Preventing Aches and Pains During Pregnancy
The unflattering "waddle" often associated with a pregnant woman's
gait appears to be no more than a myth, according to new research. Although
investigators have found that women walk the same way before and during
pregnancy, the changes in their body mass and distribution do leave them at
increased risk for low back, hip, and calf pain due to overuse.
"With big changes in body weight and distribution, regular exercise
prevents joint wear and tear, especially in the pelvis, hips, and ankles,"
says study author Theresa Foti, PhD, a kinesiologist at Shriners Hospital for
Children in Greenville, S.C.
Foti explored gait patterns in 15 women between the ages of 25 and 38 during
their final weeks of pregnancy. Participants were videotaped walking across a
room, and their strides were compared using motion analysis software. The
process was repeated a year later for all but two participants, who were tested
prior to pregnancy.
Overall, gait patterns were remarkably unchanged during pregnancy. There was
no evidence of a waddling gait, but there were significant increases in hip and
ankle forces, indicating that muscles and joints compensate for changes in body
mass. These adjustments allow for a normal stride but place muscles and joints
at high risk for overuse injuries, particularly among inactive women. The
research was published in the current issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint
Fortunately, exercise helps prevent overuse injuries and has many other
benefits as well. "Most physicians now recommend mild to moderate exercise
during pregnancy, even for women who didn't exercise previously," says
Michael Lindsey, MD, director of maternal/fetal medicine at Emory University
Hospital and associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology at Emory University
School of Medicine, both in Atlanta.
Regular exercise is associated with shorter labor and faster postpartum
recovery, although safety remains an important consideration. "Maintaining
a basic level of fitness is fine, but pregnancy is not the time for vigorous
exercise or weight loss," adds Lindsey. "After the first trimester, I
also advise against sit-ups and weight training, particularly in women at risk
for preterm labor."
But low-impact exercise offsets hormonal changes that weaken the joints.
"During pregnancy, the body secretes relaxin to widen the birth canal, but
it loosens up all the other joints too," says Lisa Stone, deputy director
of the Georgia Commission on Physical Fitness and Sports and founder of
"Fit for 2," an exercise program designed for expectant mothers.
Stone, who is certified as a pre- and postnatal fitness instructor by the
American Council on Exercise, tells WebMD that strengthening exercise
stabilizes the joints and stretching exercise prevents muscle strains. Aerobic
exercise, a third Fit for 2 component, burns fat and holds weight gain to a
healthy maximum of 25-35 pounds.
Pregnant women should also drink plenty of water before, during, and after
exercise. "Unlike you, your baby can't sweat to prevent overheating,"
says Stone. "So it's a good idea to take a swig of water every 10-15
minutes. Another rule of thumb is to stop exercise well before the point of
"I was running five miles a day until I became pregnant, but I had to
stop because it was too uncomfortable," says first-time mother Shannon
Powers-Jones, a freelance writer in Atlanta, who adds that exercise helped
improve her psychological health.