Aside from your doctor, there are a number of other health practitioners that can be extremely helpful during pregnancy, but many of them are lesser known. Osteopathy is one of these specialties. This guest blog post comes to you from Ottawa Osteopath and owner of Healthy Mumma, Shauna Ironside.
Before I tell you why osteopathy is a must during pregnancy, I should probably give you a brief rundown on what osteopathy is.
Osteopathy is not very well known here in Ottawa. Often people recognize the word, figure it has to do with bones and physical therapy, but beyond that things are pretty grey.
Here in Canada, we are osteopathic manual practitioners (D.O.M.P. is the abbreviation you’ll find to signify this). In the USA, osteopaths are medical doctors (signified with D.O.) and their practice, these days, is typically more allopathic (standard medicine) than the holistic manual therapy that osteopathy is more commonly known for world wide. In Canada, osteopathic training involves five or more years of study, plus a year or two to complete a thesis paper.
So most osteopaths here in Canada have studied for at least six years, plus whatever previous studies they have under their belt. For example, I completed a BSc. in athletic therapy prior to starting my osteopathic training. I am both a practicing osteopathic manual practitioner and an athletic therapist.
Okay, enough about the boring stuff though.
What is osteopathy?
Osteopathy is a holistic (whole body) approach to treating the body. Yes, osteo means bone, but osteopaths assess and treat all structures of the body: muscles, ligaments, fascia (connective tissue), bones, and organs. Yes, organs! We are the only manual therapists who rigorously study and treat the viscera and organs of the body. This unique skill set is what makes osteopathy such a powerful practice.
Your body parts are not segregated. Literally, every cell in your body is interrelated to every other cell. Every structure, directly or indirectly, contributes to the health of all of the other parts. And for the most part, properly treating an injury or ailment, demands that all parts of the body be assessed.
The goal of the osteopath is simple (in theory!): ensure that every structure is in its ideal position and has optimal mobility and/or motility. When a structure is free of restriction, it is free to move and express itself as it was intended, and with this in check, the structure can function properly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny ligament, or a big organ, like your uterus, every structure needs to be free of restriction to carry out its job.
Not only will a restricted structure have poor function (now or down the road days, weeks or years later), but it will likely also restrict other structures, limiting their function, and on and on it can go.
Finding the primary source(s) of dysfunctions is the osteopaths main objective.
Really, it’s what most manual therapists are after, but osteopathy is unique in that it really looks at ALL of the body structures and systems at once, and how they relate to each other and the issues at hand.
An osteopath uses only one tool (well, really two): her hands. Our hands are finely trained to palpate, listen to, and free whatever structure needs our help. And that’s the neat part, we are generally there, with our hands, only to guide and nudge structures towards better health.
Osteopathic manual therapy is (mostly) quite gentle. If too much force is used, structures can react negatively, or simply not at all. We show them the way, encourage them in the right direction of health, but ultimately your body will do most of the work.
So why is osteopathy so beneficial during pregnancy?
Pregnancy does not only cause your belly to expand in an impressive (and startling!) way, it also affects every other part of you. Your lower back, pelvis, digestive tract, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, hormones, fascia, muscles, ligaments, nervous system, and on and on, from head to toe.
The stresses, strains, and changes during pregnancy are astounding! It's no wonder that 76% of women experience pregnancy-related back pain. Pregnancy is hard work!
Let’s take an osteopathic look at that back pain.
As an osteopath, I’m not only going to look at your spine and pelvis (bones), and the muscles around them (core, pelvic floor, spinal muscles, etc.), but I’m also going to assess your uterus and it’s ligaments (that attach to your spine and pelvis), your digestive tract (that is in a whole new position because of that growing uterus), your legs and feet (because extra weight and support requirements), your diaphragm (so strained!), your head and jaw (because…well, too many possible connections to note here!).
You get the idea.
The fact is, most of us don’t get off scot-free during pregnancy. We ache, we pain, we compensate, we weaken.
And then, we are supposed to do something even more extraordinaire: give birth!
Osteopathy aims to restore the optimal alignment and mobility of all structures. This is something that is beneficial to everyone, at all stages of life, but it is especially beneficial during pregnancy because of the sheer number of changes, new stresses, and strains, to the body. The techniques are gentle, safe and adapted to each mother's needs and comforts.
Osteopathic treatment during pregnancy will help guide, release and restore the tensions and restrictions that build. It will help prepare you for delivery by ensuring the proper alignment of your pelvis. It can also help to set you up for a more efficient postpartum recovery. Win. Win. Win!
As an osteopath, and a mumma who knows just how physically demanding pregnancy and birth is, I am passionate about empowering women to connect with their bodies and gain a better understanding of it - it's strengths and it's weaknesses.
I often say that pregnancy and motherhood are like a sporting event, just a really long one without a finish line - IT IS SO PHYSICAL. And we don’t realise just how physical it is until we’re deep into it.
So many of us are terribly disconnected from our bodies these days. And this, I believe, is one reason why we struggle to be physically healthy during pregnancy (only 15% of pregnant women meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week).
And more so, why so many of us fail to properly reconnect with and repair our bodies postpartum. We feel broken, in pain, and so weak; we avoid activity for these reasons.
My passion is helping you connect with your body during and after pregnancy. Even years after pregnancy. My goal is to help your body find health through osteopathic manual therapy and then empower you with education and movement to maintain that health.
You can prevent pregnancy-related injuries.
You can prepare your body for birth.
You can repair your body postpartum.
You can surpass your fitness and health goals after having children.
And as an osteopathic manual practitioner (and an athletic therapist), I can help you do this safely and effectively. Osteopathy is a wonderfully therapeutic practice to discover and help you through these physically challenging years!
Shauna Ironside is an Ottawa based osteopathic manual practitioner, athletic therapist, and active mother of three.
You can find her online for treatment options and articles at healthymumma.com. You can also find her on Instagram for fun, exercise, and active, healthy living with her little ones at @healthymumma613.
She also teaches a prenatal workshop called Prevent-Prepare-Repair, and you can register online for her next session here.