Pregnancy can be a joyous time for a mother-to-be. However, the changes in a woman’s body and natural fears and anxiety can also be very stressful, both physically and emotionally.
Many women avoid massage during pregnancy because they don’t think it’s possible to lie properly on the table. Lying prone (face down) will likely be comfortable until the fourth or fifth month. After that the therapist will work on your back as you lie in a semi-prone or side lying position.
Physical therapy massage has a profound ability to decrease stress as well as prevent or minimize many of the common symptoms and discomforts of pregnancy. Regular massage therapy sessions can mean the difference between a comfortable, relaxed pregnancy and one defined by miserable aches and pains.
Physical therapy massage is especially useful because pregnant women are often unable to take many medications that are normally used to manage common problems. Massage can help manage these aches and pains and is completely safe for both the mother and fetus.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, the benefits extend beyond just making mom feel good. Researchers found that for women who received regular massage, there were fewer complications both during pregnancy and afterwards, including fewer premature births.
How can physical therapy help?
Massage can have a beneficial impact on a whole range of problems associated with pregnancy, not just muscle aches.
Morning sickness is the nausea and vomiting that many women experience early in the pregnancy. Although it is called morning sickness, it can occur any time during the day or night. As with many other problems, hormones are largely to blame. However, stress also appears to play a very significant role. By using regular massage to relax, the incidence of nausea and vomiting can actually be reduced.
Hormones can also cause constipation as they cause the muscles of the digestive tract to relax. Gentle massage to the abdomen can help relieve constipation by activating a reflex that stimulates movement in the intestines. Massage therapists can also use rocking and passive range of motion techniques to get things moving. Deeper abdominal massage that is often used to relieve constipation in non-pregnant clients is never used, so there is no risk to the fetus.
Headaches are another common problem in pregnancy. A non-drug approach is by far the best way to treat them. Massage has been proven to be extremely useful in dealing with headaches and should be considered the preferred treatment choice. Research shows that headaches become shorter and less frequent with regular massage.
In the second trimester more pronounced physical changes take place. As the abdomen and breasts grow larger, a woman’s posture starts to change. Typically most women develop an increased curve in their lower back or sway back to compensate for the extra weight at the front of their bodies. It’s no surprise that about half of all pregnant women develop back pain.
Massage can help through this period by minimizing muscle imbalances, relaxing tense muscles and improving their blood flow. A physical therapist can help minimize episodes of muscle cramps, spasms, and myofascial pain, especially in the lower back, neck, hips, and legs. Other benefits of pregnancy massage include:
- Tranquil relaxation and reduce stress.
- Increase in blood and lymph circulation, which can reduce swelling.
- Reduces stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Improves outcome of labor and eases labor pain.
- Enhances the pliability of skin and underlying tissues.
- Provides support for the new mother with physical and emotional strains of mothering.