Pregnancy is a beautiful and transformative experience for many women. But it also comes with a back-breaking list of aches and pains, and an equally long list of things you're not allowed to do about them. From leg cramps and headaches to swollen feet and back pains, these issues can make nine months feel like forever.
If you're looking for safe, non-drug pain relief to help you cope with pregnancy, foam rolling might be the solution for you. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of foam rolling during pregnancy, and how to do it safely so that you can minimize pain in all three trimesters.
Is Foam Rolling Safe During Pregnancy?
Yes, foam rolling is a safe option for most pregnant women, with a few extra precautions to Most women can safely start foam rolling at any point during their pregnancy. But some providers may caution against foam rolling in the first trimester because the risk of miscarrying is high in the first twelve weeks.
Similarly, some OB-GYNs may advise women with high-risk pregnancies against foam rolling or deep tissue massage. This is because it can cause sudden changes in blood pressure, dislodge blood clots, or stimulate muscle contractions, which could further endanger a woman with a complicated pregnancy or high-risk conditions like:
- High blood pressure
- Placenta previa
- Clotting disorders
- History of preterm labor
If you have any of these conditions, it is best to consult your provider before incorporating foam rolling into your prenatal fitness routine. Your provider can assess your unique risks, offer guidance, or refer you to a physical therapist who can teach you how to foam roll safely.
Benefits of Foam Rolling During Pregnancy
For centuries, massage has helped pregnant women relax and cope with the side effects of pregnancy. But having a prenatal massage therapist on-call is simply impractical to many women. It’s too expensive and oftentimes, difficult to schedule a 60-minute session several times per week.
Foam rolling is the perfect alternative to a masseuse. The self-myofascial release technique closely mimics the skill and precision of a massage therapist. It stimulates pressure receptors on the muscle fibers, triggering a series of physiologic responses that force your muscles to relax.
So, whether you're an award-winning power-lifter or someone who has never stepped foot in a gym, foam rolling belongs in your prenatal routine. Here's why:
Improved Prenatal Fitness
Staying physically active is important at any life stage. Barring any high-risk conditions, keeping a workout routine is highly encouraged during pregnancy. Not only will exercising keep you and your baby healthy, but it can also make childbirth easier.
Integrating foam rolling into your prenatal fitness routine can help you make the most out of your workouts. It improves your workout efficiency, reduces your chances for injuries, and promotes faster recovery. For best results, use the Rolflex foam roller before and after your workouts.
Less Pain & Soreness
As your baby grows, your body undergoes many changes to accommodate the new life forming within you. For starters, weight gain is inevitable. This additional weight pushes on your sciatic nerves, joints, muscles, and ligaments. The discomfort is typically most pronounced in the lower back, hips, and pelvis, making it hard to move or find a comfortable sleeping position.
Foam rolling can alleviate these aches and pains by targeting specific muscle groups and releasing tension in your hips, calves, hamstrings, and glutes. All you need is two to three minutes a few times per day to experience less pain, better mobility, and enhanced well-being.
Fewer Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are common during late pregnancy, especially during the second & third trimesters. While harmless, leg cramps can cause significant discomfort and sleep disruptions. No one knows for sure why some women experience leg cramps. But a mix of reduced blood circulation, growing pressure on your nerves, dehydration, and mineral deficiencies may be the culprit.
If painful and persistent leg cramps keep you from sleeping, try foam rolling your calves every night before bed. It will prevent cramps by releasing muscle tension and promoting better blood flow to your calf muscles. Consistent rolling may reduce the frequency and severity of your leg cramps, allowing for a more restful sleep. In some cases, you may need mineral supplementation to address a possible deficiency.
Precautions for Foam Rolling While Pregnant
While it's hard to ignore the benefits of foam rolling, you & your baby’s safety should always come first. Here are some important precautionary measures to take to ensure your safety:
Check with your provider
They can give personalized guidance, and determine if foam rolling is right for you based on factors like medical history, pre-existing conditions, stage of your pregnancy, and overall health.
Avoid some areas
The most obvious area to avoid foam rolling is your belly and bony prominences. But, some experts also recommend against foam rolling the adductor muscle on the inner thigh, and an acupressure point just above the ankle. Applying pressure on these areas is believed to cause uterine contractions and preterm labor. However, it is still best to follow your provider's expert guidance in this matter.
