Running is great exercise. You can pretty much do it anytime, anywhere, super convenient! However there may be signs while your running that your body is trying to tell you something.
If your pelvic floor muscles (aka the vaginal muscles) and surrounding muscles aren’t working together like they should, you may notice symptoms such as…
- Heaviness or dragging feeling in the vagina
- Pain including low back, hip or pelvis either during or after the run
This is why immediately after having a baby those muscles that were challenged, the abdominals and pelvic floor, have to be retrained and strengthened first before you hit the trails.
Imagine if you had knee surgery. A therapist would work on your range of motion, help with pain management, begin strengthening, stretching, and then progress to more weight bearing exercises, plyometrics, etc. This is the same with the postpartum population. Delivery is trauma to the pelvic floor, and the pelvic floor muscles along with the abdominals MUST regain strength to provide support in order to tolerate the pounding on these muscles when you run.
If you are breastfeeding it may take longer to regain this strength since hormones that make your ligaments lax are still in your body.
However once you have consulted with a women’s health physical therapist and began a strengthening program, you will want to add the running in slowly.
You should start with a walk run program. Walk 2 minutes, run 1 minute, continuing to alternate, starting with 10 minutes and then gradually work up. Increase your run time until you do not have any of the above symptoms.
The pelvic floor muscles fatigue while running if you are still in the recovery process. If you leak while running after a certain time, say after 15 minutes, then stop before the 15 minutes. Your muscles in time will catch up.
By simply changing your alignment or posture while running, you can help change the demand on the body. Breathing is also an important part as the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm work together to provide stability. Here are other tips for any runner whether immediate postpartum or not…
- Do not remain upright and rigid, lean forward in a “ski jump” position from the ankles (not the hips) Untuck your butt (no clinching the butt cheeks)
- Breathe while running making sure the chest and belly breathe together (don’t inhale from the upper chest or from the belly)
- Imagine your upper body is a coke can, and you don’t want to “kink” the can, keeping that ski jump position, don’t over arch your back or slouch at the shoulders
- Don’t stick your heels way out in front while running, land with your feet underneath your body. Landing underneath reduces the amount of impact from 6-8 times your body weight (feet out on front) to 2-4 times your body weight (feet underneath)
- Don’t look out into the horizon, keep your gaze about 20 feet ahead
- Don’t grip your abdominal muscles as this could be adding pressure through the pelvic floor, resulting in more heaviness or leakage
You don’t have to engage any “kegels” while running because having the optimal position with your ribs stacked over the pelvis in that ski jump position along with proper breathing will help the muscles do their job naturally. However there does need to be some baseline strength and mind body connection with the pelvic floor muscles. If you just had a baby these muscles will remain weak until properly trained. If you are not sure you can engage the pelvic floor muscles correctly, a women’s health physical therapist can help you find the muscle, and then discuss functional ways to strengthen it.
Heaviness or a dragging feeling in the vagina may be as a result from a pelvic organ prolapse. In this case it may be advised to wear a pessary while running, to give your bladder more support. A pessary may be helpful to prevent the prolapse from worsening over time. A women’s health physical therapist can give you extra advise on managing the prolapse while offering more specific strengthening exercises.
Never think no pain no gain! If you are having any kind of pain during or after running, you should get it checked out!
Hopefully you will find these tips helpful! As always if you have any questions just shoot me an email at Camille @indywomenpt.com or call 317-689-0073