Background: A longitudinal repeated measures design over pregnancy and post-birth, with a control group would provide insight into the mechanical adaptations of the body under conditions of changing load during a common female human lifespan condition, while minimizing the influences of inter human differences. The objective was to investigate systematic changes in the range of motion for the pelvic and thoracic segments of the spine, the motion between these segments (thoracolumbar spine) and temporospatial characteristics of step width, stride length and velocity during walking as pregnancy progresses and post-birth.
Methods: Nine pregnant women were investigated when walking along a walkway at a self-selected velocity using an 8 camera motion analysis system on four occasions throughout pregnancy and once post birth. A control group of twelve non-pregnant nulliparous women were tested on three occasions over the same time period. The existence of linear trends for change was investigated.
Results: As pregnancy progresses there was a significant linear trend for increase in step width (p = 0.05) and a significant linear trend for decrease in stride length (p = 0.05). Concurrently there was a significant linear trend for decrease in the range of motion of the pelvic segment (p = 0.03) and thoracolumbar spine (p = 0.01) about a vertical axis (side to side rotation), and the pelvic segment (p = 0.04) range of motion around an anterio-posterior axis (side tilt). Post-birth, step width readapted whereas pelvic (p = 0.02) and thoracic (p < 0.001) segment flexion-extension range of motion decreased and increased respectively. The magnitude of all changes was greater than that accounted for with natural variability with re testing.
Conclusions: As pregnancy progressed and post-birth there were significant linear trends seen in biomechanical changes when walking at a self-determined natural speed that were greater than that accounted for by natural variability with repeated testing. Not all adaptations were resolved by eight weeks post birth.