Physical Therapy after Childbirth

Pregnancy is one of the most rewarding events a woman can experience, but an extra 25-35 pounds of weight, changes in posture and a shift in internal organs can take a toll on a woman’s body.

After a six-week postnatal checkup, women are often cleared for exercise and normal activity, but can changes occurring during and after pregnancy have a lasting effect? The answer, says Andrea Rankin, physical therapist with Meritus Health’s Total Rehab Care, is yes. After childbirth, women may experience:

  • Low back pain brought on by loose ligaments, strained abdominal muscles, the labor process and carrying a baby.
  • Pain at the C-section incision site caused by scar tissue adhering to and pulling on the organs in the abdominal cavity.
  • Perineal pain—the area between the vagina and rectum—caused by stretching or tearing during a vaginal delivery.
  • Pelvic pain caused by tight pelvic floor muscles which leads to inflamed tissues.
  • Stress urinary incontinence caused by the weakening of pelvic muscles during vaginal childbirth resulting in leakage.

Yet despite pain and inconvenience, few women seek help from a physical therapist. “Once the baby is born, the mother’s focus is on the baby, but it’s important to advocate for yourself,” says Andrea. Patients typically have to ask their physician for a physical therapy referral. Most health insurance plans include a physical therapy benefit to cover most of the costs.

How physical therapy helps

Muscles need to be retrained to get a body back to pre-pregnancy shape. “The sacroiliac or SI joint and hip rotator muscles can become unaligned due to carrying extra weight and the delivery,” says Andrea. Physical therapy helps with retraining or fixing the way abdominal and pelvic floor muscles work to alleviate pain. Therapists use muscle energy, a form of stretching, to correct improper alignment and follow up with individualized strength and flexibility exercises.

Pelvic rehabilitation involves postural exercises, myofascial release, targeted massage and exercises to engage the pelvic floor muscles. Treatment for C-section adhesions or scars may include massaging or manipulating scar tissue and the area around it.

Left unaddressed, conditions developed after childbirth can result in ongoing pain, poor posture and bladder leakage. Andrea urges new moms to take time to address their own health needs. “You have to keep your body healthy in order to keep your family healthy.”