Pelvic Pain After Pregnancy
When you think of ways pregnancy changes the body, pelvic floor dysfunction probably isn’t at the top of the list. But in reality, thousands of women each year experience prolonged pelvic pain and discomfort after pregnancy.
Postpartum pelvic pain is normal, but it can become severe and, in some cases, nearly debilitating. As you learn how to care for your post-pregnancy body, strengthening your pelvic muscles may be an important part of that journey.
What does the pelvic floor do?
Your pelvic floor is a region in the lower body that supports your uterus, bladder, vagina, and rectum. Any type of pelvic floor disorder can lead to a wide range of problems, including, but not limited to:
- Constipation (Being unable to go to the bathroom)
- Incontinence (Losing control over bladder or bowels)
- Pain during sexual activities
- Pain when walking, sitting, or standing
- Difficulty performing everyday activities
- A chronic pressure or sense of heaviness in the vagina and/or rectum
How Pregnancy Impacts Your Pelvis
When you carry a baby, your body shifts to adjust the growing life inside of you. The pelvic shifts during pregnancy alter how your pelvis is aligned and, in turn, how it coordinates with other muscles.
One longitudinal study found that the anterior pelvic shift that takes place during pregnancy was still present up to 12 weeks after delivery. The pelvic shift takes place around 12 weeks gestation and again at 36 weeks.
During pregnancy, the body produces hormones that help the body prepare for birth. One of the biggest ways that the body changes during this time is through a subtle widening of the hips. Hormones encourage the pelvic floor to slowly expand, loosening the joints and muscles around the birth canal.
During a vaginal delivery, the pelvis gradually expands to help the baby pass through the birth canal. This expansion stretches the bones, muscles, and connective tissues that support your pelvis, leading to wider hips.
Having a C-section can also lead to pelvic dysfunction. Emerging research suggests that cesareans may actually be a leading cause of pelvic girdle pain. One theory is that scar tissue may fix the uterus to the abdominal wall, putting strain on the pelvic floor after surgery.
Why You Might Experience Pelvic Pain After Pregnancy
Both during and after pregnancy, women have pelvic asymmetry. This means that women are more likely to develop some type of pelvic dysfunction after having a baby.
Childbirth can also lead to pelvic floor damage. The strain of delivering a baby puts an extreme amount of stress on your pelvic muscles. Women who have vaginal deliveries are at an even higher risk of having their pelvic floor muscles fall (prolapse).
It can take anywhere from six months to a year for the pelvic floor muscles to fully heal after pregnancy. Specific conditions that cause pain may take anywhere from 3 to 8 months to resolve.
Pelvic Girdle Pain
After pregnancy, some women develop a condition called pelvic girdle pain (PGP). PGP affects several joints in the pelvic region, which leads to pain and discomfort in multiple parts of the body. The areas most impacted by pelvic girdle pain are the vagina and rectum, lower back, and legs.
Some women also experience PGP during pregnancy. Its wide range of symptoms make personalized care the most important strategy when treating the condition.
A 2013 study found that PGP is a severe condition that causes socio-economic causes in up to 20% of cases. Women may have chronic disability with PGP that makes earning a living and performing their usual everyday activities impossible.
Identifying the exact symptoms and targeted treatment for each patient individually shows the greatest outcomes. Working with a physiotherapist helps women manage pelvic pain while increasing strength, flexibility, and mobility.
When to See a Doctor
You should speak to your gynecologist if you experience pain, difficulty moving, standing, or sitting 1 to 3 months after having a baby. If you show any signs of pelvic prolapse, then you should schedule an appointment immediately.
Pelvic prolapse can cause the muscles in the pelvic floor to bulge. You may even see some of the muscles bulging from the vagina. Many women experience a chronic fullness or pressure that can become painful during physical activity and sex.
This pain can also accompany pain and difficulty going to the bathroom and fully relieving yourself.
Any time you experience pain is a good reason to reach out to your doctor. You should always voice any concerns to your healthcare team, even if the discomfort you’re feeling is normal.
There are several ways to manage pelvic pain after pregnancy as your body heals.
Postpartum Pelvic Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is the safest way for new moms to begin healing their pelvic floor muscles. Through a variety of exercises hand-chosen by their physical therapist, women can strengthen the core muscles they need to live their lives without pelvic pain.
A 2019 literature review in the Journal of Clinical Gynecology and Obstetrics found individualized care plans to be one of the best forms of treatment for women with PGP. While doing some pelvic exercises on your own are also helpful, you can also benefit from the support and expertise of a professional healthcare team.
Stabilization exercises help your pelvic muscles restore strength without becoming fatigued. Your physical therapist can also teach you exercises to perform at home, so you always have access to pain management and relief.
Professional Physical Therapy Designed for Women’s Needs
At Lake City PT, we are a team of passionate physical therapists who want to help every woman feel her best. Our prenatal and postpartum physical therapy target symptoms women experience throughout every trimester and postpartum stage.
No matter what type of pain or symptoms you have, we’re here to help. One of our physical therapists will meet with you to perform a detailed assessment. Once we’ve gotten to understand how you experience pelvic pain in your body, we can suggest the most effective exercises.
All of the exercises we teach are accommodating to your body type and health. We’ll only teach you exercises that are safe and within your abilities.
Please contact us today to schedule an appointment. We’re eager to help you start healing.