We partner with Anita North, a professional ballet dancer who now helps her clients with strength training, fitness, injury prevention and rehabilitation.
The information below is not intended as medical advice and is only intended to offer points you may wish to consider in 'non-emergency situations', together with signposting for more support. You should consult an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about pregnancy-related pain. Activities should always be assessed based on the risk and environment, putting your health and safety first.
I have noticed in the last few years an influx of women coming to me for a variety of pregnancy related issues. There are a lot of changes in the body during pregnancy and problems such as stiffness in the legs or tightness in the hips can sometimes be overlooked.
Unfortunately, some issues like pregnancy-related back pain are very common and affect around 50 to 80 percent of women. It can range from mild pain associated with specific activities to acute pain that becomes chronic. Although this can be very painful, only in very rare cases will there be any cause for concern. However – as the NHS advises – if you have back pain in your 2nd and 3rd trimester, it’s always worth a quick call to your midwife to rule out anything sinister.
Preparation and prevention are of course better than trying to patch things up while you're pregnant. If you’re planning on starting a family, or having another baby, the earlier you can start to strengthen up all the muscles you need most while pregnant the better. You also have the added bonus of not needing to worry about the kind of exercises you do because you aren't pregnant yet.
If you’re already pregnant and are experiencing pregnancy-related pain, one of the essential ingredients to achieving a more comfortable pregnancy is massage and assisted stretching. The simplicity of lying on the ground and having a therapist gently assess where the tightness and discomfort is coming from is a great way of dealing with pain and stiffness. If you can find a therapist that will see you in the comfort of your own home, it's even better, as they can work around your schedule.
There are also some simple exercises you can do at home, before or in the early stages of your pregnancy.
Try the all-important Bum Lift. Most will know this as the Pilates 'Bridge', as it's one of the best classical Pilates movements.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, approximately hip distance apart. Your feet should be a comfortable distance away from your bum; neither too close nor too far away. Rest your arms by your sides. You should easily be able to find neutral spine.
2. Press your feet into the mat and pelvic tilt until you feel you lower back lift from the floor. Roll through the spine until your body makes a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
3. One very important thing is not to allow your rib cage to 'flair' and push out of alinement. This will put a lot of pressure into your lower back and take pressure off your bum which exactly the opposite to what we are trying to achieve.
4. Hold the Bridge position for a few seconds and then lower down, rolling back through the spine from the top of your back to the bottom and coming back to neutral.
5. Repeat for 10 Bridges. Take 10 seconds break and try to repeat the hold exercise again.
The second exercise is performed on all fours and strengthens the bum muscles while activating your core.
1. Start on all fours and make sure you have a thick enough mat to protect your knees.
2. Extend your right leg back until it’s straight, make sure your foot is flexed and your toes are pointing outwards. To do this, externally rotate your leg as far as it will comfortably go without bending your knee.
3. Keeping your shoulders pulled down and your neck in line with your spine engage your right bum muscle and lift the leg to 90 degrees. Hold for a couple of seconds and then lower it back down to the floor.
4. It's extremely important you keep the leg externally rotated and straight. When you lift the leg do not bend in your lower back, if you feel this happening then do not lift the leg any higher. Hold where you can control your core and then lower back down.
5. Repeat for 10 lifts and switch sides.
As a professional ballet dancer, stretching is like brushing my teeth. The familiar feeling is comforting, and the effect afterwards is refreshing. When I had my first child, I continued to dance way into the latter stages of my pregnancy. Massage and stretching were key to my pain prevention and recovery. Things were infinitely more difficult with my second child, as I felt, like many women, guilty for spending too much time on myself when I had my work and another young child to look after.
However, if you can carve out time every now and then to take care of your body, it will help you to feel stronger and healthier down the road, through your pregnancy and beyond.
I hope this will help get you started. Good luck and happy stretching!
Anita has almost two decades’ worth of experience training and working in classical ballet companies. Throughout her career she has worked with dancers to rehabilitate them after injury and since coming back to London she has been working for years with her private clients while forming her company Strength and Grace.
Further External Resources: