Childbirth may prove to be more stressful for the human body than most endurance sports, according to a new study. For more than 15 percent of women, giving birth will result in pelvic injuries that will not heal.
Researchers at the University of Michigan used MRI technology to diagnose injuries caused by deliveries, employing the same approach used to evaluate sports injuries.
"If an athlete sustained a similar injury in the field, she'd be in an MRI machine in an instant," said Janis Miller, a co-author of the study and associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. "We have this thing where we tell women, 'Well, you're six weeks postpartum and now we don't need to see you — you'll be fine.' But not all women feel fine after six weeks nor are they ready to go back to work, and they aren't crazy."
The study found that some of these injuries could take eight months to recover from. The prescribed physical therapy is not always effective, according to the researchers.
"Women with pelvic injuries often feel like something isn't right, but they don't understand why and can't get answers from physicians," Miller said. "A woman may have bladder problems, and in some cases prolapse of organs if the pelvic muscles are not functioning well enough to hold them in place."
Researchers found that 25 percent of the women studied had fluid in the pubic bone marrow, which is the equivalent of a sports stress fracture, and 41 percent suffered muscle tears. Two-thirds suffered severe muscle strains.
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"We're not saying that every woman who gives birth needs an MRI nor that women should not do Kegel exercises," Miller said. "A key point is that if a woman is sensing that she has delayed recovery or unusual symptoms of discomfort or feels she just can't Kegel anymore, she should see a specialist."