The body undergoes some fairly fundamental transformations during pregnancy, including postural changes, an enormous influx of hormones, weight gain, enlarged breasts, increased plasma and blood volume and the shifting of organs. Consequently, the journey can be uncomfortable and all pregnant women can expect some aches and pains.
A growing body of research supports the benefits of regular massage during this time, as a safe, drug-free, relaxing way to minimise and relieve the common discomforts you may be experiencing. It can improve not only your own physical and mental wellbeing but also that of your baby.
Let’s look at some of the more frequent pregnancy-related complaints, and how massage therapy can help.
– Low back pain/ Sciatica
About 50% of women experience low back pain during pregnancy. The change of the body posture during pregnancy alters the centre of gravity, which affects the musculoskeletal system.
As the muscles adapt to the new posture, they can compress the sciatic nerve, which causes pain radiating from the lower back down the leg. Massage loosens those muscles and releases the pressure on the nerve. It can also help increase range of motion and elasticity in the surrounding joints and muscles.
– Muscle aches
The muscles that keep the expecting mother upright now begin to work harder, increasing the production of toxins that literally stick the individual muscle fibres together, which then aggravates nerve endings and causes pain. Massage relieves that pain by breaking down the adhesions, releasing trigger points and pushing circulation into the area to increase oxygen and to stimulate the removal of toxins.
– Leg cramps
The exact reason for leg cramps during pregnancy has not yet been successfully determined, but it’s thought that the extra load on the leg muscles may well be a factor. Low levels of certain minerals (magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium) and the lack of blood flow through muscles during prolonged sitting or lying down could also be a cause. Massage can be beneficial in relieving cramps by stimulating blood flow and by stretching the muscle.
– Upper back pain/ headaches
Changes of the body posture and sudden increase in breast size can create muscle imbalance, and are thought to be the main cause of sudden upper back pain. Headaches are believed to be caused by the surge of hormones along with an increase in the blood volume circulating throughout your body (often aggravated by stress, poor posture, lack of sleep and dehydration). Massage relieves muscle tension, releases trigger points, stretches shortened muscles, and eases tension in the head, neck and shoulders.
Pregnancy hormones are responsible for many physical and emotional changes the mother will experience. One (Relaxin) causes a loosening of the musculoskeletal system, giving the joints the flexibility necessary for delivering the baby. Massage creates circulation around those joints to reduce pain.
During pregnancy stress levels commonly rise. Massage lowers stress hormones, which reduces anxiety, improves mood and can increase sleep. It also creates a natural pain relief through increased production of endorphins and serotonin, which can calm and reduce stress for mother and baby alike. Although research is still ongoing, it appears that reducing stress hormones can also decrease the risks of premature birth and complication during childbirth itself.
The weight gain and increase in plasma and blood volume increase pressure on the hip, knee and ankle joints. Swelling is often caused by the decreased circulation and increased pressure on blood vessels. Massage helps stimulate soft tissues to reduce the collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal of waste products carried by the lymph system. By helping blood to flow into the legs, massage can reduce the chances of swelling, varicose veins and blood clots.