Typical Areas of Pain After Childbirth
Every woman experiences pain in different ways. Please treat the information below as a guide- it goes without saying that persistent or significant pain, especially immediately post-partum, should be assessed by your doctor.
A growing baby has profound impacts on your back. There are two core reasons for this: first, that as the baby grows, it places new weight and stresses on the spine and supporting muscles; second, your posture may change as the baby grows.
A 2010 study found that an estimated 50% of women experience strained muscles/ligaments in their lower back as a result of pelvic alignment due to pregnancy and childbirth.
Muscle strain can happen for many reasons during pregnancy. Interestingly enough, one of the big reasons it occurs after childbirth is because the mother begins working out to get back into shape. Intense activity, especially if your back hasn’t fully recovered from pregnancy/childbirth, can exacerbate existing injuries or cause new ones.
Remember, your abdominals, lumbar spine, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and other parts of your body are very much in “recovery mode” once you have delivered the child.
Approximately two-thirds of pregnant women develop diastasis recti, where the space of connective tissue between the left/right sections of your abdominals had widened allowing your stomach to be more visible.
During pregnancy, intense and consistent pressure against the abdominal wall can cause them to stretch. . If this happens, be mindful of your body when performing your daily activities- your connective tissue between your abdominals need time to heal, and straining them will cause the condition to worsen.
Working with a physiotherapist can help you heal faster, improve your pelvic floor health, and reduce pain associated with diastasis recti.
Hip pain after delivery is quite common. The hip joints, ligaments, and muscles expand widely during delivery, often to the extremes (and beyond) of their mobility.
During labour, the body releases hormones that cause the ligaments in the hips to soften- this is to facilitate delivery of the baby. Endorphins are also released, which serve to minimize pain. Many women also have a pain-relieving epidural during delivery as well. The combination of the two cause many women to underestimate how much they were actually straining and pushing during birth.
A 2012 study found that approximately 90% of women experience pain in the perineum (the area between the anus and pubic bone). Most of this pain is due to the act of childbirth and the toll it takes on the entire pelvic region.
Pain is typically experienced when walking or sitting and can last for days or weeks post-delivery.
Leg Pain & Cramping
Leg pain that develops immediately or shortly after childbirth may be a result of nerve entrapment in the lumbar spine- a relatively common condition experienced by new mothers.
Pain from cramps can occur due to a nutritional imbalance (a lack of potassium) or a localized shortage of electrolytes in the legs (due to breastfeeding).
Headaches & Neck Pain
In Canada, a 2005 study of 985 new mothers, 39% (381) reported headaches and/or neck pain within a few days of childbirth. Reassuringly, only 4% were reported as incapacitating.
Most headaches after childbirth stem from a few sources:
- Neck and shoulder muscle strain – Caring for a child is hard work. Carrying the baby, moving the car seat, pushing the stroller, loading the car, breastfeeding… all these activities constantly engage your arms, shoulders, neck, and lower back. Strain in your neck and shoulders pulls at the base of your head, causing muscle pain and headaches.
- – A child dramatically changes your routine. It’s not uncommon – especially in the early weeks and months – for new mothers to get less sleep and rest. Headaches are a common symptom of fatigue brought on by a lack of sleep.
- Nutritional imbalances – Breastfeeding mothers give their babies a lot of energy, vitamins, and minerals in their breast milk. If your diet has been struggling to keep up with demand placed on your body, nutritional imbalances may present symptoms (including headaches).
You may not realize that carpal tunnel is fairly common in new mothers. While the pregnancy itself doesn’t cause carpal tunnel, the requirements of child care (such as carrying a car seat, holding the baby, etc.). Adapting to new demands placed on your hands and arms often comes with a fair amount of soreness and strain.
Nerve impingement in the shoulders and neck are also fairly common. Impingements are usually caused by the position of the mother’s head and body during nursing, carrying the child, etc. These impingements manifest themselves as numbness and the “pins and needles” feeling in fingers.
Median nerve compression, which can bring about carpal tunnel (and other forms of repetitive stress injury) is experienced by majority of pregnant women, though most will not develop injuries as a result.
Addressing & Treating Pain After Childbirth
In most mothers, pain after childbirth is a temporary problem that can be treated in a number of ways. We encourage you to visit your doctor if you have sharp or severe pain, or if your pain has become chronic and is not getting better (even with treatment from a physiotherapist).
Using Heat & Ice to Relieve Muscle Pain
If muscle strain is the cause of your pain, using a heat pad can help relieve pain. Muscle inflammation and irritation benefit greatly from heat therapy. Be sure to follow appropriate safety measures when using anything hot. Do not use a warm compress on an area that doesn’t have normal sensation, and never apply a hot pack/heat pad directly on the skin.
A warm compress will help the muscle relax and release its tension.
Conversely, using a cold compress or an ice pack on a sore muscle will help reduce inflammation. This is especially beneficial if you are experiencing pain related to carpal tunnel. Relaxing inflamed muscles that surround the median nerve and flexor tendons can relieve wrist and hand pain.
As with a hot pack, never place an ice pack directly on the skin, and don’t use it on an area that doesn’t have normal sensation.
Physiotherapy can help relieve many aches and pains that result from childbirth or the responsibilities a mother has after. Physiotherapy can help improve your posture, joint mobility, and overall flexibility. It is also beneficial for hand/wrist injuries, leg injuries, and abdominal pain and tightness. Pain associated with the pelvic floor can also be addressed by one of our experienced physiotherapists.
Many people view massage as a tool for relaxation (like when at the spa). For women that have recently given birth, massage can be effective way to break down scar tissue, relax sore muscles, and help your body heal and recover.
Relaxation, Meditation, & Yoga
Pain changes you in subtle ways that can be challenging to deal with. Newfound responsibilities as a parent, in addition to discomfort and pain, take their toll mentally as well as physically.
We are strong advocates in caring for your mental health and encourage new mothers to practice effective relaxation techniques. Reducing your stress and anxiety levels can benefit you, your baby, and your family. We recommend:
- – Yoga is a powerful and proven relaxation tool that helps you build strength, flexibility, and breathing techniques. Be sure to be mindful of your body when performing yoga, and never take on a method or pose that causes discomfort.
- – There are numerous ways to practice meditation. We recommend finding a method that you resonate the best with.
December 7, 2016 After Baby, Pelvic Health, Womens Pelvic Health
C & P Health Centre