5 Ways to Maximize your Return to Running Postpartum
In 2019, I started reading books on a more frequent basis. I read a few books on running including “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. If you identify as a runner, you would love it. Talk about the ultra-marathon of a century! Who was your favorite character? Somehow I gravitated to barefoot Ted.
After reading this book and connecting with more mom runners in the community, I came across a common theme. We ALL just want to be able to run and run pain-free. We don’t want injury or anything else to get in the way of going for a run. And, there is something about running that gives us mental clarity and freedom, even when it can feel difficult.
Are you recently postpartum and experiencing pain while running?
With any sport or activity, there is a risk of injury or pain that can develop. Injuries are the most common reason for a person to stop running. As you read this, can you honestly say you never had any type of running injury before? Well, you are not alone, because injury incidence in runners is over 80%! Most of these injuries can be prevented with improvements in running programs and slower build-in mileage.
Postpartum runners make up a large portion of runners, and therefore exploring how you can continue to run or stay active during pregnancy will aid in your return to run postpartum, and understanding how to decrease your risk of pain when returning to running after a baby, is imperative.
5 Ways to maximize your return to running postpartum
There are a few things to consider before you return to running postpartum. The first is that your body needs time to HEAL. You had a lot of changes occur to your body over the last 9 months to accommodate for your growing baby, and that is AMAZING! Your body and posture have changed and organs have shifted to make room for the growing baby. It can take months for your organs to go back into the correct position postpartum and that is NORMAL. Unfortunately, we can not speed up the healing process, and now is your time to be kind to yourself and work on full-body strengthening, both double and single-leg, and improving core and pelvic floor function.
Consider Obtaining a Return to Run Readiness Screen
Current research suggests waiting until around 12 weeks postpartum to return to run. At the time, you can consider seeking a postpartum Physical Therapist to obtain a return to run screen. This screen will take you through a series of tests to assess your balance, strength, tolerance to impact, and posture. These tests will determine how your body is moving, your strength in moving from right to left, and how you can tolerate the load demands that running places on your body. Doing too much too soon can increase your risk for prolapse, injury, or incontinence to name a few.
In a recent study published in August 2021 by Christopher, Cook, and Snodgrass (1), women who had an increased risk of injury during a run postpartum were found to
- Had previous running injury
- Sleep less than 6.8 hours a night
- Had a vaginal delivery
- Showed symptoms of incontinence
- Or have less running experience
Postural Control can be a game-changer!
Another study, by Provenzano, et al. suggests that postpartum runners have a more restricted pelvis and trunk motion with increased running gait stability, potentially as a protective response due to the changes that occur to your body during pregnancy (2). What this means is that your running mechanics and posture can change during your walks and runs postpartum. You can be more proactive by being more aware of how you are standing and walking throughout the day. This can help you combat some of these changes.
Think about keeping your ribs stacked over your pelvis. Check-in and be sure your ribs are not flared up towards the ceiling. Also, check that you are gripping your ribs down and in. In either of these positions, you should be able to breathe in and expand through your sides, back, and slightly into the belly. If you are unsure where your ribs like to rest, check it out in a mirror and find a neutral position, even if that means your shoulders are rounding forward some. We can work on that later! Next, check-in with your pelvis. Do you notice your pelvis tilting forward (anterior pelvic tilt) or your glutes gripping, pulling your pelvis underneath you (posterior pelvic tilt)? Find somewhere in between those positions and practice that first in standing and walking. Again a mirror can be helpful.
Check out this VIDEO to learn more.
Fatigue IS REAL as a new mom
When we think about exercise, sometimes we miss the other factors we should take into consideration outside of the workout. How much are we fueling our bodies? How much sleep are we getting a night? As a new mom, sleep can be disturbed quite frequently, and sometimes this is just out of our control. Be mindful of how much sleep you are getting each night. This is especially important on days you are working out. Sleep interruptions leading to fatigue are a predetermined factor in increasing the risk of pain during return to running postpartum (1). Sleep is going to aid in recovery and getting at least 6.8 hours of sleep a night will help decrease your risk of injury.
Previous injuries may arise
If you had an injury or pain in the past, sometimes postpartum this pain can come back with a vengeance. The areas where my clients have the most discomfort are usually their lower back, pelvis, and upper back. This is due to ligament laxity, changes in the center of gravity (the point at which your body feels most centered), and hormonal changes to name a few. These injuries could resurface especially when you are doing an activity your body may not be ready for. With the postural changes, a weakness that occurs due to stretching of muscles and tissues during pregnancy, and muscle imbalances, it is a recipe for injuries to arise. Not to fear, if you are proactive and work on restoring mobility, adding core and pelvic floor strengthening techniques, and consult a Physical Therapist before you return to run, you are setting yourself up for success. You do not need to have pain to see a postpartum physical therapist!
In conclusion, protective factors for return to run postpartum include the following:
- Waiting at least 12-weeks so your body can heal
- Obtain a return to run readiness screen by a physical therapist
- Work on postural control during and outside of your runs
- Make time to sleep when you are able, even if that means changing your schedule so you can get more Zs
- Previous injuries may arise so being proactive with strengthening exercises and seeking help from a PT is KEY!
Following these 5 tips will help maximize your return to running postpartum. If you are still unsure schedule a discovery call with me so we can make a return to run plan that works for you!
Keep on running,
1) Christopher, Cook, & Snodgrass. What are the biopsychosocial risk factors associated with pain in postpartum runners? Development of a clinical decision tool. PLOS ONE. 2021.
2) Provenzano, Hafer, et al. Restriction in Pelvis and trunk motion in postpartum runners compared with pre-pregnancy. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2019.