Jacquelyn Ritsema had never had back problems. Giving birth to her daughter changed that. “Even bending over the baby to change his diaper was painful,” Jacquelyn said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Jacquelyn and Seth welcomed their baby, Kinsley, last July via an emergency Cesarean. “It was the first time that I had had the operation,” she said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Jacquelyn, a 24-year-old registered nurse, worked out regularly and did yoga. After giving birth, she expected some pain during recovery. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Postpartum physical therapy is the norm in some countries, and it is becoming more common in the United States, as providers aim to improve maternal health care. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“Between the cesarean and my abs that weren’t working as I was recovering from surgery, my vertebrae stopped aligning as they should,” Jacquelyn said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“I do the full routine on the days I’m not working,” Jacquelyn said of her prescribed physiotherapy workout. “And on the days that I work, I at least find time to stretch.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“At first I couldn’t lie on my back, contract my abs and then lift my legs off the floor one by one,” Jacquelyn said. “Now I can do it, no problem. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Nothing in Jacquelyn Ritsema’s life before pregnancy could have suggested back problems.
The 24-year-old registered nurse trained regularly and did yoga. In his work at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, she often helped lift patients.
But after she and her husband welcomed their baby, Kinsley, last July via an emergency Caesarean, that all changed.
“It was my first time to have surgery,” she said. “So I was expecting a bit of pain and recovery time.”
But the pain quickly became sharp and throbbing. She would feel it every time she leaned forward or backward – it would take her breath away.
“Even bending over the baby to change his diaper was painful,” she said.
Initially, her doctor asked her to try ice, heat and ibuprofen.
But the pain persisted. During Ritsema’s six-week postpartum exam, her doctor suggested she see a physiotherapist who specializes in postpartum recovery.
The doctor also told Ritsema that treatment is standard in some countries and is becoming more common in the United States as providers aim to improve maternal health care.
“My obstetrician assured me that (physiotherapy) could make a big difference,” Ritsema said. “And I was intrigued. And it hurt so much, I thought it couldn’t be worse.
The unexpressed pain
Not everyone knows that back pain can be a side effect of pregnancy. About 50% of women suffer from back pain during pregnancy, with between 5% and 40% of those still suffering six months later.
The incidence is even higher in cesarean deliveries under epidural anesthesia, such as that of Ritsema.
Ritsema met Elizabeth harris, PT, a Spectrum Health physiotherapist specializing in pelvic floor rehabilitation.
Harris quickly helped Ritsema understand his back pain.
“Between the cesarean and my abs that weren’t working while I was recovering from surgery, my vertebrae stopped aligning as they should,” Ritsema said.
A woman’s body can change dramatically as the baby develops, Harris said.
“We looked at the full dynamics of her spine and abs, restoring postural integrity so she could return to work,” Harris said. “An essential part of the job is moving patients. “
By September, Ritsema had started weekly sessions with Harris.
In eight sessions, she learned to retrain her abdominal muscles through a new series of stretches and strengthening exercises.
“At first I couldn’t lie on my back, contract my abs and then lift my legs off the ground one at a time,” said Ritsema, who lives in Marne, Michigan. “Now I can do it, no problem. “
“We started by focusing on the dynamics of his spine,” said Harris. “Nurses move patients and it is so important that they lift correctly. She needed to learn new ways to move.
Ritsema now works with a normal workload, around 36 hours per week in three 12-hour shifts.
Almost everything is on its feet.
“My back pain is completely gone which is fantastic,” she said.
She sticks to the 30-minute exercise routine prescribed by Harris.
“I do the full routine on the days I’m not working,” Ritsema said. “And on the days that I work, I at least find time to stretch. “
Spread the news
Harris and Ritsema want providers to educate more women about the benefits of physical therapy. This would prevent many women from suffering in silence, thinking that back pain is somehow normal.
“Several of my friends had babies around the same time, all with some level of back pain,” Ritsema said. “And none of them knew how much they could benefit from it.”
“It’s too common for new moms to think, ‘It’s just a pregnancy, I should be able to get over it, no problem,'” Harris said. “And, of course, some do. But often they don’t, especially with caesarean sections or more complicated deliveries.
Physiotherapy should be considered early in the process.
Harris encourages new moms to talk about back pain when they show up for their six-week checkup.
“We’re seeing more referrals,” she said. “So when it comes to building better backs, stronger cores and better pelvic floor health for new moms, we’re going in the right direction. “