Another great article from Jenn at Smart Health Training & Services

When we consider Women’ s Health, we can look  at the pre and post natal phases, Pelvic floor dysfunction, Menopause and Osteoporosis, as the female travels through the decades.

In the pre natal phase, the female body is loaded with a lovely pregnancy hormone called Relaxin. Relaxin is important to soften the soft tissues allowing the female pelvis to open and the musculature to stretch to adapt to the growing fetus. This is also important on labor day to allow for good opening of the birth canal in order to deliver the baby. As the mummy’s body works through it’s changes over the 9 months, it is important for one to maintain stability through the skeleton as best possible. There will be expected pregnancy aches and pains but, through Pilates, one can assist with healthy stretching of the muscles, maintain lumbopelvioc control, correct posture and increase postural endurance in preparation for caring for your beautiful newborn.The muscles do stretch of course but we can maintain tone in them to encourage a swift bounce back post baby.  Of course Pilates is also a positive way to focus on the Pelvic floor musculature and develop good Pelvic Floor habits.

Once we have developed health habits and good muscle tone, we will be fit for labor and then pre-prepared for a healthy return to the post natal body. It is important for us to consider the fourth trimester of pregnancy, where that pregnancy hormone relaxin is still in the body for 12 weeks post natally. Through this time we must respect the ligaments and soft tissue exercising  like we were prenatally. Pilates can be returned to after a Vaginal Delivery or a  Caesarian Section, but always best under a Qualified Pilates Instructor. Pilates is a great form of exercise to maintain good body fitness, wellness and strength between pregnancies also and especially when a mummy is caring for a new born, a toddler and a school child – the busy mummy life needs fitness!

Pelvic Floor dysfunction may come in the form of weakness or, the lesser known,  tightness (overactivity). Weakness may stem from childbirth, over exertion through exercise or manual handling or even over exertion from repetitive coughing such lung conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis. The use of correct Pilates trains one to sequence the pelvic floor muscles with the deeper abdominal muscles to provide stability before loading the global muscles. The sequencing is important to ensure we place the correct safe load on the Pelvic Floor Muscles to train them into strength rather than strain them. Pelvic floor tightness can come from muscular damage post natal, boney pelvic bio mechanic dysfunction or even low back pain. The muscles begin to guard to protect and this combined with possible scarring causes the hammock of muscles to tighten. This can still present as some leaking when the two sides of the Pelvic floor do not close accurately, allowing a leak and therefore commonly misdiagnosed as weakness.

As the female progresses into the menopausal years, there is again a change in hormone balance. Muscle mass begins to diminish and Bone Density can drop by 30-55% in the female post 70 years old. Pilates is a supported and safe exercise format. It provides controlled and guided resistance, especially on the equipment. This builds muscle mass and also bone density to reverse these hormonal effects of aging. In addition, Pilates assists with balance and coordination which can be lost in the later years increasing the risk of  falls.

Similar to the above, Osteoporosis, or porous bone pathology is where the internal  component of the bone begins to degenerate. This is related to a reduction in Oestrogen,  possible reduction in protein based nutrients and reduction in Vitamin D as we have become far more Sun conscious. With the Osteoporotic person, we need to focus again on bone density and loaded weight bearing training. Specifically however, we would want to focus on exercise into the extensor muscles group, the shoulder girdle, the forearms and the hips. These are the common areas pf Stress fractures related to osteoporosis. It is most important to avoid loaded flexion with any exercise format for  the osteoporotic to prevent the chance of stress wedge fractures through the  spine.

So Pilates is a brilliant form of exercise and wellbeing for all phases of the Women’s Life. It will keep us fit, stable, health a strong through out. Enjoy!

Jen Guest is a Physiotherapist and Senior Pilates Practitioner at Smart Health Training & Services who holds a strong belief in working with junior dancers through their developmental years to achieve maximum potential.

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