Pregnancy can wreak havoc on your neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs, and feet. The question arises, How to improve my spinal health when pregnant (or in preparation for pregnancy)? Here we have it for you.
Close to 50% of women experience some sort of back pain during their pregnancy. The pain is most prevalent during the latter stages of the pregnancy, when the baby begins to descend toward the hips, placing pressure on organs and nerves. In many cases, this can be avoided by practicing good posture and performing simple, safe exercises.
A woman’s center of gravity almost immediately begins to shift forward to the front of the pelvis during pregnancy. This increases stress on the joints. As the woman’s weight is projected even farther forward, her lower back curvature actually increases. This places additional stress on the discs in the lumbar region.
How to improve my spinal health when pregnant (or in preparation for pregnancy)?
Stay active! Staying active through pregnancy can have many benefits for both mother and baby. In fact, in addition to preventing lower back pain, there are many proven benefits of exercise during pregnancy such as:
- maintaining cardiovascular fitness
- reducing complications during pregnancy
- improving ease of labor
- reducing the risk of gestational diabetes
- faster post-partum recovery
With a large body of research now completed in this area, experts now recommend that women without medical contraindications should participate in regular aerobic and strength conditioning during pregnancy. In fact, the amount of exercise that pregnant ladies should aim for is the same as the recommended amount for non-pregnant ladies! (With modifications or as advised by the doctor).
Exercises to improve spinal health during pregnancy
Even if you have been active prior to your pregnancy, make sure to get medical clearance from your OB/GYN before beginning exercise. It is important to acknowledge that your body will be going through a large number of changes over the next 9 months, and the type and intensity of exercise you choose will need to take that into consideration.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant women should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. An aerobic activity is one in which you move large muscles of the body (like those in the legs and arms) in a rhythmic way. Moderate intensity means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating. You still can talk normally, but you cannot sing.
If you are new to exercise, start out slowly and gradually increase your activity. Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
For individuals who have been active prior to pregnancy, it is good to continue staying active. However, you may need to make some modifications to your routine to ensure it is safe for you and your baby. Suppose you are new to exercising and are looking to start getting active during your pregnancy. In that case, it is strongly recommended you seek advice from a physiotherapist before commencing a new exercise program.
Do’s & Don’ts
Here are some general “dos” and “don’ts” for spinal health:
- Choose safe low impact forms of aerobic exercise. Brisk walking, stationary bike cycling, swimming, and running are good options for cardio
- Monitor how hard you are pushing yourself. A general guideline would suggest you aim for exercise at a “moderate” intensity. *The “talk test” can be used to monitor for “moderate” exercise. Moderate = you can comfortably hold a conversation, vigorous = if you need to pause for breath during a conversation
- Include some resistance training to build muscle endurance. Other than cardio, it’s important to maintain good muscle endurance in major muscle groups, to keep your body strong and able to withstand the changes and stresses it will go through during pregnancy.
- It is recommended to aim for 2 days of strengthening per week on non-consecutive days, to target major muscle groups (lower body, core, upper body). You can use light dumbbells or resistance bands, with a resistance that allows you to perform 12-15 reps per set.
- Exercises that involve high abdominal pressure (eg: weight lifting)
- Contact/collision sports
- Sports that involve risk of falling or extreme balance
- Sports with significant changes in pressure
- High-intensity training at altitudes
- Exercising in supine (face up) after your 1st trimester
As always, (but more so during pregnancy), it is important to pace yourself & listen to your body. The goal is to stay active and safe, and you should not be trying to maximize your sporting performance during pregnancy.