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How to Improve Muscle Weakness During Pregnancy

Published | 5 min read

Pregnant women’s changing bodies may result in a feeling of muscle weakness in their arms and legs. Learn how to feel strong and healthy.

Pregnant woman sitting and holding her stomach and leg.

You might not think of jelly arms and legs when it comes to pregnancy symptoms, but it’s more common than you think. Pregnant women experience musculoskeletal pain in the bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, and tissues because their bodies are shifting to support a growing foetus. It can feel like muscle weakness, especially in the arms and legs. 

Changes can appear in the first trimester of pregnancy, intensify in the final term and return to normal several weeks after birth. For most healthy mothers, the shifts are tolerable, but they can cause symptoms such as hip and back pain and muscle weakness. 

We find out what causes the feeling of muscle weakness during pregnancy and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), along with clinical treatments can help ease it. 

Causes of Muscle Weakness During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman in bed smiling and looking at her baby bump.
Your body experiences shifts physically and anatomically to accommodate a growing foetus when you’re pregnant.

Some of the causes of muscle weakness and musculoskeletal issues in pregnancy are: 

  • Weight gain 
  • A growing uterus, causing a shift in the centre of gravity 
  • Hormonal and vascular changes such as the secretion of a hormone called relaxin, which helps loosen the pubic joint to allow for stretching during the birthing process. 
  • Fluid retention, which causes the compression of soft tissues 

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) 

While it’s uncommon, if you’re pregnant and are experiencing muscle weakness, general discomfort, a tingling of the fingers, and respiratory difficulties, it could be Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). It’s a rare neurological disorder where your immune system mistakenly attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

Seek a consultation with your doctor as soon as you can. 

Real Health Medical Chief TCM Physician Chu I-Ta explains that the internal zang-fu (脏腑) organs such as the Spleen, Liver, and Kidneys are the main organ systems responsible for your musculoskeletal system. The Spleen powers the muscles and four limbs; the Liver is responsible for ligament and tendon growth, and the Kidneys are responsible for growth and bone density.

The TCM perspective  

An imbalance of these three TCM organ systems will result in weakness of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. 

“Pregnant women undergo physical and hormonal changes. The functionality of your ovaries is related to Kidney essence (tian gui, 天癸). During pregnancy, Kidney essence depreciates and kidney functionality weakens

The Spleen is responsible for the postnatal digestive system. Because essential nutrients during pregnancy are depleted, this results in Deficiency of Liver Blood too.”
 
Real Health Medical Chief TCM Physician Chu I-Ta

As a result of these changes, the muscles of pregnant women are usually weaker. 

In chiropractic care, a lack of exercise and movement before pregnancy are the two most common reasons for muscle weakness. This shows up as shallow breathing, poor posture, and intermittent low back, neck and shoulder pain during pregnancy. 

Pregnant woman stretching on a yoga mat.
Exercise is important before and during pregnancy to prevent muscle weakness and joint pain.

Easing Muscle Weakness 

To feel healthy and strong during your pregnancy, try these tips. 

  • Stay physically active, walk, and stretch regularly 
  • Wear supportive shoes 
  • Sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs 
  • Sit in a chair with good back support 
  • Don’t stand for too long 
  • Bend your knees when picking things up 
  • Don’t lift heavy objects 
  • Avoid gaining too much weight 
  • Do back and leg exercises daily to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture 
  • Wear a maternity girdle for extra support 

Herbal remedies 

Physician Chu recommends these herbal decoctions for the following Deficiencies

Spleen Qi Deficiency  

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (补中益气汤) 

Symptoms: Limb weakness, constant fatigue, shortness of breath, poor appetite and bowel movements.

Ingredients: Astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪), ginseng (ren shen, 人参), Angelica sinensis (dang gui, 当归), tangerine peel (chen pi, 陈皮), Rhizoma cimifugae (shen ma, 升麻). 

Whole and sliced Angelica sinensis on a woven mat
Angelica Sinensis is used in herbal formulas to remedy Spleen Qi Deficiency and Liver Blood Deficiency.

Kidney Yin Deficiency 

Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan (知柏地黄丸) 

Symptoms: Limb weakness; dryness and thirst, hot flushes in the afternoon and night, night sweats, lower back and knee soreness, frequent urination. 

Ingredients: Rehmannia glutinosa (shou di huang, 熟地黄), Cornus officinalis (shan hu yu, 山茱萸), poria (fu ling, 茯苓), Chinese yam (shan yao, 山药), Anemarrhenae rhizoma (zhi mu, 知母), Phellodendri chinensis cortex (huang bai, 黄柏), and Alismatis rhizoma (ze xie, 泽泻)

Liver Blood Deficiency  

Dang Gui Bu Xue Tang (当归补血汤) 

Symptoms: Limb weakness, a pale and yellowish complexion, vertigo, insomnia. 

Ingredients: Angelica sinensis, Astragalus root 

These herbal formulas are a general guide for each specific syndrome. A TCM physician will make modifications according to each patient’s symptoms.

Acupuncture 

The acupoints Physician Chu recommends for the limbs are feng chi (GB20, 风池), jian liao (SJ14, 肩髎), qu chi (LI11, 曲池), shou san li (LI10, 手三里), yang ling quan (GB34, 阳陵泉), tai xi, (KI3, 太溪), and tai chong (LR3, 太冲). 

Are you pregnant and feeling muscle weakness in your limbs? Don’t worry, it’s normal and you can try easing it with the tips above. Remember to consult a qualified TCM physician if you are thinking about trying any herbal remedies and treatments to ensure a safe pregnancy for you and your baby.

If you have tips to ease muscle weakness that worked for you, share them with us and other expectant mothers below.

References

  1. Obstetric Medicine, 2008. Weakness in pregnancy – expect the unexpected, [Online] [Accessed on 23 March 2023] 
  2. Medicina, 2022. The Main Changes in Pregnancy—Therapeutic Approach to Musculoskeletal Pain [Online] [Accessed on 23 March 2023] 
  3. Sage Journals, 2018. Musculoskeletal pain and symptoms in pregnancy: a descriptive study. [Online] [Accessed on 23 March 2023] 
  4. MedlinePlus, 2022. Aches and pains during pregnancy. [Online] [Accessed on 23 March 2023] 

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