Written by Yvonne McKenny women’s health physiotherapist & certified Pilates instructor
When contemplating running during pregnancy, a lot of expectant mothers will want to know if running will cause any negative effects to their growing child without giving due attention to the effects running may have on their own bodies.
In Running in Pregnancy Part 1, we spoke about ways in which you can monitor your exertion levels to stay within safe parameters for the baby but in Part 2 we will look at some of the considerations pertaining to the mother’s health when running during pregnancy.
Mother’s health and running in pregnancy:
Large physiological changes occur in the mother’s body during pregnancy in order to accommodate and prepare for childbirth. Previously taut rigid support structures start to become flexible and stretchy. This is an important and entirely necessary adaptation when preparing for childbirth but in doing so, reduces a lot of the stability and support mechanisms around the pelvis.
So, we have a pelvic floor that is relaxing and becoming more flexible, AND we have added weight on top of it with a placenta and growing baby. The relative increase of load on the pelvic floor is already huge and that’s without any consideration for the added load of impact activity.
Now to best understand what this means, think of the pelvic floor like a hammock that runs from your tailbone to your pubic bone and this acts like a sling of support for your pelvic organs, including the uterus and growing baby. The pelvic floor is made up of muscle and connective tissue (fascia). Although we can train and strengthen muscular tissue, we cannot tighten and shorten fascia. Therefore, the integrity of the pelvic floor fascia needs to be maintained in order to provide best function for later in life. Unfortunately, damage to pelvic floor fascia is irreversible and can lead to pelvic organ prolapse during or after pregnancy.
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So should you run during pregnancy?
It is safe to say, pregnancy is not the time to take up running if you haven’t previously been a runner. For those who have a healthy lifestyle prior to pregnancy and have an ‘uncomplicated’ pregnancy, the guideline is that you may be able to safely continue running during your first and second trimesters – so long as you are not having pain or trying to increase your load/distance/intensity. It is important to always check with your health care professional.
By the third trimester, there will be some women who can still manage to run but it is important to consider and accept that your running will change and that slowing down, increasing fluid intake and taking more rest breaks is critical.
Should you choose to continue running through any stage of your pregnancy, you need to please consider the below seven points in order to reduce strain on your pelvic floor:
Slow down your speed while running.
Wear good, cushioned shoes, as this may help to reduce the impact forces on your pelvic floor.
Work on pelvic floor strength to keep up with the increased demands and loads on this ‘softening’ tissue structure.
For some women, you may consider the use of support devices worn inside the vagina. You will need to see a pelvic floor physio to get the appropriate advice (and fitting) for your personal situation.
Work on good glute and lumbopelvic strength to maximise pelvic stability.
Avoid downhill running.
Consider lower impact cross training for that cardio high – cycling, walking.
It’s also important to know the signs of when your body is ‘doing it tough’, and ultimately – when do you need to stop running?
Leaking urine during running.
A feeling of heaviness or dragging in the pelvis.
Feeling uncomfortable during or after running.
New onset muscular or joint pain. This can be a result of altered running mechanics.
Chest pain, headaches, dizziness or severe shortness of breath.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to stop running and seek specific medical advice from your health care professional.
Should you need more specific tailored advice, there really is no substitute for getting assessed and seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
Author of this article:
Yvonne McKenny has B. App Sci (Physiotherapy) USYD and APPI Certified Pilates Instructor. She is a musculoskeletal and women’s health physiotherapist and a certified Pilates instructor who works at Evoker Premium Physiotherapy in Sydney’s CBD.
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