A few months ago I was able to attend the Sports Medicine Symposium and got the chance to learn a lot on several topics with the latest research included. One of those topics was regarding women postpartum and the injuries that are occurring within the 2 year period of giving birth. For many active women, they want to return to what they were doing prior to birth for exercise and there have been a higher rate of injuries due to that. Today I want to focus on returning to running (or any sport/activity that involves running) for the women that are postpartum.
Obviously there are ALOT of changes that occur within the body from having a baby regardless of how you give birth. Muscles get weak and overstretched, the tissues and ligaments become lax and the pelvis and low back change shape essentially. With the general population of runners, the largest percentage of injuries are related to knee pain (43%), but in postpartum women 36% have pelvic/hip pain and 20% have low back pain. Only 9% of women that are postpartum have knee pain injuries with running. Research has shown there to be a shift in injuries in the postpartum population, even years after giving birth.
Why is there a shift in injury for postpartum runners? A lot of it has to do with the changes I talked about above. The core and hip muscles “shut down” from being overstretched and need to be strengthened and retrained to activate at the appropriate times. There are mechanical changes in the spine and pelvis that lead to increased motion at these areas when running. Ultimately the excessive movement can lead to pain since there is a lack of stability in these areas. Some of the changes that occur with pregnancy such as an increased arch in the low back, remain past 1 year postpartum. The changes that occur do not just spontaneously resolve often times and the best solution is to retrain the body in order to prevent pain in the future.
So what can you do to get back to running without injury? Unfortunately it is not as simple as just strengthening the core muscles. Yes they need strengthening most of the time, but even more so, they need to be retrained to increase neuromuscular control. It’s best to work with a Physical Therapist on this since they can give you very specific and targeted exercises to do in order to enhance this as well as look specifically at your dysfunction. But here are a few exercises to try at home that have been shown to have a high increase in muscle activation in the core and hips:
1. Side Plank: Begin on your side with feet stacked together and forearm resting on the ground. Lift up so your trunk is in a straight line and hips are lifted off the ground. Hold as long as you can without losing your form. Repeat on the other side.
2. Single Leg Bridge: Begin on your back with knees bent and one leg up in the air. Squeeze your bum and lift your hips up in the air while tightening the core. Pause then slowly lower back down towards the floor. Do 2 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
If you are in the Greater Milwaukee area and would like your own program with specific exercises, contact me at FitandTonedWI@gmail.com or visit our website to schedule an appointment. Having more specific guidelines is also helpful in order to return to an active lifestyle after baby and I am more than happy to answer and questions or comments you may have on this topic. Hope you have a great week and goodluck with the new exercises!