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Pregnancy pains: What to expect and how to get relief

Doctor of Physical Therapy & Founder of DLVRMaternity, an online community for expectant moms to find education, advice & solutions for their bodies during pregnancy.

As your belly grows with your baby and your body changes, each month may bring a new symptom and a different experience. Knowing what you're experiencing and why will give you the ability to address any symptoms that may arise.

Treating Common Pregnany Pains

As your belly grows with your baby and your body changes, each month may bring a new symptom and a different experience. From morning sickness and growing pains to carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica, you may experience a range of aches and pains over the 40 weeks of pregnancy and beyond. Knowing what you're experiencing and why will give you the ability to address any symptoms that may arise.

Below are a few common pregnancy ailments, along with some helpful tips to offer you relief, guidance and support.

First-trimester low back pain

So you're newly pregnant, you haven't really even gained weight yet (keeping food down would help) and your back is already killing you! From the very beginning of pregnancy, you have significant hormonal changes. Two hormones that are in full effect during your first trimester are estrogen and relaxin. Estrogen is responsible for increasing the size of your uterus and breasts, but it also has a relaxing effect on the ligaments of your joints. Relaxin, as its name suggests, also has an effect on your ligaments, allowing them to relax and stretch during pregnancy. Though the research findings are mixed, there are some studies that suggest ligament laxity due to hormonal changes may be the cause of early-stage low back pain (or other joint pain). Additionally, you may sometimes feel sharp, shooting pains through your back and pelvis caused by ligaments stretching as your body changes to accommodate your growing uterus.

Treatment tip: Always consult with your health care provider regarding painful or uncomfortable symptoms. If you are found to be otherwise healthy, exercises for low back and pelvic stabilization may help to alleviate your symptoms. You might find that the early-stage low back pain will subside as your pregnancy progresses, or it may persist. If it does persist, please see a women's-health physical therapist. The treatment could include exercise, stretching, manual therapy and/or a specialty maternity garment to help support your abdomen and low back.

Sciatica

This is a pain in your butt! Pain from the sciatic nerve is usually felt in the buttocks region and can extend down into the middle or back of the thigh. It can be caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve from surrounding muscles or from changes in your spine's position. During pregnancy, both spinal alignment and muscle tension can change as your body position is altered due to weight gain and postural changes.

Treatment tip: Consultation with a physical therapist or orthopedic physician can help to both diagnose and treat your possible sciatic symptoms. Treatment usually includes stretching and stability exercises for the low back, abdomen, hips and pelvis, along with manual techniques for soft tissue involvement if indicated. These symptoms usually resolve after delivery once your posture returns to "normal" and your baby bump is no longer pulling your weight forward. If you do experience sciatic symptoms (and even if you don't), I strongly suggest seeking the advice of a physical therapist postpartum to help with redeveloping abdominal, low back, hip and pelvic floor muscle function. Even though the pain may be gone, compensations and changes from pregnancy can leave you with muscles that are not functioning to their fullest ability. This may lead to other issues down the road.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)

CTS can occur during pregnancy due to increased fluid volumes putting pressure on your median nerve in your forearm, at the level of your wrist. Fluid volume increases in all pregnant women, and nearly half experience symptoms of CTS. The compression from the fluid at the wrist can cause numbness, tingling and pain in the thumb, index finger and middle finger.

Treatment tip: A physical therapist or an orthopedic physician can help with diagnosis, mobility exercises, stretching and positioning/splinting to help alleviate symptoms. Though the symptoms of CTS can be severe and can significantly limit function, the good news is that the symptoms almost always resolve after delivery once fluid volumes decrease. Depending on the length of time over which you experience the symptoms, there may be some residual muscle weakness in the arm and hand. This weakness can be addressed with regular use and exercise. If you notice symptoms, especially if they are interfering with function and/or sleep, please consult a medical professional.

Pregnancy can bring its own set of challenges before you meet your new bundle of joy at the end of a long, nine-month (technically, 10-month!) waiting period. Don't be afraid to speak up and talk with your doctor about how your body is changing. It's important for you to know how your body will change, what's normal and how to address any ache or pain you may be experiencing. It may seem like a long road to delivery, but it'll all be worth it once you meet your baby!

Photo credit: Health.com
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