There’s no doubt that the body changes during pregnancy in some spectacular ways. Some of these changes, unfortunately, put physical stress on your musculoskeletal system that manifests as aches, soreness, and pain. You probably have heard pregnant women talk about common pains, such as round ligament pain, hip pain, and lower and upper back pain. Rib pain during pregnancy, however, is less talked about, but no less complicated to deal with. Here, Kira Kohrherr, Aaptiv trainer and founder of FitBump breaks down rib pain during pregnancy and offers exercises to alleviate some discomfort.
What causes rib pain during pregnancy?
There are a variety of reasons women experience rib pain during pregnancy. First, of course, is the expansion of the rib cage in order to increase the capacity of the lungs and accommodate a growing uterus. Other causes include postural changes, weight gain (including an increase in breast size), and hormonal changes. The hormone relaxin, which increases during pregnancy, causes the ligaments and small joints of the rib cage and middle back to become unstable. Thus, the muscles are under strain as the baby continues to grow and the uterus is pushed upward. Later on in the pregnancy, if the baby is in a breech position, the baby’s head can press up into the rib cage, causing various degrees of pain, difficulty breathing, and heartburn.
“Although our bodies are built for this, we are often maxed out,” says Dr. Randi Jaffe, a prenatal chiropractor based in New York City. “This can be especially challenging for a petite woman, but taller women are not immune to experiencing this during pregnancy.” She adds that “there can be inflammation in both the front and side areas of the ribcage as well as the middle back area where the ribs attach to the spine. This is all a recipe for dysfunction and ultimately pain to the area.”
What treatment options are there?
Chiropractic care can be beneficial for women during their pregnancy. Gentle adjustments can increase mobility, decrease muscle tension in between the ribs, and decrease inflammation. Additional recommendations include stretches, icing or heating, and postural modifications and exercises. Other complementary modalities for treatment include massage therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy, and KT Taping.
What can exacerbate the pain?
After sitting at your desk (or in a car) for extended periods of time, the body often begins to slouch, causing even more compression and strain to the ribcage. Dr. Jaffe recommends focusing on better posture, taking frequent breaks to move and stretch (every 45 minutes), and using a standing desk or an exercise ball as a chair at work.
Exercises for Rib Pain During Pregnancy
Having experienced persistent rib pain with both of her pregnancies, Kohrherr recommends running through this rib-opening series a few times a day to help alleviate discomfort. Here are four exercises to combat rib pain.
Sitting Chair Side Stretch
Sit in a chair. Place your left arm on your desk, the left armrest, or rest it on your belly. Reach your right arm long overhead and inhale. On the exhale, reach further and bend to the left, gently stretching your right side. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. Perform this two times on each side.
Thread the Needle
Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop pose. Gently slide the right hand through the opening between the left hand and left knee. Continue to slide the arm all the way out to the left until your right shoulder and the right side of your headrest comfortably on the floor. From that position, inhale and reach the left hand up towards the ceiling. Take 3-6 deep breaths. Return to the start position and repeat on the other side. Perform this 2-3 times on each side.
Position yourself behind the back of a sturdy chair, sofa, or mounted wall bar. Hold on to the chair (or another sturdy object). Keep your arms straight and keep your feet hip-width apart and in-line with your hands. Make sure your knees are soft and not locked. Keeping your back straight, hinge your body at the waist and slightly pull back to open your rib cage. Take 10 deep breaths here.
Stand with your back against a wall. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees soft, not locked. Your head, shoulders, and glutes should touch the wall. Bring your arms and the backs of your hands up against the wall with your elbows bent at 90-degree angles. Slowly slide your hands above your head, while pressing your hands, elbows, and arms against the wall. It’s key that all three points should be touching the wall throughout the exercise. Hold for one breath and expand your rib cage on the inhale. Repeat this motion 10 times.
Rib pain can, obviously, be an added discomfort during pregnancy. If you experience intense rib pain during pregnancy, talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to best determine the cause and help you find solutions individual to your experience. If your rib pain is more irritating than debilitating, focus on maintaining good posture, regular stretching, and performing the above exercise series to help alleviate the pain.