When I made the commitment to run the Boston Marathon for my 50th birthday, I did not imagine anything standing in the way of my goals, despite the fact that I had not run consistently most of my adult life. So when persistent hip and knee pain sidelined me in mid-January, I wanted to do what was necessary to get myself back on track.
Little did I know that meeting my physical therapist at Marathon Physical Therapy would change how I viewed my body for this second half of my life, when she showed me how an untreated pregnancy-related condition in my early 20’s led to the hip and knee pain in 2011.
October 26, 1985—I actually saw and felt it happening. My husband and I had a wonderful, magical day at the wedding of two friends in a castle in Germany. I was exactly seven months pregnant (to the day) with my first child, and in the midst of the celebrations, my hunger was ravenous and I could feel and see my stomach expand. I had actually measured my stomach earlier that day and again that night (I was obsessed with my growing body) and saw that my abdomen grew two inches that day!
Little did I know that like an over-used rubber band, my tranversus abdominus muscle (and the tissue holding it together) was separating and causing Diastasis Rectus Abdominus (DRA), a significant problem with regard to female pelvic health.
Though I looked and felt enormous when I was pregnant, the truth was, I was young and healthy for all three of my pregnancies, and had normal deliveries. I gained exactly 34 pounds with each pregnancy and weighed the same at birth with each of my children who ranged in size from 8 pounds 2 ounces to 8 pounds 13 ounces. I am short in stature (5’ 1”) and carried all of pregnancy weight straight out in front. I lost all my pregnancy weight within a few months after the birth of each child, but my pre-pregnancy “innie” belly button was never seen again, and the skin around my abdomen reflected the over-stretched look that no amount of creams could restore.
I remember at six weeks postpartum, my mother suggesting I wear a girdle. I was indignant. I was 24 and almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Girdles were for overweight older women with paunches. I was certainly not in this category. My abdomen would regain its former shape and size as long as I faithfully did my sit ups each day. If only I had listened.
Over the years I would do countless abdominal exercises and waste money on useless exercise equipment. It became a family joke when I was doing my dreaded sit-ups. “Watch what Mommy can do,” I would say to my children. “I can fit my whole hand in between my stomach muscles!” My children would stare in horror, screaming, “Gross Mom!” as they ran from the room. Well, it was one way to get a little alone time!
Fast forward to 2011 at Marathon Physical Therapy in Norton, when my physical therapist spoke the words that were music to my ears as she told me I would never have to do another conventional sit-up again, but she would show me better ways to restore the strength to my abdominals! That was the good news. The bad news was that I waited far too long to attend to this condition, and though I would see marked improvement with the proper exercises, I could never fully correct this problem without surgery, something which had been confirmed to me over the years by several doctors. So we set about working on the exercises to restore how my body functioned, even if I couldn’t actually “fix” my separated tissues. She taught me proper (and easy!) exercises to help restore my core function. Together with some other muscles the TA muscles are the core of our body function, and loss of function in these muscles can affect every other muscle group in your body (including your hips and knees). I knew that many women experience back and pelvic pain, organ prolapse or incontinence, but since I never had pain until that January, I never thought I had a significant problem.
Through my relationship with Marathon Physical Therapy and my PT, I learned to carry myself better and smarter, have improved my pelvic floor and abdominal muscle health, and accomplished my goal of finishing the marathon. The defining moment came for me not at the marathon, but one day, just a year after meeting my PT. I stepped out of the shower one morning and looked in the mirror. Something was different, but I could not quite identify what it was. Then suddenly it dawned on me—after 26 years, there it was, like a long-lost friend—proof that my exercises worked—my “innie” has returned!
My advice to any post-pregnancy woman of any age is—educate yourself on pelvic floor health, learn the signs and seek help—the sooner the better. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Just think of all the time you will have when you can stop doing those useless sit-ups!