Back pain of various types is a common story in my Mother Nurture Yoga classes for pregnancy and postnatal recovery. From slight niggles to debilitating aches I have met a lot of women who are managing back pain.
In this article I wanted to focus on some of the issues that will affect pretty much all of us at some time. These three common problems have simple solutions that provide instant relief. Have a go at home, or come along to class for further ideas and a supportive group. Mother Nurture Yoga classes are ‘safe’ for many common types of back pain – I’ve done my research, have specialist training (and experienced quite a lot of back pain myself!)
That said, back pain can be caused by all sorts of issues and I am not a doctor or a physiotherapist, so if you have serious concerns about your body I suggest you get them checked out and diagnosed correctly.
Problem 1: Exhaustion
So, I have a theory that one of the reasons we experience back pain (and all sorts of other kinds of pain for that matter) is purely and simply that we are EXHAUSTED. Typically, our sleeplesss nights begin in late pregnancy (sometimes sooner) and may continue for several years, even we if we only have one child. I have been through this myself and worked with many women over the last decade who may not have had more than 3-4 hours of sleep in one chunk for 3 or 4 years. Frankly, I think it’s a miracle any of you are managing to read this blog nevermind rock up to a yoga class, but I also know that we are designed to adapt – and am constantly humbled by the super human amazing work the mothers I know are doing (You Are Amazing!)
By the time my youngest child was 8 months old and my oldest was 4 I had been in this sleep-deprived state for almost five years and despite all my yoga practice, postural awareness and gentle postnatal exercise I felt utterly rubbish – like my whole body just ached. I visited osteopaths and physiotherapists who all reassured me I was ‘fine’ and came to the conclusion I was quite literally ‘bone tired’.
The effects of exhaustion on the body are similar to those of chronic stress, which occurs when we have been in a pressurised situation without a rest for an extended period of time. Our body experiences a surge of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which turn us into superhumans with strong heartbeats and powerful muscles, but leave us depleted in energy for the long-term maintenance of our digestive systems, immune systems and reproductive systems – which can all lead to pain and discomfort on a physical level as well feelings of anxiety and depression overwhelming us on an emotional level.
I found a neat little article from the US with links to some actual research to back up my hunch that exhaustion and pain are interrelated.
Solution 1: Rest
I am not going to tell you to ‘sleep while the baby sleeps’ since I know you have a pile of housework and anyway that nap might only last 3 minutes and there is a hot cup of tea to enjoy, but seriously, if you do manage to set aside 15 minutes a day to lie down in a supported relaxation pose you will feel SO MUCH BETTER. I have some Free Guided Relaxation Downloads to help you achieve this self-care goal!
Problem 2: Slouching
I am using the term ‘slouching’ to describe the combined postural habits of letting the head lean forward and the tailbone tuck under to create a slightly rounded posture. This is often accompanied aching in the shoulders and various levels of pelvic floor dysfunction. Wow, its a common problem with some really simple solutions that can prevent a slight niggle developing into something really serious.
Solution 2: Move
Mother Nurture Yoga classes include mobilising exercises for the whole of the spine, shoulders and pelvis to help combat the effects of long periods of sitting and feeding, lifting and carrying and pushing our babies in prams and buggies. If you’re driving a car or working at a desk you’ll also appreciate this gentle upper body work and pelvic liberation!
For a more active stretch, hold a scarf or belt a little wider than shoulder width and reach it up above your head (the scarf should remain taut). Gently lean your head and shoulders back, allowing the ribs to lift up away from the hips and the abdomen to gently lengthen. You can do this from standing or kneeling and use the scarf to stabilise your hips (see below), or for a game of peek-a-boo with your baby/toddler when you’re done!
Problem 3: Relaxin / Joint Laxity / General Feelings of Falling Apart
I feel bad calling Relaxin a problem since its actually a really useful and normal part of the adaptations our body makes during pregnancy and menstruation. It’s the hormone we produce to soften up our ligaments and, amongst other things, helps the pelvis open a little for birth. If you experienced Pelvic Pain during pregnancy then you have relaxin to thank for it.
Relaxin courses through our whole body during pregnancy, for at least five months postnatally and – to some extent – EVERY SINGLE MENSTRUAL CYCLE between ovulation and bleeding.
It softens our smooth muscles and ligaments all around the body, which can also contribute to a sluggish digestive system and swollen joints. With thanks to relaxin we are encouraged during pregnancy to care for our bodies ‘take it easy’, ‘don’t lift heavy items’ and ‘sleep with a pillow between your knees’. All of this goes out of the window postnatally when we’re supposed to be ‘getting back to normal’ and ‘holding it all together’. The reality is that our bodies are slightly less stable than we might be used to and may require some extra TLC for quite a bit of a time beyond the six week check.
I think too that the feeling of ‘falling part’ can extend beyond the purely physical and that as busy women with lots of things to look after (babies/children/partners/jobs/businesses/family) we can sometimes feel ‘overstretched’ in every way imaginable.
Solution 3: Stabilise
It almost sounds like a contradiction to solution 2 (get moving) but having released tension from our body through the movement we can then learn how to strengthen up in positions of optimum stability. In Mother Nurture Yoga we look at how to stand, sit, walk and lie down with maximum stability. The picture shows me practising Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with a yoga brick between my thighs and a scarf wrapped round my hips for a great feeling of security. Your back is most stable when the spine is able to express its normal curves – you should feel a curve at the back of the waist. The brick helps bring awareness to letting the top thighs gently roll inward.
The Mother Nurture Love Your Abs Sequence is great for anyone looking to improve their abdominal stability in a female-friendly way.