Now I must admit, this pregnancy, I’ve been pretty lucky. I have had no vomiting/morning sickness, minimal nausea and (apart from some extreme fatigue and awful allergy symptoms) I’ve generally been able to carry on as usual. Yeah, I know, don’t hate me!
I’m currently in the middle of my second trimester, and one of the things I have noticed, is my joints are becoming sore… and not ones I would expect! I reached out to pick something up the other day, and felt my collarbone click, sending a shooting pain across it. Or, my shoulder hurts and feels unstable when I do certain exercises at the gym. My upper back muscles seized up one day and I needed a few days of heat backs to recover.
So I thought I would have a chat today about why this occurs… along with other joint related aches and pains throughout pregnancy.
It generally comes down to a little substance called RELAXIN.
Relaxin is a hormone (like testosterone, or osterogen, or even insulin). It’s actually present in both females AND males (in small doses), and has a number of roles within the female body.
In women, relaxin is secreted into the bloodstream after ovulation by the ovary, and levels rise during the second half of the menstrual cycle. It is thought that the role of relaxin at this stage is to relax the uterus and prepare it for implantation by a fertilised egg. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, then levels will fall again, and the cycle repeats. This presence of relaxin (it is thought) is why some girls and women are actually prone to injury at certain stages of their menstrual cycle (more on that later).
If a pregnancy occurs, relaxin levels remain high particularly through the first trimester which is believed to help promote the implantation of the fetus, and growth of the placenta. Interestingly, relaxin also has other roles, such as acting on the mother’s blood vessels to increase blood flow to certain organs.
The other big role of relaxin, particularly towards the end of pregnancy is to soften and stretch the cervix and to (surprise surprise) ‘relax’ ligaments in the pelvis to help widen it to allow the baby through.
Lots of studies have looked at the effects of relaxin all over the body. It’s also assumed that relaxin is not selective, i.e it just doesn’t say ‘there are the pelvic ligaments, that’s all I’m supposed to relax’ and may in fact act on ANY ligament in the body. Therefore it’s proposed that relaxin during pregnancy causes laxity (flexibility or looseness) in the joints, and may lead to increased non-traumatic injuries or even just instability and pain. Hence my collarbone hurting, or my back muscles seizing up (although I must admit this is probably because I now need to buy some more supportive sports bras to support the, um, ‘increased weight’ on the front of my chest).
One of the most common symptoms related to joints in pregnancy is pelvic girdle pain (our pelvic girdle consists of our hip bones, and sacrum and coccyx).
Pelvic girdle pain consists of discomfort and pain in the pelvis and lower back areas.
There are lots of factors that can cause pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. Symptoms are through to occur due to that relaxation of pelvic ligaments combined with the increased joint flexibility/mobility that occurs in pregnancy. It is very common – occurring to anywhere between 8-84% of women! If you are experiencing pain in this area I would chat to your GP, Obstetrician or a Physiotherapist.
The take home? Our bodies are changing a lot with pregnancy… looser joints, carrying more weight, centre of gravity changes. So be cautious when exercising or performing tasks like lifting, and look after yourself.