During pregnancy a woman’s body releases a hormone called relaxin to enable your pelvis to expand during birth. (Phew!) But it’s not just the pelvis that relaxin affects, as Ali Rose, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s physio, discusses…
Q) What is laxity?
Quite simply, laxity describes the mobility or looseness of your joints and the ligaments that support the joints.
Every single one of us has a certain amount of laxity/mobility in our joints, with this ranging from hypomobile – where people have particularly stiff joints – to hypermobile, where they have very mobile joints.
Unless you are at either end of the spectrum or training particularly hard, you probably won’t pay much attention to your joint mobility… until you become pregnant, that is.
Q) How does laxity affect pregnant women?
For pregnant women, joint mobility becomes very relevant because of the hormone relaxin, which is released from the beginning of pregnancy. The big job of relaxin is to increase the laxity (looseness) in the ligaments around the pelvis, which helps to enable the pelvis to expand during birth.
Now, this is obviously a very clever adaptation that a woman’s body makes to prepare you for birth, but it can have some rather achy side effects.
The pubic symphysis (the joint at the front of your pelvis, where the two side of the pelvis come together) and sacro-iliac joints (at the base of your spine where the two dimples are) are particularly affected, which can lead to pelvic pain. Plus, the hip joints, shoulders, spine and the joints in the feet and ankles can all suffer.
This can become a particular problem with women who are not strong before they get pregnant, have underlying alignment issues, or are hypermobile before their pregnancy.
Q) That all sounds like a nightmare! What can be done to help address some of these things?
Now, you can’t stop relaxin from being released and laxity from taking place, and you wouldn’t want to. But you can do lots of strengthening and stabilising exercises that help to support the muscles around the joints that are becoming looser.
Jessica Ennis-Hill's Jennis Pregnancy has been created with all this in mind and is packed full of exercises that support and strengthen the joints most affected in pregnancy.
For example, the quad stretches in the Read Your Body exercise list may look pretty simple at first glance, but we’ve put them in because they help to prevent a tilt of your pelvis, which puts stress on the front of your pelvis and lower back, and means your bump can fall further forward in front of the pelvis, adding further stress.
The laxity in your feet can be supported by strengthening the small muscles in your feet and the calf muscles. Exercises that help with this within the programme are the foot tunnels, balance work, and calf muscle strengthening exercises. And hip mobility is helped by gluteal (buttock) muscle strengthening and balance work.
The big job of relaxin is to increase the laxity (looseness) in the ligaments around the pelvis, which helps to enable the pelvis to expand during the birth
Q) What can I do if I do get sore? People tell me this is normal.
It is not enough to be told that you are sore just because you are pregnant and that it will just go away. There is usually something that can be done.
Often, simply stretching out tight areas (like the quads) can make a huge difference (for the reasons I describe above).
The Read Your Body exercises featured within the Jennis Pregnancy app should help you read where you are becoming lax and what you can do to strengthen what needs to be strengthened to help.
If there is persistent soreness, it might be that you need to see a physio who is experienced in working with pregnant ladies to work out why and to be given the correct exercises for you.
Q) Does laxity change trimester by trimester?
Increased laxity tends to start after about six weeks and become really noticeable between weeks 11 and 12. Jess's hip range, for example, increased by nearly double at this point.
You may not get a lot looser after this point in terms of actual laxity, but what does change is that you get bigger, you may not feel like doing exercises and your centre of gravity changes – all of which contributes to pressure on your joints.
Again, the strengthening and stabilising exercises we have included within Jessica Ennis-Hill's pregnancy workout programme, trimester-by-trimester, are important in helping to support your changing body.
Q) When it comes to laxity, what do you need to bear in mind when exercising?
Because of relaxin loosening your joints, you need to be careful not to overstretch joints. It is important to do the exercises with as good alignment as possible, as this will support your core work, your spine and help you move as well as possible. And I’ll say it again and again, you need to incorporate a lot of strengthening and stability exercises and balance work into your routine to support your joints.