Running postpartum can take a toll on women, particularly when signs of pain or discomfort in the pelvis, hip, or groin area appear. Before you panic, know that postpartum pelvic pain is extremely common. It can occur after childbirth due to the loosening of ligaments and joints during pregnancy which occurs as the body works to strengthen the pelvic floor and hip rotators.
Even if your mind and spirit are feeling strong and ready to take on new running goals postpartum, your body may not be fully recovered from pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about pelvic pain after birth: what it is, how to heal post-pregnancy, and what to expect as you begin running and exercising again after pregnancy.
What is the pelvic floor, anyway?
Your pelvic floor is a muscle that forms your “deep” core. It supports your bladder, womb (otherwise known as the uterus), and bowel (colon). It can be affected, both positively and negatively, by tight glutes, groin, hamstrings, and hips.
What happens to the pelvic floor during pregnancy?
“During pregnancy, the hormones are telling the pelvic bones it is time to expand and loosen to get ready for a baby to be delivered,” explains Peggy Scott, PT, UnityPoint Health. “The ligaments are much looser, and they remain so after delivery. If you decide to nurse, your ligaments will stay loose until you decide to cease nursing as well.”
What are signs and symptoms of pelvic pain?
According to Scott, signs and symptoms of postpartum pelvic pain may vary. Pay attention if you experience any of the following:
- random sharp pain while simply sitting or resting
- hip pains, groin pain, pubic pain, or something that feels like uterus pain due to physical activity
- dull aches in the pelvis, hip, or groin area after standing for all or part of a day
- pain during sex
- urinary and/or anal incontinence (not able to hold your pee when you sneeze, for example)
Why does pelvic pain happen while I’m running?
Pelvic pain during running and pelvic pain after running may indicate a weakness of the pelvic floor or hip rotators that attach to the pelvic bone.
“There may also be an imbalance in the muscles that support the organs, tighten and relax the sphincter muscles or move the hips and do the shock absorption for the entire body weight,” says Scott. “Your muscles need to be strong in a standing position before they can support your body weight in a jumping or hopping position. Running, for example, is like supporting 3-5 times your body weight each and every time you land.”
What do I do if I’m having pelvic pain after pregnancy?
If you’re feeling pelvic pain postpartum during physical exercise or movement after giving birth, and it doesn’t go away on its own after 2-3 weeks, call your healthcare provider and pause your workouts.
“There are many causes of pelvic pain after birth, so if you’re experiencing any form of it, your provider should be consulted to see what the cause may be,” says Scott. “If the cause is musculoskeletal or soft tissue, which is everything but the bones or organs, ask to be evaluated by a physical therapist who has specific experience with women’s health and pelvic pain.”
Why is postpartum pelvic pain a big deal?
More than a third of women experience pelvic floor disorders. What feels like simple pelvic pain can easily lead to more serious issues, such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse—all of which often require further physical therapy and even surgery. It’s important to correctly diagnose your pain so you can properly heal. Talk to your doctor or gynecologist even if you’re only experiencing light pelvic pain. He or she will be able to guide you in the right direction for relief.
How can I heal from pelvic pain after birth in order to get back to running?
Your best bet for healing from pelvic pain involves pelvic floor contraction and relaxation exercises from both a sitting and standing position.
“These types of pelvic floor muscle exercises, such as Kegel exercises, help support the weight of your organs and your body weight above the pelvis,” says Scott. “Skip sit-ups, and stick to isometric strengthening through the abdominals [isometric exercises are static exercises like a plank pose where your muscles are being exercised in a still pose rather than through dynamic movement]. You can also explore non-stretching yoga positions, walking, or biking as long as the seat is comfortable. And if you’ve had a C-section, be sure to follow any restrictions set by your physician.”
“Your muscles need to be strong in a standing position before they can support your body weight in a jumping or hopping position.”
Certain breathing exercises can assist in pelvic floor recovery as well. Practice using your diaphragm, a yoga trick with sound medical backing. Here’s how to do it: as you inhale, allow your rib cage to open and belly to expand, instead of just breathing through your chest. Then, when you exhale, pull your transverse abdominal muscles inward and lift “up” through your pelvic floor. This in-out method of focus breathing creates stability, which helps when you run or do any form of exercise.
How soon should I anticipate returning to running if I’ve experienced pelvic pain?
As frustrating as it may be, try to avoid putting a timetable on your return to running. Give yourself plenty of time to heal, especially if you may have returned to running a little too quickly for the likes of your body.
There’s no need to get back to vigorous exercise, including running, too soon. Even if you exercised all the way up to delivery or you’re anxious to drop weight gained during pregnancy you may need several months to recover. Initially, walking workouts can be enough activity to help your ligaments and muscles slowly recover. From there you can slowly work your way up with other low-impact workouts, such as swimming or the elliptical.
It took nine months to grow a baby, your body needs at least nine months to return to tip-top shape. Remember the first rule of highly effective runners? Let go of expectations. Trust that running will be there for you when you’re ready to hit the pavement again. As always, consult with your doctor before starting any post-pregnancy workout routine.
Looking for a healthy way to work out while pregnant? Check out Aaptiv’s maternity program!