Learn to recognize leg cramps from deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
It can be easy to mistake a simple leg cramp for DVT. But while leg cramps are harmless, DVT is a serious condition that needs prompt medical attention. It occurs when a clot forms within the blood vessels in the back of your legs. Pregnant women are at higher risk for DVT due to hormonal changes and reduced blood flow. If your calf feels painful, tender, and warm, avoid foam rolling or massaging the area and call your provider immediately. Foam rolling this area could cause the clot to dislodge and travel to smaller blood vessels in the lungs or brain.
Modify pressure and intensity
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also make your muscles and connective tissue more sensitive to pressure. Always start with lighter pressure, then gradually increase as you feel more comfortable. Maintain proper alignment, take deep relaxing breaths, and roll gently and deliberately.
Foam Rolling After Giving Birth
Pregnancy is a serious life event that has lasting effects on the body. Regardless of how normal your pregnancy was, it can cause physical changes that may last for months after giving birth.
For example, posture changes are among the most common issues that postpartum women experience.
As your baby grows, the additional weight in the front of the body causes your lower back to curve forward. This can lead to an anterior pelvic tilt and rounded shoulders, creating the characteristic "mom posture."
While this is your body’s natural response to your growing baby, bad posture and poor body alignment can create adhesions and muscle pain over time. The extra weight puts strain and pressure on your muscles, which in turn creates micro-tears in your muscle fibers.
To repair these tears, your body tries to produce more collagen. But repetitive strain and poor management can disrupt this process, leading to excessive collagen production and scar formation. Areas of scarring can become “stuck” together, creating what are called myofascial adhesions. You feel these areas as points along your muscle that are more tender or sensitive than others.
Other causes of adhesions in postpartum women include:
- Immobility from prolonged bed rest
- Vaginal birth
The physical demands of caring for a newborn, too, can contribute to sleep loss, muscle strain, and fatigue. Whether your adhesions are from prolonged bed rest, surgery, or trauma from multiple pregnancies, foam rolling offers benefits like:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Faster tissue healing
- Improved muscle function
- Improved posture and optimal body alignment
- Less pain
- Calmer, more relaxed mood
- Better breastfeeding experience
The postpartum period is a crucial time for rest and healing. Here’s a short guide on how you can use foam rolling to support your recovery.
Working Your Calves
- Position the Rolflex massager so that the contoured foam roller rests directly on the calf muscle.
- Massage the entire length of the calf muscle using long, broad strokes and gentle pressure.
- Identify sensitive & tender areas, then flex your ankle up & down while holding the roller in place to break up the adhesions.
- Now, place the contoured roller on the tibia.
- Massage the outside of your shin for 30 seconds.
- Again, identify sensitive areas, holding the foam roller over them while flexing your foot up & down, 5-10 times on each sensitive area.
- Repeat the process and technique on your calf muscle.
Releasing Tight Hips and Thighs
- Sit on the edge of a chair and hold the deep tissue massager over your thigh, on the muscle over your hip, just a few inches below your waist.
- Roll the Rolflex back and forth over the TFL muscle for a few seconds.
- Squeeze the handles and hold the massager in place.
- While maintaining the pressure, rotate your hip slightly inward and outward. Perform 10 outward and 10 inward rotations
- Then, still maintaining pressure, slowly raise your leg off the ground and repeat 10 times.
- After that, position the massager on the topmost portion of your lateral quad. While applying gentle pressure, twist and rotate the foam roller as you work your way down your quad muscle.
Foam rolling can be every pregnant woman's best friend. Under professional guidance, foam rolling provides relief from common discomforts, reduces pain, and promotes relaxation during pregnancy.
But its benefits don't end there. Foam rolling can also be a valuable tool during the postpartum period. By improving blood flow, and reducing inflammation, it can help you heal more effectively so you can focus on the important things — bonding with your child in the early days. For your safety, always check with your doctor before starting any fitness regimen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it OK to foam roll while pregnant?
Yes, it is generally OK to foam roll while pregnant. But to be on the safe side, always check with your provider before starting any fitness regimen while pregnant, and avoid these common mistakes.
Can you use a foam roller for back pain while pregnant?
Yes, absolutely. Foam rolling works by reducing muscle tension, making it one of the best non-drug ways to relieve back pain while pregnant.