Pregnancy takes a toll on your body – from the first day, up to the delivery of your baby. You’ve already gone through a fair share of body aches and pain while pregnant, not to mention the not-so-easy job of breastfeeding and parenting your growing little one thereafter. Amidst all these hardships, you may also wonder why you still feel pain in your knees, ankles, hips and wrists even if it’s already weeks after your labor and delivery. Do you seem to experience joint pain after pregnancy? Here’s what you need to know about its possible causes, duration, and home relief methods that you can do to alleviate the discomfort.
What causes postpartum joint pain?
Your body has undergone physical and hormonal changes while pregnant and some of these may affect your joints even after childbirth. Some of the factors that can contribute to joint pain after pregnancy are the following:
Joint pain after having a baby is often attributed to the changes in hormones that happen during pregnancy. Among the hormones that are released in higher amounts while pregnant are progesterone, estrogen, and relaxin. These hormones are responsible in the increased joint laxity or loosening, particularly in the sacroiliac joints of the hip bone.
Joint laxity is essential to prepare the woman’s body for labor and delivery. However, since it will take some time before the hormones return to their non-pregnant state, joint laxity may still extend months after you have delivered your baby. This makes the joints of a new mother less stable, more prone to stress and at a greater risk of sacroiliac joint pain after pregnancy.
Pregnancy weight gain
The weight you gained while pregnant many be another factor contributing to joint pain after pregnancy. Gaining additional weight, especially when it is over the recommended pregnancy weight gain, adds up stress on the ankle, knee, spine and hip joints.
The increase in fluid volume while pregnant, also known as the water weight gain, also contributes to joint stiffness in the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Likewise, the excessive fluid can lead to a condition called carpal tunnel syndrome which causes numbness and tingling sensation in the thumb, index and middle fingers of mothers who have just given birth.
Your body posture during and after pregnancy is also another factor to be considered. While pregnant, your center of gravity will tend to shift forward to support your growing belly. This change in posture can contribute to the risk of developing lumbar lordosis, or the excessive forward curvature of the lower spine, which may also cause a significant amount of back and hip pain.
Another thing that may add up to postpartum joint pain is poor posture and positioning after having a baby. Muscle and joint pain is often more evident to mothers who are breastfeeding while assuming poor posture. Leaning forward or slouching while breastfeeding can contribute to joint pain, particularly in the shoulders, hip, and back.
Previous joint injury or condition
Mothers who had a joint injury or medical condition affecting their joints such as arthritis, may experience severe joint pain after pregnancy due to the physical and hormonal changes that occur while pregnant.
How long does postpartum joint pain last?
The degree and duration of postpartum joint pain varies per individual. Joint pain after pregnancy may last for a couple of weeks, with some extending up to 5 months postpartum. Joint pain greatly depends on your general health status during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as your postpartum practices and habits.
Some factors that can aid postpartum recovery are a healthy diet, regular exercise (even if it is only a casual walk), a relaxing environment and good breastfeeding practices. If you will be the primary caregiver, make sure to carry your baby with good posture and positioning, and prevent activities that may increase painful episodes in your joints such as bending down to lift your baby or leaning forward while breastfeeding. Taking good care of your body and decreasing stress in your joints can greatly decrease the time before your body fully recovers from pregnancy and delivery.
How to Relieve Postpartum Joint Pain
Though fairly common, postpartum joint pain may interfere with your activities of daily living and may affect the quality of care that you can provide to your little one. There is no definite way to treat postpartum joint pain, however, some relief measures may help alleviate the discomfort. Here are some home remedies that you can try to relieve your sore and stiff joints post pregnancy:
Heat and Cold Application
When applied properly, heat and cold application can help ease out joint pain and other associated symptoms. The key to its effectiveness is to know when and how to apply the heat and cold in accordance to your goal of joint pain relief.
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When to apply heat
The purpose of applying heat over your aching joints after pregnancy is to dilate the blood vessels, promote better flow of oxygen and facilitate healing. Heat can also distract the brain from pain and helps relax the stiff joints and sore muscles.
Because of this, warm compress is better applied as you wake up in the morning, to relax and help lubricate your painful joints in preparation to your activities of the day. You can also apply heat to warm up your joints before doing some mild postpartum exercises.
When to apply cold
Cold application, on the other hand, is done to constrict the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to help decrease swelling and inflammation. Cold can also reduce the sensation of pain by numbing the area.
This is why cold compress is best applied after you exercise, or after doing an activity that triggered the painful episode in your joints. You can simultaneously repeat the warm and cold compress throughout the day to provide joint pain relief.
How to apply heat and cold
Aside from the proper timing, it is also essential to apply the warm or cold compress in such a way that the underlying muscles and tissues would absorb the temperature, but not too much that they can already injure the skin. Make sure to wrap your warm or cold compress in a towel to protect your skin from scalding and your underlying nerves from damage.
How long can you apply heat and cold
You shouldn’t use cold compresses for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. For the warm compress, the amount of time will depend on the location of pain, as deeper joints may need a bit more time to absorb warmth and its soothing effects. You can repeat the application of heat and cold several times in a day to provide joint pain relief.
Gentle postpartum exercises
Exercise is vital for your wellbeing as it promotes healthy joints, bones and muscles. However, since the hormone relaxin may still be in effect for several months postpartum, you’ll need to be aware that you’re more at risk of overstretching your ligaments, which can then lead to injuries.
So if you’re going for exercises after giving birth, it will be best to stick with gentle exercises that provide minimal stress to your joints and ligaments. Some exercises that you can begin with are deep breathing exercises, neck stretching, and bending. Also, once your doctor gives the go signal, you may take pleasure of low-impact sports, such as swimming, in your routine.
A postpartum massage may help ease out joint pain and aid in relaxation and healing after giving birth. A massage can also help shift the fluid distributions in swelled joints and promote better circulation in the area.
Postpartum massage shares almost the same features with a regular body massage, but if you recently had a Cesarean delivery, it will be best to seek advice from your doctor first to make sure that your surgical incision has fully healed before getting into any form of massage. Additionally, you should avoid massage therapy if you have a history of blood clot formation before or during your pregnancy, until advised by your doctor.
A well-balanced diet is typically advised for postpartum women to facilitate their recovery and is also an important aspect in preventing the recurrence of joint pain after childbirth. Try to formulate a healthy dietary plan to help prevent postpartum joint pain and stiffness with your nutritionist.
Over-the-counter pain medications
Severe flares of joint pain can interfere with your daily tasks and ability to raise your child, so you may ask your doctor for an appropriate pain reliever to help ease the pain. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are typically safe for breastfeeding mothers dealing with joint pain, but it will still be best to wait for your doctor’s go signal before taking any medications for pain relief.
Postpartum women are more prone to joint pain due to the physical and hormonal changes that they’ve gone through while pregnant, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll have to endure the pain. You may try the home relief measures mentioned above and work with your doctor for a joint pain management plan that is most appropriate for your condition.