Osteopathy for Pregnancy (Elissa O’Brien)
Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life. Many women glow due to an increase in blood volume and also from the many hormonal changes that occur. Hormones produced during pregnancy help the ligaments of the pelvis relax to prepare for labour. However, combined with weight gain and altered posture in pregnancy, these hormones can weaken the supportive ligaments and result in postural/pelvic instability.
Osteopathy can treat many symptoms associated with pregnancy including:
- Leg and Foot Pain
- Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction
- Abdominal Discomfort and Low Back Pain
- Low Back Pain and Thoracic (upper back) Pain
- Rib Pain and Ribcage Dysfunction (often associated with difficulty when breathing)
- Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and Arm Pain (often with pins and needles or numbness)
- Neck pain and Headaches
- Nasal/sinus Congestion
One of the most common causes of back pain seen in practice is due to postural problems caused before the pregnancy. Osteopaths often diagnose and treat a postural problem called a sacral torsion. The sacrum is the large triangle bone connecting the lower back to the pelvis. If this bone becomes torsioned (twisted) in relation to the spine it can cause low back pain, pelvis or leg pain, ribcage dysfunction and problems such as irregular bowel habits. Put very simply, if this area is torsioned, when the low back curve becomes exaggerated in pregnancy and the back is more ‘swayed’, the pressure on this pre-existing postural problem increases and so does the pain associated with it. If the pregnant woman also has some spinal degeneration or a pre-existing lumbar spine disc lesion, the pain can be excessive. By treating the torsion at the sacrum and increasing the range of movement in the area generally, osteopathy can help women to cope with the added strain of pregnancy.
If this torsion remains untreated it may result in a more difficult birth as it alters the shape of the birth canal and reduces the ability of the sacrum to move when the baby’s head engages the pelvis. After labour, it can lead to ongoing back and pelvic pain and dysfunction, a longer recovery time and other symptoms such as sciatica, menstrual dysfunction and pain, irregular bowel habits and post natal depression. Ongoing dysfunction will also interfere with the physical tasks required of a new mum, such as lifting her baby and sitting comfortably to feed a new-born.
The following picture attempts to illustrate this postural pattern. It shows a sacrum sitting in a symmetrical position in relation to the spine (Figure a) and then a sacral torsion where the spine has become compromised (Figure b), which reduces the body’s ability to cope with the additional postural stress associated with pregnancy. (please note that these are very simplified diagrams to illustrate the above situation, they are not anatomically accurate)
What is Osteopathy?
Osteopathy is a manual therapy based on the philosophy that the structure of the body and the function are interrelated. This simply means that if the structure is functioning optimally, the body will function better as well. Osteopaths believe that when the body is functioning optimally its own self-healing mechanisms will be stronger and the body will cope better in stressful situations. Your osteopath will take a thorough case history and will then perform an extensive postural examination. Their aim will be to ascertain why the body isn’t coping with its new posture or the stress of pregnancy. They will then use a range of techniques such as articulation (gentle movement), soft tissue techniques (similar to massage), myofacial release techniques, craniosacral osteopathic techniques and gentle manipulation to achieve optimal postural structure and function.
How are Osteopath’s trained?
Osteopaths in Australia must be registered and will have completed a five year degree which is currently studied at Victoria University, RMIT and The University of Western Sydney. They have a thorough understanding of the anatomy, physiology and pathology of the body, however, they will also refer you back to the appropriate doctor or midwife as seen appropriate.
To find out more information on how Osteopathy can help you, or to find your nearest Osteopath, contact the Australian Osteopathic Association on 1800 4 OSTEO (1800 4 67836) or visit www.osteopathic.com.au