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For the majority of future mothers who experience mild to debilitating back pain during and after pregnancy, physical therapy offers some encouraging news: Education and exercise therapy have proven effective in reducing back pain for most expecting mothers. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, a physical therapist-directed exercise regimen that focuses on the muscles around the spine and pelvic floor – a program that includes strength training, aerobic exercise and balance training – can greatly benefit the approximately 2.5 million women who experience lower-back pain related to pregnancy each year. 

Some back discomfort can be expected and is normal during pregnancy; but the pain shouldn’t escalate to the point of affecting usual daily activities. If the pain or discomfort gets to the point of affecting normal movement and limiting daily activities necessary to function, a physical therapist can help the pain by providing safe and conservative hands-on treatment to help the joints and muscles affected by pregnancy. A therapist can also guide toward exercises, provide advice and show how to modify activities to accommodate for the body changes during and after pregnancy. 

The added weight of pregnancy along with the release of hormones that relax the ligaments in the pelvis, often leads to strain in the hips, pelvis and lower-back. Some mothers will also feel the effects of these body changes in their upper back and neck, and even in their arms or legs. A physical therapist can identify the source and cause of pain, and devise a safe treatment plan for pregnant and postpartum moms. 

Following a thorough examination, a physical therapist may offer the following treatment options: 

Manual Therapy Interventions: Hands-on treatment can help to provide relief to changing and tired joints and muscles. It can also help to restore optimal movement when joints have gotten strained or out of alignment.

Stabilization Exercises: As hormones relax the ligaments, stronger muscles can help stabilize the pelvis and lower-back. A physical therapist can teach women safe and effective exercises that specifically target the muscles in this region of the body – exercises that can often be performed at home. 

Stretching: Along with strength exercises, stretching the muscles around the hips, pelvic floor and back can also help relieve pain and discomfort. 

Aerobic Exercise: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests expecting moms exercise for 15 minutes three to four times per week, at a heart rate of 140 beats per minute. A physical therapist will help identify aerobic exercises, like walking, swimming, yoga, etc., that are both safe and effective. 

Other Options: A physical therapist may decide that other treatment options, such as braces or therapeutic modalities safe with pregnancies’, might be effective based on one’s specific diagnosis. 

Movement is often key to relief and to a healthy pregnancy. Physical therapists are specifically trained to safely treat expecting mothers and support them through this amazing body transition.