by Bryn Zolty, PT
Rib pain during pregnancy and postpartum can make everything difficult. Taking care of kids, lifting, carrying, rolling over in bed, getting out of a chair, and even breathing can hurt.
In many cases, this is due to musculoskeletal changes that occur during pregnancy. Your ribs start changing position even before your uterus is large enough to push pressure up into the diaphragm and rib cage. Therefore, it is thought to be hormonal changes that may play a large role in the alteration of the rib cage.
Rare Musculoskeletal Pain Cause
In rare cases, women will experience transient osteoporosis during their pregnancy. Throughout your pregnancy the amount of calcium transferred from you to the baby increases drastically. It starts at about 2 mg/day and by the 3rd trimester it could be as much as 250mg/day (1)! As with anyone with osteoporosis or osteopenia, there is an increased risk for fracture in your bones including the ribs. A weakened bone can fracture under normal forces, and if you suspect this you should contact your doctor.
Muscle dysfunction, painful joints, stiffness, and trouble with normal daily activities can be treated by a physical therapist. If you are pregnant or postpartum and have a pelvic therapist nearby, contact them and make an appointment. They have additional training to help a woman during and after her pregnancy.
When Rib Pain Is Not Musculoskeletal
There are many causes of chest pain that can occur during pregnancy. These include cardiac causes, clots, pneumonia, heartburn, peptic ulcers, shingles, and more. Your physician will help order any tests needed.
Get Started Before You Make An Appointment
For some women, the musculoskeletal changes that occur during pregnancy do not go away on their own. Here are some ideas to get started in case you are not ready to start physical therapy.
For getting your abdominal muscles fully back on-line immediately postpartum
How to help your abdominal muscles immediately after delivery (connectpt.org)
Improve Mobility During Normal Tasks
If you feel it is difficult to find time to exercise and stretch, start with incorporating lots of movement into your day. Add trunk rotation and side bending into your normal tasks. This will help mobilize the ribs and the spine. It can also help encourage the obliques to mobilize the ribs as well.
If your ribs feel wide and “stuck out’, focus on a long, full exhale. And absolutely work this breathing pattern into all kinds of stretches and yoga poses.
If you are pregnant and past your first trimester, it is important to monitor how you feel when laying on your back and limit this position. This breathing exercise can be done in sidelying, sitting, standing, reclined, or any other comfortable position.
If you feel like getting up and moving, some of these yoga poses may help. Combine them with your 360 breathing. Note she is twisting away from her bent knee in many poses to avoid compression in the groin and maintain open space for your baby.
Make an Appointment
Rib flare left untreated can cause altered function of your core muscles. When you feel ready to attend therapy, your therapist will help customize a stretching, breathing, and strengthening program specific to your body.
1 Women's Health in Physical Therapy. Jean and Glenn Irion.Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, ©2010
By Karen Bruno, PT
Ever get queasy from a shot or the site of blood? Or experience something and feel like fainting? Sometimes, those feelings are due to the overstimulation of the vagus nerve. And on the other end, the vagus nerve can also initiate relaxation after stress. So it makes sense that when we’re in fight or flight mode, the vagus nerve comes into play.
Fun fact: the vagus nerve is responsible for our “gut feelings”.
So how can we use the vagus nerve to our benefit? Well, once we understand what it is, we can control it to breathe more easily, and control our heart rate when we’re in tense conversations or high-pressured situations at the office.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is part of our central nervous system, which is made up of our brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system communicates with the body and processes information. The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, starts in the brainstem and travels into the neck, trunk and abdomen. Having extensive reach and influence, the vagus nerve is responsible for the functioning of our internal organs and processes such as:
In short, our vagus nerve has a central role in every aspect of our lives. Our well-being is dependent upon our ability to adapt and on our nervous system’s capacity to function properly. Vagus nerve exercises help us get out of the stress related fight, flight and freeze response and move us into a calmer state of rest, restore, relax and digest. So, whether you have pain, a bowel, bladder or sexual condition, an issue with digestion, anxiety, trauma, or any combination these, your vagus nerve could use a boost.
There are numerous ways to support optimal function of your vagus nerve. Here is a simple, 2-step exercise you can perform. This technique comes from Stanley Rosenberg’s "Accessing the Power of the Vagus Nerve, Self-Help for Anxiety, Depression, Trauma and Autism."
Step 1 - Place both hands behind your head, right at the bump behind your head.
Here are some practical application suggestions to use the simple vagus nerve exercise.
Practice it daily and as often as needed throughout the day.
By Marzena Bard, PTA
Downward-facing dog offers many benefits:
Beat those winter blues by getting up to stretch with Marzena Bard, PTA. When you can't get to the gym, these easy stretches are great to begin and end the day or to break up sitting all day at the computer.
Watch the video tutorial below.
By Karen Bruno, PT
Can self-compassion really help when you are in pain?
Let’s explore this. First, what is self-compassion? Self-compassion is giving yourself kindness, forgiveness and understanding when confronted with personal failures or discomfort. Basically, it means giving yourself the care and gentleness that you would give to a beloved friend or a child who is in need of support. In the words of Dr. Kristen Neff, a self -compassion expert and teacher, "Instead of mercilessly judging yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?" (1) It is an acceptance of your humanness even when things don’t go your way.
So, what does self- compassion have to do with chronic pain? Recent research suggests that self-compassion is associated with better outcomes, such as lower levels of depression, pain-anxiety, physical and psychosocial disability, and higher levels of pain acceptance. Higher levels of self-compassion supports engagement in meaningful activities and use of pain coping strategies. (2)
What does that mean for you?
Self-compassion has been found to be beneficial in situations related to the ineffective way we respond to things, how we talk to ourselves and the behaviors we engage in. So, when you notice yourself worrying, thinking or talking negatively, isolating yourself, or beating yourself up, choose to use a better approach of treating yourself with care, gentleness and kindness. (3)
What can you do?
This PDF download summarizes the relationship between self-compassion and pain.
Self-care is also an integral component of self-compassion.
We have heard it before from the airlines, "“put your own mask on first, then help someone else." Remember that you are your own best advocate and as you care for yourself, you model for others how to care for themselves, you teach others how you want to be treated, and you harness the resources to be of service to others. Just do it! You are worth it.
"Life is full of disappointments, failures and setbacks. None of those things can permanently stop you. You have the power within you to overcome anything that life throws at you. There is nothing more powerful than a made up mind. Surround yourself with people who remind you that you matter, and support you in ways that matter most to you. No person, situation or circumstance can define who you are. Don't give up, cave in or stop believing that it's possible. It's not over until you win."
By Marzena Bard, PTA
If you have a tight obturator internus, here are two go-to exercises for a release of that sneaky muscle.
Written by Michelle Dela Rosa, PT
A 2015 systematic literature review showed that yoga was not only effective in decreasing depression and anxiety in perinatal women, but also improved: pain, anger, stress, gestational age at birth, birth weight, maternal-infant attachment, optimism, and well-being. If you are pregnant or just had a baby and are unsure how to progress with exercise, our therapists who are also certified yoga instructors can help you make the leap into fitness.
Sheffield KM, Woods-Giscombé CL. Efficacy, Feasibility, and Acceptability of Perinatal Yoga on Women's Mental Health and Well-Being: A Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Holistic Nursing 2015:34(1)64-79.
Cramer H, Lauche R, Haller H, Dobos G. A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. Clinical Journal of Pain. 2013 May:29(5):450-60.