Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery

J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2008 Oct;12(4):333-48. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2008.05.003. Epub 2008 Jul 1.


Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PRPGP) has a prevalence of approximately 45% during pregnancy and 20-25% in the early postpartum period. Most women become pain free in the first 12 weeks after delivery, however, 5-7% do not. In a large postpartum study of prevalence for urinary incontinence (UI) [Wilson, P.D., Herbison, P., Glazener, C., McGee, M., MacArthur, C., 2002. Obstetric practice and urinary incontinence 5-7 years after delivery. ICS Proceedings of the Neurourology and Urodynamics, vol. 21(4), pp. 284-300] found that 45% of women experienced UI at 7 years postpartum and that 27% who were initially incontinent in the early postpartum period regained continence, while 31% who were continent became incontinent. It is apparent that for some women, something happens during pregnancy and delivery that impacts the function of the abdominal canister either immediately, or over time. Current evidence suggests that the muscles and fascia of the lumbopelvic region play a significant role in musculoskeletal function as well as continence and respiration. The combined prevalence of lumbopelvic pain, incontinence and breathing disorders is slowly being understood. It is also clear that synergistic function of all trunk muscles is required for loads to be transferred effectively through the lumbopelvic region during multiple tasks of varying load, predictability and perceived threat. Optimal strategies for transferring loads will balance control of movement while maintaining optimal joint axes, maintain sufficient intra-abdominal pressure without compromising the organs (preserve continence, prevent prolapse or herniation) and support efficient respiration. Non-optimal strategies for posture, movement and/or breathing create failed load transfer which can lead to pain, incontinence and/or breathing disorders. Individual or combined impairments in multiple systems including the articular, neural, myofascial and/or visceral can lead to non-optimal strategies during single or multiple tasks. Biomechanical aspects of the myofascial piece of the clinical puzzle as it pertains to the abdominal canister during pregnancy and delivery, in particular trauma to the linea alba and endopelvic fascia and/or the consequence of postpartum non-optimal strategies for load transfer, is the focus of the first two parts of this paper. A possible physiological explanation for fascial changes secondary to altered breathing behaviour during pregnancy is presented in the third part. A case study will be presented at the end of this paper to illustrate the clinical reasoning necessary to discern whether conservative treatment or surgery is necessary for restoration of function of the abdominal canister in a woman with postpartum diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA).

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fascia / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Parturition / physiology
  • Postpartum Period / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Rectus Abdominis / physiology
  • Respiration*
  • Urinary Incontinence / physiopathology*