Women's Health Week: Navigating Exercise with Four Common Conditions

This Women's Health Week, we're talking all things women's wellness. Follow along as our resident physical therapist Dr. Amy Hoover tackles hot-button topics, both here and on Instagram, all week long.

As women, we can experience multiple different health issues that impact our physical and emotional states. And though most aren't easy to deal with, there are ways to minimize symptoms by safely incorporating exercise into your routine. Read on to learn more about a few of these conditions, and how mindful movement can help manage living with each.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease as it is sometimes called, is a bone condition that affects about 44 million Americans, with 80% of those being women. It’s characterized by the body’s loss of too much bone or inability to produce enough bone, or both.* Hormonal changes during and after menopause can increase your risk for lower bone density and can lead to osteopenia (precursor to osteoporosis) or osteoporosis. Being sedentary or inactive is also a risk factor. Weight bearing and resistance exercise as well as postural exercises can significantly reduce your risk for developing osteoporosis and help stimulate bone growth for prevention. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, you can and should still exercise to improve bone density. Women with osteoporosis should avoid excessive flexion or twisting of the spine due to risk of fracture. 

P.volve movements are a safe and effective way to improve posture and work the body in a neutral spine, making it an excellent choice for this condition. Workouts should be modified as needed to minimize spinal movements. Ankle weights, hand weights and the p.band are good equipment choices for resistance training and postural strengthening.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer affects millions of women worldwide. Women who have been treated for breast cancer with mastectomy, lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation or breast reconstruction are dealing with the emotional and physical effects of the disease and treatments. Many times the physical effects of these treatments can cause difficulty with shoulder movements due to scar tissue or adhesions, and swelling or lymphedema in the arm. Physical therapy and postural exercise can help address these issues to help restore normal function. Moving the shoulder and maintaining range of motion is essential. 

P.volve workouts focus on postural and shoulder strengthening and movements which can improve overall shoulder stability, range of motion and postural alignment. Think of exercises with the p.band—each movement works on the shoulder complex without adding any extra strain or pressure. Try workouts such as ​Arms All Day​ to improve length and strength in the shoulder as well as circulation in the upper body.

Endometriosis and PCOS

Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus, known as the endometrium, grows outside of the uterus. In a normal menstrual cycle, the endometrium or lining of the uterus thickens and grows to accommodate possible pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur we shed the lining, which is menstruation. When this endometrium growth occurs outside of the uterus (typically in the pelvis) it can attach to the pelvic organs causing inflammation, disruption of organ functions, infertility and, most significantly, pain. The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but up to 10 million women in the US and 200 million worldwide are affected by this disease.** Treatments include surgery, medication and management of symptoms.

PCOS, which is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a hormonal imbalance that can cause changes in physical appearance, infertility, menstrual regularity and weight gain. The cause is unknown but is thought to be influenced by obesity and insulin levels. In this condition, women may suffer from painful periods and bloating due to the irregularity of ovulation and growth of immature follicles on the ovaries.

Because both of these conditions may cause pain and mental or emotional stress, but exercise can help manage and improve symptoms. Regular exercise and weight loss can help improve menstrual regularity in PCOS. Exercise is key for mental health, stress management, and reducing inflammation for those suffering from chronic pain, as with endometriosis. Practicing mindfulness with focused breathing and stretching can improve blood flow and relieve symptoms of inflammation as well as reduce mental stress. Our workouts can facilitate mobility and length throughout the body while focusing on mindful movements to strengthen the mind-body connection. Try doing slower beginner workouts without equipment (like the 7-Day No Equipment Series) or recovery workouts to focus on stretching, and add resistance equipment workouts like the p.ball to increase calorie burn and muscle activation.

Diastasis Rectus Abdominus

Commonly known as DRA, this is a well-known issue among postpartum women. The abdominal wall has a few layers of muscle, the outermost layer being the rectus abdominus muscles. These are the ones you can see when people have “six pack” abs. Running along the center of the abdomen from the ribcage to the pubic bone, these muscles are connected in the middle by a connective tissue structure called the linea alba and act to flex the spine. During pregnancy, the abdomen grows and the muscles separate, creating space between each side. Postpartum, the muscles should return to their normal spacing with time. If they do not, a separation of the stomach muscle occurs. This can create or contribute to issues such as low back pain, abdominal pain, and urinary incontinence. 

Women who have a DRA should always be mindful of not holding their breath and always consciously drawing in their abs when they activate their core, especially during the first several weeks postpartum when they are constantly lifting their babies and baby equipment.. Moves in P.volve that facilitate reaching, pivoting, and bending with core activation are excellent ways to retrain these muscles. Try using the p.band to facilitate more upper abdominal activation, and the p.ball or ankle bands for lower ab engagement. 

*Source: ​National Osteoporosis Foundation

**Source: ​Endometriosis Foundation of America 

Read more from Dr. Amy for Women's Health Week on our blog page.         

P.volve’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Dr. Amy Hoover consults the entire community about their work with our method. She’ll be continually providing feedback and answering important questions for the P.volve community, so keep an eye out for advice on the blog. Feel free to email community@pvolve.com for topics you’d like Amy to cover!