“Ahhhh,” my four year old daughter groaned as she sat down on the couch.
“What’s wrong?” I asked perplexed as to why she was making the noise of an 80 year old woman. “My back,” she replied clutching her lower back with a facial expression that was as if she was in the world of pain. I realized she was imitating me. It was my groan she was making, my frequent remarks about my back pain she was referencing and then it dawned on me like a miserable, dark and gloomy morning, I was the 80 year old woman. Or at least my behaviour resembled that of one and I wasn’t even halfway to 80!
The groans, the comments, the clutching of my back were all real, they weren’t exaggerated, it hurt, all the time. Sometimes it was my lower back, sometimes it was my neck, sometimes my mid back. The pain was consistently there like a good friend. Just one I didn’t have time for. It stopped me from moving like I hadn’t that long ago moved, bending down and picking things up was painful, leaning over to wash my girls hair in the bath would hurt, general everyday tasks became too hard to complete or if I did, were not pleasant to say the least.
I wasn’t really sure as to what was wrong.
I visited many a medical professional- Chiropractors, a myofascial specialist, osteopath, acupuncturist, remedial masseuses. I tried about five different pillows (costing a small fortune), I made my husband rub my back every night (he was so impressed), I lathered myself with Dencorub, Tigerbalm, essential oils, heat packs, heat patches. I tried hot baths.
At work I asked for a new chair, then a standing desk (yep I am that sort of employee). I tried to not sit for too long without standing or going for a short walk. Sometimes it got a bit better temporarily but never for long enough that I could actually get some decent relief.
So out of desperation I decided to try something that wasn’t really ‘my thing’ - Pilates. I met with a physiotherapist for an initial consultation.
She examined me and told me that I had separated abdominal muscles (officially known as Diastasis Recti). This is quite a common side effect of pregnancy- during and post-partum caused by the stretching of the abdominal muscles to make room for your growing baby. In fact, it affects over 60% of women who have been or who are pregnant.
My separation was relatively small, just over three fingers (or three centimetres) but my physio *Georgina told me she has seen separation up to 13cm- that’s is nearly three hands!
Georgina explained to me that the side effects of this separation, especially if left untreated can cause bad posture, trunk instability and immobility, pelvic pain and back pain (it can also cause other undesirable effects such as constipation and bloating).
She also said that bad posture can then in turn cause more back and neck pain. How great is that?! Thanks body.
Because my last pregnancy had been over four years prior I hadn’t even thought that this condition could even be a possibility but apparently the joys of pregnancy just keep on giving, even years later! Since my pain wasn’t really localised, there was a high possibility that this little gap in my abdominal muscles that I had paid no attention to was the culprit of a lot of my pain.
So later that week I was back. I began Clinical Pilates, basically a Pilates class where you’re supervised by a physio so you don’t destroy what’s left of your body. I have been attending now for about four months (usually) twice a week. The program is individualised to my needs and my injuries and as I get stronger the resistance is increased or exercise is altered to keep building my muscles and strengthening my abdominal area, back, neck and everything else that is connected.
Because that is the other thing I didn’t realise. If one part of you is not strong enough it will rely on another part, and when that can’t cope it will lean on something else (very smart yet incredibly frustrating). So like a body part game of dominoes your muscles, joints and everything else that is nearby are affected and soon enough you are in your 30’s hobbling around like a little old lady.
Now I can’t say I have had a miracle cure but slowly and surely I am building my core strength, my back muscles and all that is connected.
The abdominal separation has reduced since beginning Clinical Pilates and in turn my groans and complaints are much quieter and more far in between. It has even been over a month since I have heard by daughter complain about her back so I feel like I am on the right path to a happy and together abdomen and life.
Have you experienced this pregnancy side-effect? Tell us in the comments.