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Health // Doctor in the House
Rasa Fournier

Prenatal Physical Therapy

Kara Infante
Physical therapist at The Queen’s Medical Center

Where did you receive your schooling and training?

I attended Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago, receiving a doctorate in physical therapy. All of the physical therapists at our clinic have a master’s or doctorate degree, which means we go through six to seven years of training to become a physical therapist. One of the great things about our profession is the scope of our practice and the variety of continuing education courses that we can take during the course of our careers.

How long have you been practicing?

Two-and-a-half years.

Who are your primary patients?

Our patients are women experiencing difficulties related to pregnancy and post-partum phases, breast cancer treatment, lymphedema, bladder and bowel problems, and pelvic pain, including sexual dysfunction.

What are some of the common problems you see during pregnancy?

Neck pain, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, difficulty with bladder control and sciatica. These symptoms can result in challenges with completing simple daily tasks.

How is carpal tunnel related to pregnancy?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is related to the hormonal changes that the body experiences during pregnancy. These hormones can cause you to retain fluid and put pressure at the carpal tunnel, resulting in numbness and tingling through the hands or fingers.

Sciatica is a buzz word lately. What exactly is it?

Sciatica is pain, numbness or tingling originating in the low back that can radiate down the leg. Fifty to 70 percent of women will experience low back pain during pregnancy. Although it’s common, it is not something you should have to live with through the pregnancy.

The causes of pain can vary from person to person, but the majority of back pain concerns are related to the changes your body experiences during pregnancy. These changes include weight gain (triggering changes in your posture, making your spine curve more than normal), the added stress of preparing for a new baby and hormone changes.

How do you treat these various symptoms?

One of the first things women can do is to get fit. Being a mom is an endurance event, so you want to start training now. Even if you’re already training, continue to do so to optimize your physical conditioning. We encourage women to start exercising 30 minutes a day. Speak with your doctor or physical therapist prior to beginning any exercise program. Get approval that it’s OK to begin and that you’re having an uncomplicated pregnancy.

Some common exercises we recommend during the prenatal time are swimming, walking and prenatal yoga. Walking and swimming are inexpensive and easy to do. Prenatal yoga is good because the program focuses on stretching and strengthening. As physical therapists, we can treat all of the problems and concerns on the list. We may not be able to treat the added stress, but we can discuss ways of helping you manage your stress. If you have been having any of the above difficulties with your pregnancy, we recommend seeking help if you have been experiencing pain longer than two weeks, if the pain is worsening or if it’s limiting you from your daily activities. We want you to be able to save your time off from work for when baby is born. If you have questions about getting referred to physical therapy, please contact us (691-7729) or speak with your doctor about getting a referral.

Do these problems go away naturally when the pregnancy is over?

The old school of thought is it will all go away once you give birth. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, so if you are not beginning to feel “yourself” again six weeks after delivery, speak to your doctor about these problems and seek help.

As physical therapists, we are uniquely trained to assess your symptoms and treat the causes of your symptoms. Our focus in physical therapy will assist you in walking normally again, maintaining good posture and performing your daily activities without pain. Our goal is to help you learn how to get better and stay better, to empower you to feel good.

Since we’re discussing women’s health, can you mention some of the work you do with women who have had breast cancer?

We see women for side effects from chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery (including lumpectomy, mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy). Some common problems include difficulty raising the arm overhead, swelling of the arm or chest wall (known as lymphedema), shoulder pain/tightness, fatigue/decreased endurance and weakness. Ninety percent of women will report that they have one or more symptoms related to their breast cancer treatment, so these symptoms are very common. Sometimes it takes extra intervention to help get you back to feeling normal after breast cancer treatment. At physical therapy, we take baseline measurements of shoulder range of motion, and assess for lymphedema and strength. Then we design a movement program that specifically addresses any of these difficulties.

Anything you’d like to add?

At our facility, we use very minimal equipment. The good thing about that is when we design your exercise program, everything we use will be something that you have access to around your house. We also see patients for one-on-one hourlong treatment sessions. We do a lot of hands-on therapy to treat trigger points, tight muscles and joint problems.

We have a few classes coming up. “Surviving and Thriving: Getting Your Life Back after Breast Cancer” occurs the first and third Wednesday of each month from 1 to 2 p.m., and on the second Wednesday of the month from 6 to 7 p.m. The class focuses on educating and screening attendees for impairments related to breast cancer treatment.

We also offer a class for women who are pregnant, “Making It through Pregnancy Comfortably,” Jan. 23 from 5 to 6 p.m. Both of these courses are offered at the Queen’s Women’s Health Center and are free. Sign up for either class by calling the Queen’s referral line at 691-7117.

CORRECTION: Dr. Liz McLemore and Dr. Roxie Hastings were incorrectly identified in the Jan. 9 Dr. in the House column. They are optometrists, not ophthalmologists.

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