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Blog / Postpartum

Mommy Shoulder

Yes, it’s a thing! (So is Mommy Thumb, Mommy Wrist, Mommy Arm … more on these in the fine print below.) Who knew that lifting and carrying your little one can result in repetitive strain injuries similar to those suffered by professional athletes? One recent Japanese study found the prevalence of shoulder and neck pain at 73.1% in new moms interviewed one month after giving birth. 25% of these cases began suffering from the condition only after the arrival of their baby.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), blood is a critical element of nutrition for the entire body, but it is especially important for the sinews and tendons. Poor blood flow to these tissues can leave the body at risk for repetitive stress or strain injuries like tendonitis and other painful ailments. From a Western standpoint, this also relates to why recovery from tendonitis is often so difficult, since blood circulation around these tissues is naturally more limited than elsewhere in the body. Interestingly, the same study cited above also determined a greater likelihood of postpartum neck and shoulder pain in women who had a history of other circulatory issues (regular PMS, and a sensation of cold hands and feet) prior to becoming pregnant. 

As new parents go about various physical tasks of caring for baby (lifting, carrying, holding), the muscles of the upper body and arms can often be held in a state of continuous contraction.

Add the mental and emotional stress of new parenting to the mix, and this upper body tightness gets even worse. In turn, muscle contractions pull on the tendons which hold the muscles to their neighboring bones, leading to inflammation and pain, also known as tendonitis. 

New moms are often considered “Blood Deficient” by TCM standards, likely having lost significant blood during the course of delivery. TCM also ties milk production to blood flow, so nursing moms can become even more depleted, if they’re not rebuilding their systems with plenty of nourishing fluids and foods. With the decreased ability of blood to support these overused tendons (commonly around the shoulder, elbow and thumb*), new parents can suddenly develop painful symptoms that are difficult to shake. 

This is where acupuncture and Chinese herbs come in! Using both hair-thin needles as well as herbal formulas, we can not only increase blood flow around the areas in question, but we can also help improve fluid and blood circulation in the body overall, removing inflammation and allowing tissues better access the nutrients they need to heal. Moxibustion (moxa) can also be used to add heat, which helps to improve circulation as well. 

Ideally, new parents can avoid repetitive stress injuries before they start with simple preventative measures: 

  • Maintain a healthy diet and lots of warm, decaffeinated fluids (soups, stews, teas)
  • Switch Baby equally between arms so one side doesn’t do all the work
  • Stretch your hands, wrists, shoulders and neck gently throughout the day
  • Practice deep breathing or meditative exercises to keep stress from settling in the neck and shoulders
  • Keep these areas warm, so they don’t further tighten up with exposure to cold 

Hopefully, these simple tips will keep you healthy and moving right along with your little one. If you do find yourself with a nasty flare-up, try acupuncture and bodywork, to get the blood gently flowing again and to ease your pain. 

*Along with various shoulder impingement issues, lateral epicondylitis (Tennis elbow) and de Quervain’s syndrome are both very common tendon ailments in new parents, affecting the elbow and wrist/thumb area respectively. 

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