Martial arts tricks ease pain for new moms

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

Wrist tendinitis and back pain are among the physical ailments that often affect new mothers, usually from the lifting and carrying required in caring for babies. To provide relief, a physical therapist in Japan has drawn up a parenting regimen that combines techniques from the Okinawan martial art of “kobujutsu” with daily movements and chores.

The approach focuses on easing the stress on certain body parts by distributing the burden and making use of the body’s strength as a whole.

Shinichiro Okada, 42, first came up with the idea of applying tips and techniques gleaned from the Okinawan weapons system to nursing care when he was a caregiver and saw several colleagues quit as a result of back pain.

Soon afterward, he began advocating for the use of similar techniques in parenting.

At a kobujutsu workshop in June in Isehara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Okada showed a group of about 10 people how to ease stress their back and hips.

For example, when lifting a sleeping child from the bed, Okada says one should open the torso, kneel down on one knee, slip one’s hand — with the back of the hand facing up — under the child’s back, then turn the palm inward to scoop the child up and return to a standing position by rotating toward the bended knee.

This is particularly important in Japan, where it is common to sleep on bedding laid out on tatami mats rather than a crib, requiring one to crouch all the way down to the floor.

It’s also important not to depend only on the arms when holding a child, but to envelop the baby with one’s upper body. And instead of standing straight when holding the child, it’s better to keep one’s back a little hunched and the knees relaxed, Okada said.

When the arm cradling the child’s buttocks gets tired, having the back of the hand face upward temporarily — instead of the palm — can help take stress off the tendons, he added.

On carrying bags and pushing strollers, he says that bending one’s middle and ring fingers can help minimize exhaustion when they’re hanging from the forearm, and that holding the arms straight out and bending slightly forward makes it easier when pushing baby strollers.

Okada said he has received a lot of positive responses from mothers who attend his workshops, which are held across the country. Many said they are eager to try the techniques right away and that they wished they had known the tricks before becoming a parent.

Akiko Matsuo, 36, is among those who have benefited from Okada’s teachings. She recalled how painful her wrists felt whenever she held her son, who is now 3 years old. It was around the same time she had returned to work from maternity leave, and she was exhausted both mentally and physically.

So she tried out the techniques from Okada and found they actually worked.

“I was on the verge of getting wrist tendinitis,” Matsuo said, adding that thanks to the kobujutsu techniques, “it felt much better right away.”

Matsuo, a book editor by trade, helped Okada publish a book about the methods because she wanted to let other mothers know about them.

“After giving birth, only well-baby checkups are widely available. There are no opportunities for the mothers to seek consultation about their own physical issues,” she said.

A woman’s body undergoes many trials during pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing.

“While pregnant, her posture changes due to the big belly, leading to issues such as the abdominal muscles loosening or the pelvis becoming unstable,” said Tomoko Fukuyama, a lecturer in nursing at Setsunan University in Osaka.

“After giving birth, it is easy to get back pain due to the loss of abdominal strength,” she said. “For some people, this is further aggravated through daily chores in taking care of the baby and doing housework.”

Similarly, Toshiki Miura, an orthopedist at JR Tokyo General Hospital, advises that new mothers try to minimize their physical burdens.

“(Mothers) are prone to developing wrist tendinitis after giving birth, partly due to hormonal changes,” Miura said. “Take good care of yourself and try to find ways that put the least stress on the body.”