This morning on the Aligned and Well Facebook page (find us!), I got this question and thought it was important enough to share:
Does relaxin not do enough to loosen the muscles of the thighs and abdomen to facilitate labor? Will I still need to stretch my crazy tight psoas once the hormone starts working?
For those of you who don’t know relaxin, she’s not asking about relaxin’ as in, swinging in a hammock or getting a massage. Relaxin is the name of a hormone that targets the collagen of certain tissues with relaxin receptors. Relaxin is often called the pregnancy hormone, but both men and women make it for various collagen-softening reasons (the most current being relaxin’s role in cardiovascular function, but…for another time.)
Contrary to popular belief (which in terms of scientific information is typically like one long game of Operator*!) relaxin does not affect muscle tension because it does not affect muscle tissue. I’ll say that again. Skeletal muscle, which is the muscle you think of when you think of your muscles (that’s not confusing, right?) is not affected by relaxin.
In pregnancy, the tissues most affected by relaxin are the pelvic organ ligaments, the uterine muscle, and the pubic symphysis (which I will refer to as the PS because I have to look up how to spell symphysis every time.) The PS is the soft joint between the right and left halves of your pelvis. No, your pelvis is not one fixed bone, but the slightly malleable interaction between your right and left side. And this is a good thing to, as you want your symphysis to be supple to allow for greater birthing space.
So, Great. I’ve got relaxin. Awesome. Then I’ll just chill on the couch until it’s time to push ’em out, right?
Not so much, because here’s the thing. While relaxin secretion (when your body moves in alignment and has all the muscles at the right length) is an awesome biological occurrence, relaxin secretion (when your muscles and bones are not where they are supposed to be) can also result in pelvic ligament sprains, low back pain, and pelvic-joint instability. Not fun, especially with an extra ___ (fill in the blank) kilos to your frame.
And, here’s the other thing. Nature’s excellent programming of flexible parts during delivery can be rendered useless by something else — your tight muscles.There is an incorrect belief that your muscles soften when it comes time to deliver. Nope. When it’s time to push, you’ve got what you’ve got — there aren’t any hormones that will bail you out of muscle tension. You need to take care of that ahead of time.
And before and after your delivery, your whole-body muscle tension and weaknesses can make pregnancy uncomfortable by allowing your muscle imbalances to do more damage. With softer connections, your habits place your now-excessively flexible parts at risk (think sitting on that tucked pelvis with a sacrum that’s a little less stable).
Or (as pictured above) tighter hip musculature on one side that now rotates the left half of your pelvis away from the right (pubic symphysis pain, anyone?). This is NOT what you want to be dealing with before, during, or after labor.
To recap: Relaxin is not your ticket to relaxin’. In fact, the fact that relaxin is there at all really requires that you to work back to your natural alignment ASAP to prevent tissue damage and have an optimal delivery.
To answer the question from above more specifically — the relaxin will do nothing for your psoas muscle. That, my friend, is your job 😉
*The game of Operator! (aka Telephone) goes like this:
A group of people sit a circle. The first person leans over and whispers in the ear of the person next door and says something like:
“I think that John should have to make dinner tonight” and by the time it makes it all the way around the circle, the last person says aloud what they heard it as, which is usually something like “She’s in the sink with Shauna but that’s all right.”