Surfing safely after pregnancy: A physio’s perspective

As a mum to a toddler, an active member of Caloundra Surfing Mums and a gym enthusiast, I know first hand how keen us mums are to get back into the surf (and other forms of exercise) after childbirth. However, as a physio I am also confronted with the potential risks involved if you return when your body is not ready!

Did you know:

Pregnancy causes your amazing 6 pack to stretch down the middle? 

If this ‘gutter’ down your centre doesn’t come back together (within 2cm), you might experience instability in your pelvis which can make you prone to injury and pain.image1

Levels of Relaxin (a pregnancy hormone in your body) stay elevated for around 8 weeks after birth, so during this time, your ligaments have more ‘give’ in them and thus reduce the stability of your pelvis joints? 

While intense abdominal gym classes, running and boot camp might sound like the quickest way to get back in shape, in many cases they will actually make the problems worse! Jumping around with a painful/unstable core region, is like driving a car with loose wheels. It won’t drive efficiently and is likely to fall apart when it’s really pushed to its limits! We need to tighten all those nuts and bolts of our skeletal and muscular systems to safely get back into shape.

An incredible 1 in 3 women experience incontinence (leaking urine) after birth?

 This is partly due to the constant weight of bub straining your the pelvic floor throughout the pregnancy, and partly due to having had a the massive baby squeeze through them!! If you tore during delivery, you’ll probably have more trouble than others who didn’t. Although alarming, never fear, this can improve with the following pelvic floor retraining.

If any of these points resonate with you, read on, help is on its way! 

Crunches are not a good or safe exercise for you if you have a larger than 2cm separation. The following deep abdominal (core) exercises are more likely to help you tone up and draw this separation back together. If you had a C-Section these gentle strengthening exercises are even more essential.

Transverse abdominal and pelvic floor activation exercises:

As these muscles are mostly ‘postural’ and not ‘power’ muscles, a 20-30% contraction is all you should do (not a maximal 100% effort).

  1. Start with a fully relaxed belly. ‘Draw in’ the region below your navel (your transverse abdominals), in the direction of your lower spine (up toward the ceiling/sky). Imagine a belt is tightening around you.relaxed tummy__new
  2. Simultaneously, if you can coordinate it, draw in (don’t ‘bear down’) your pelvic floor in a direction toward your head. These are the muscles between your pubic bone and anus. Try and hold these gentle contractions as you attempt to breathe in and out for up to 3 breaths. Do as many as you are able in a row and aim to gradually increase this over time.tummy drawn in__new
  3. Practice quicker and shorter PF contraction as well, so that you can use these during a cough or sneeze.

To progress:

Increase the length of time contraction is held and the number of repeats

  • Add single limb movements… progrssion single limb__new
  • and then opposite limb movements to challenge your stability…

progression opposite limbs__new

  • Start activating the same muscles in different positions such as sitting or standing and then also while doing basic strength exercises like squats or lunges. The goal is to retrain these muscles to activate, in the background, during most daily activities.

There are 100’s of higher level (and more fun) exercises that your physio can guide you through as these muscles become more ‘automatic’.

I must emphasis there is no ‘one size fits all’ regime and seeing a physio for a specific assessment and treatment, especially if pain is involved, is highly recommended. Now go get practicing so I can meet you in the water really soon!

Liza runs a physiotherapy practice in Little Mountain on the Sunshine Coast. Liza Edwards Physiotherapy