s centre line. This will prevent the muscles of your hips and upper back from overstretching and keep your lower back from twisting.
- Use a supportive, contoured pillow that fits the curve of your neck and keeps excessive pressure off your bottom shoulder. If you normally sleep on your back or stomach this may mean buying a new pillow.
- Consider a mattress topper if hips ache during the night. Another option is to place a comforter between the fitted sheet and mattress. For added cushioning fold it a few times and only use it on your side of the bed!
- keep objects close as you lift them – the farter away from you they are the harder your back muscles have to work to stabilize themselves
- stand directly in front of whatever you want to lift and avoid twisting as you move
- bend your knees and keep your back straight as you lift with both your legs
- a maternity support belt may help prevent strain
Even with the best preventitive measures, many pregnancy aches are at least partially unavoidible. Common musculoskeletal complaints include:
Common in the first trimester, headaches are caused the hormonal shifts that lead to fluctuating pressure in your blood vessels.
- for sinus pressure, try a warm compress over your eyes and forehead
- for tension headaches, a cool cloth or ice pack on the back of the neck can help
- try gentle neck circles/stretches to release muscle tension
- don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids
- talk to your doctor or midwife about safe pain medications
As you grow, the weight of your uterus may restrict blood floow and compress the nerves of your legs causing spasms, especially at night.
- keep your ankle at a neutral angle when falling asleep as pointing your toes will shorten your calf muscles as you sleep
- to releive a calf cramp, flex your toes up toward your head and hold until it passes
- apply some topical magnesium before bed
- talk to your doctor or midwife about calcium supplements
As you grow, your pelvic tendons and ligaments will need work harder to support you.
- sharp groin pain usually doesn’t last so take deep breaths and have a heating pad handy to calm spasms
- avoid quick movements
- pregnancy yoga can help keep soft tissues pliable and toned
- self massage your groin muscles from the midline out toward the hip
- place a ball between your hip and a wall and gently roll out sore spots then follow with heat and a gentle stretch (the yoga poses ‘pigeon’ and ‘child’s pose’ with wide knees are good ones)
- sit down to get dressed instead of balancing on one leg at a time
- keep your knees together when getting in and out of a car
Fluid retention, slowed circulation and gravity can cause feet and hands to get puffy and congested. Gavity will puff up your ankles during the day while your hands and face may feel congested in the morning.
- wrap your ankles in cool cloths and elevate them at the end of the day or after you’ve been on your feet for a while
- ankle circles and point/flex movements will help move fluid out of your feet
- run cool water over your ankles/low legs in the bathtub or shower before bed
- try compression stockings if you need to be on your feet
- stretch your forearms by pulling your fingertips back with your opposite hand (palm faces floor, fingers point up and elbow is straight) for 30 seconds
- stand at your kitchen sink and run cool water from your elbows to fingertips for a minute or so throughout the day and again before bed
- ensure your wrists are straight as you fall sleep
Lastly, be sure to mention sudden, uneven or unresolved swelling to your doctor or midwife. If you have questions or your discomfort is worrisome, consult a regulated healthcare provider.