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by Michael J. Velsmid, DPT, MS


One of the most common ailments that come with pregnancy is back pain. In fact, according to the North American Spine Society, half of all pregnant women will experience back pain. The cause is simply due to weight gain. In any other circumstance, back pain can be very effectively managed with diet and exercise. Unfortunately, weight gain is not reversible for the nine months of pregnancy. So, what is a woman to do? Exercise?

In many circumstances, women are able to exercise safely and effectively throughout their pregnancy. In fact, this is encouraged for those women who were at a high level of fitness before their pregnancy. What about the rest of the crowd? Well, there is no clear consensus. The body goes through amazing adaptations during pregnancy. Unfortunately, some of these adaptations elevate the risk of injury during exercise. For example, the hormonal changes cause ligament laxity. The ligaments are already under higher stress from the increased weight of the baby. Add to that the stress of exercise and you have all the ingredients of sacroiliac, knee, and ankle sprains.

So, what if you find yourself pregnant with back pain and you are not coming off the triathlon circuit? Or, what if you were the winner of the Ironman and now, due to the pregnancy, you are not able to exercise at all? What options do you have? One of them is aquatic exercise.

A recent study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological & Neonatal Nursing concluded that participating in aqua aerobics one time per week reduced back pain in pregnant women by fifty percent compared to land-based exercise! In fact, the literature is flowing with research and articles supporting aquatic therapy during pregnancy.

How does it work? There are four physical properties of water that make it ideal for exercise during pregnancy. Buoyancy eliminates the stress on joints. Hydrostatic pressure helps to increase circulation and reduce leg and ankle swelling. Viscosity and turbulence makes the exercise intensity self regulating. Elevated water temperature is soothing to painful muscles. In the water, a person is able to exercise at a higher intensity and move their body through larger arcs of motion because it is supported. The big surprise is that it is done without pain and it is easy! There are no consequences like those one might experience after exercising on land.

As mentioned, the known benefits of aquatic therapy during pregnancy include a reduction in back pain levels, reduced ankle swelling, and minimizing ligament injuries. In addition, joints are stabilized by the tone that develops in the surrounding musculature, sleep patterns improve, pregnancy weight is controlled, and when you feel good, your mood is brighter.

So, find a pool or better yet, an aquatic therapy center and stay active in the water during your pregnancy.

Visits Boston Sports Medicine to learn about their AquaNatal Program.

Dr. Velsmid is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine