Lower back pain during pregnancy. We're told it's "normal." But does normal=natural? Does normal=required? I propose that what is normal in our society is what is typical or common, but not necessarily the way our body is intended to be. Rather, it is a result of our current movement (or lack thereof) and alignment habits. SO! If lower back pain is not a requirement of pregnancy, how do we fix it? Or better yet, prevent it?
It's about where your pelvis is, in relation to the rest of your body. Check it out:
Most people are *already* forward leaners. And then they get pregnant. It's not the pregnancy that is causing the back pain, but the habits we already have coupled with an extra 10, 20, 30 pounds out front. This habit of forward leaning and pelvic thrusting not only compresses the low back (lumbar spine), but also causes us to thrust the contents of our abdomen forward into the core (diastasis recti anyone?). It causes less mobility of the sacrum because we're using the muscles in the front of the legs instead of the muscles we should be using that are behind us. Not to mention, the implications all of these issues cause for pelvic floor health and optimal birth mechanics. Can't you see how related it all is? Why ALL THESE ISSUES ARE SO PREVALENT?! Why often times someone with core issues, for example, also has pelvic floor issues. Or people who have back pain also have diastasis recti (splitting of the '6 pack muscle'). Not all movement is created equal. We have to move more, yes! But we all have to move mo' bettah as well.
NOW- TEST YOURSELF!! Grab your cell phone charger and flip it over so that the heavy plug in part is on the ground. Make your own plum line like the one I drew on the picture above and stand how you normally stand and SEE where your pelvis is in relation to the rest of your body. It can be very revealing!! It may be helpful to have someone else test you because often times we need to shift a lot more back than we think we have to. You will probably need to lean your upper body forward to counteract just how far back you have to lean. Otherwise, you'll fall over.
I was talking to someone the other day about what a tough sell what I do is. It really is a paradigm shifting thing for most people. People want "3 simple exercises to do 3 times a day." But I can't offer that. Plus, if i did it wouldn't REALLY solve your problems. Especially if you're thrusting and forward leaning the rest of the day. What we NEED to do is get your alignment back where it should be... and what we need to do to get you there is to help your muscles to re-adapt to being at the proper length to hold you there. Got it?
Here's a few steps:
1. Get out of positive footwear.
You can't not lean forward and alter your alignment in any degree of positive footwear. I'm not just talking high high heels. Even most athletic shoes are positive in the heel. Any shoe with the heel higher than the toe box is positive.
2. Be mindful about your alignment.
Now that you KNOW it, you need to adjust it. It's a brain thing called proprioception. Your brian is used to you leaning forward all the time, maybe. So, it probably feels weird NOT to do that. This weird feeling doesn't mean that it's not more optimal. It just means that your habit needs to change. It might feel weird for someone not to smoke all the time, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't quit smoking. Ya feel me?
3. Walk. As much as you can. In your heel-less shoes, with your weight back in your heels and your feet staying hip distance apart. Some day I'll blog about gait mechanics more, I promise. But just WALK AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. My teacher, Katy, says in one of her books that walking is not exercise, it's a biological necessity. In the same way that we know we need certain vitamins (example: we'd get scurvy if we didn't get vitamin C) there is going to be a consequence if we are not walking. I'm not trying to freak you out.... and I'm not trying to say that every little bit doesn't count. But definitely want to stress that walking is really super important.
4. Lengthen and strengthen the muscles of your backside.
Here are a few to try right away:
Calf stretch (PS- old video and MY GOODNESS that girl has grown up since then!!)
Double Calf stretch (which is more about lengthening all the muscles along the back-side, not just the calf like the name implies
Hamstring Strap Stretch- keep the pelvis untucked and the opposite leg on the ground (opposite hamstring should NOT come off the ground at all). PS- I just happened to have this photo but now I'm thinking- I should take photos of my kids demonstrating all the exercises!! Photo booth gives me 3 SECONDS ONLY to get into a position to take a photo... hence all the vids.
I'm in my third trimester now (actually, I'm considered full-term next week! So sorry for the lack of blogging- I've been nesting instead!) and I've started to notice how much harder it is to TAKE A DEEP ENOUGH BREATH! So, I've been focusing on opening up the thoracic region so that I can breathe into my ribs more.
Wait... what does that mean?
So, there are a few different ways we can breathe. We can breathe UP. Watch someone breathe this way or try it yourself- your collar bones move up and down when breathing. This way isn't good because it causes issues with the cervical spine and neck. The other way we can breathe is DOWN. Into the belly. Plunging everything downward with every breath. This isn't good either because it increases intra-abdominal pressure and pushes organs downward. I definitely think those of us who tend towards belly breathing are the ones who feel this "I can't get enough breath!" when breathing during pregnancy because baby is restricting the ability to do what we want to do- breathe DOWN. The third way we can breathe is OUT- into the ribs. Our ribs are designed to MOVE torsionally. That is, they kind of flare outwards during breathing (Don't worry- I'll post a video). This helps with bone density of the ribs. And it doesn't cause any other issues during breathing- there are no compensations that our body has to make to breathe into the rib cage.
BUT- what if the rib cage is restricted in some way? Likely it is from years of rib thrusting, pushing the shoulder blades together to hide our hunch backs, etc. We've lost the ability to mobilize the upper back! So, yes, it IS going to be harder to breathe properly if we have some restrictions. So- in addition to being more mindful about rib breathing, I'm trying to continue to open up my upper body region so that I can really take a deep breath like I want to and not compensate in my body in any way.
Here are a few stretches I like:
Place a Yoga Tune Up, Pinky ball, tennis ball or other on each side of your spine (or if you have one do one side at a time). You can either do this standing, seated or you could lay back on your back if that still feels comfortable. Press into the ball and slowly work it up and down- releasing some of that tension on either side of the spine. At the back of the rib cage. Silly 2 year old in your lap= optional.
Have a very wonderful day and please comment/like/share if this was helpful to you! Spread the love so that your friends can experience better breathing as well!! My mission is that we ALL feel as great as I feel this pregnancy!! This is of course helpful for non-preggos as well, but since I am OH SO VERY PREGNANT right now, it's definitely on my mind how much more mindful I have to be about my alignment, walking, and Restorative Exercise™ practice.... but guess what? I can say confidently that I have NO PAIN IN MY BODY WHATSOEVER this pregnancy. I truly feel stronger than I've ever felt!! I guess in a way pregnancy is good feedback because it kind of forces us to take care of ourselves better.
Mama Aligned is Lindsay McCoy.