Written by Claire, July 2018
Once upon a time, I used to cycle seven miles to work and go for long runs at the weekend. But after the birth of my first son, long-term Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) meant that exercise was off the agenda. Just getting to the corner shop could be a struggle.
Five years and another baby later, my pelvic pain was well under control following successful manual therapy treatment, and I felt it was time to get more active. I could go about my day-to-day activities without problems, but doing something unusual could aggravate my pelvis. I wanted to get fit, and I was hoping that improving my core strength could help my pelvis and back problems. So when a new community gym opened in my town I decided to give it a try.
My previous experience of gyms had not been very positive. Gym instructors had tended to be quite critical of my lack of flexibility and had left me feeling that gyms were for people who were already super fit. And that was before I had children and PGP, so what would they say now?
Luckily the instructor at my new gym was fantastic. He listened as I explained my pelvis problems and he was positive about designing a programme that could accommodate my limitations. Warm up on the bike; no rowing machine, as too risky for my back; I can’t couldn’t run on the treadmill so I walked with it set on an incline, which turned out to be just as good for raising my heart rate. Then some simple exercises with (small) weights, most of which involved an exercise ball in some form, to get my core muscles working. Finally, some stretches – really important, as muscle tightness was one of the reasons my PGP took so long to treat.
About twenty minutes after my first session I started to feel twinges in my sacroiliac joint. This gradually grew worse through the day. I iced my pelvis and later took a bath. But the next day my back went into spasm. The day after that, my pelvis was settling down but my back was worse and I was struggling to look after my toddler. My husband didn’t say anything but I knew he thought the gym was a bad Idea.
I had to cancel my next gym session, and I felt really down. But I start rollering my hamstrings with a big spiky ball, and this seemed to help a bit.
A week later, everything was settling down. I left it another week before venturing to the gym again. This time I was even more careful. I adjusted the bike seat to a lower position. But I noticed my pelvis rocking slightly from side to side as I pedalled. I decided the bike was just too big for me, so this would have to go from my programme. The instructor adapted my exercises to help my back: I was now lying on a raised step for some rather than on the gym ball. While I was on the treadmill I suddenly realised, I was actually enjoying this!
Straight after the gym, I got the ice pack on my pelvis, in the hope of stopping problems before they started. Before I went to bed I repeated all my leg stretches, and put a hot water bottle on my back to try and relax it. The next day I had some slight niggles but it was manageable. I kept on with rollering and did stretches every day. Gym visits three and four went smoothly, no problems! I was feeling cautiously optimistic. I may have been imagining it, but I thought I was getting fitter.
Three weeks later it is still going well, and I can really see a difference in my fitness now. Touch wood, I think this is working. I’m even thinking about running on the treadmill in a few sessions’ time.
My advice to anyone thinking about going back to exercise after PGP would be to start slowly and aim for a gradual build-up of activity. Accept that you won’t be able to progress at the same pace as others. Take advice from your physiotherapist or whoever is treating your PGP. Be alert for anything that could aggravate your pelvis (bad shoes, too large an exercise bike, tight leg muscles). Be prepared for setbacks, and be ready to change your exercise programme to eliminate the things that might cause you problems.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.