When you think of your core muscles, what do you think of? Crunches and a six-pack of abs are often what come to mind, however there is much more to your core than that. Our core muscles play a very important part in maintaining optimal functioning in our body. With all of the changes that occur during pregnancy, different stress is put through our core muscles, which can sometimes lead to pain and dysfunction. Although every individual's core is extremely important to focus on, today I am going to talk specifically about some of the effects that pregnancy may have on this group of muscles.
Diaphragm - this is the main muscle we use in breathing. This muscle separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. In an ideal core, this muscle moves together with the muscles of the pelvic floor.
Pelvic floor (a group of muscles) - this group of muscles provides stability and support to our spine and pelvis. They help keep this pelvic organs in place and maintain our continence.
Transverse abdominus - this is the deepest abdominal muscles that act like a corset inserting on either side of your spine. This muscles is meant to be the first to activate to anticipate our body's movement. However, excessive stretching of this muscle (which happens with pregnancy) can cause challenges with that function.
Multifidus - this muscle functions to support and protect the spine and is often overlooked when we are talking about the core. A weakness in this muscle contributes to chronic, dull low back pain.
In a dysfunctional core, we need to retrain these muscles through restorative exercises so they can properly anticipate our movements. However, if our core muscles are dysfunctional, sometimes participating in core training exercises will actually hinder you rather than help. It is very important to be doing the appropriate exercises, but sometimes it is hard to know what exercises are best for you. This is one of the reasons why it is important to have your core assessed by a health care professional, such as a chiropractor or physiotherapist so you can make sure that you are doing exercises that are suitable for you specifically.
As we go through pregnancy, our breathing often becomes more shallow and our diaphragm has less room to expand because of our growing belly. We go through many postural changes during pregnancy to counteract the growing belly, which can lead to strain and dysfunction in the multifidus muscle. Our pelvic floor goes from supporting 1-3lbs to 14-24lbs, which puts a lot of extra stress through the muscles. Our transverse abdominus muscle becomes stretched beyond its optimal length as our belly is growing. When this happens, the muscle isn't able to generate it's full force.
1. Delivery - vaginal delivery puts strain on the pelvic floor, connective tissue and nerves. 85% of women will sustain some degree of perineal trauma or tearing with a vaginal delivery, and if this is not properly addressed after delivery, it can lead to dysfunction. Cesarean delivery is an abdominal surgery that cuts through layers of muscles, fascia and connective tissues. This may cause dysfunction of the muscle that are involved.
2. Previous Injuries - old and resolved sprains, strains and surgeries cause compensation and dysfunction.
3. Hormones - there is an increase in the hormone relaxin during pregnancy, which increases ligament laxity and helps widen the joints in your pelvis. Although this is necessary during pregnancy, sometimes these changes can affect your core muscles.
4. Returning to high-impact exercises too soon - many new moms have the desire to go back to their "normal" bodies very soon after they give birth. It is really important to give our bodies the time they need to recover. Be patient with yourself, listen to your body, and appreciate how strong you are and the changes you went through to birth your new little one! Participating in high-impact exercises if you body isn't ready for it may actually cause more damage than good in the long term. New mothers also spend so much time in a forward bending position while nursing, holding baby, ect., so often times we do not want to give exercises that cause you to continually flex your spine forward. However, abdominal crunches are often a go-to exercise for strengthening your core, this may create unnecessary pressure on the core muscles, and may actually lead to harm.