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SPAHP researcher cutting new path in study of pregnancy movement mechanics

A Creighton University physical therapy professor and researcher in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions has earned a new investigator grant from the American Physical Therapy Association Orthopaedic Section to look at joint and muscle function in pregnant and post-partum women.

Jennifer Bagwell, PT, DPT, Ph.D., will spend two years looking at the gait of 25 pregnant and post-partum women and the gait of 25 women who have never been pregnant. The goal, she said, is to look at the factors contributing to lower back and lower extremity pain during and after pregnancy, with the ultimate idea of finding techniques and interventions to lessen or eliminate the pain.

“The body is obviously going through dramatic changes during pregnancy,” Bagwell said. “And we really don’t have a great understanding of how joints are loading and how muscles are working in response to those changes. I’m interested in how the different joints are working together during the pregnancy and if, after the baby comes, those behaviors persist.”

Bagwell first became interested in the dynamics of a pregnant woman’s gait during her own pregnancy. She said about half of pregnant women report lower back or lower extremity pain, a pain that often doesn’t go away following delivery. Looking into the current research, Bagwell found some literature on movement during pregnancy, but very little looking at joint loading or how muscles adapt, so she used herself as a small pilot study.

Witnessing the neuromuscular adaptations made during pregnancy, Bagwell is hoping to find a larger understanding of the biomechanics of the entire trunk, its joints and muscles, and how they all impact a pregnant woman’s gait, how they might contribute to pain and if those adaptations and the pain persist beyond pregnancy.

Using technology in the Rehabilitation Science Research Laboratory to capture and analyze the movements of the women’s bodies and determine joint and muscle action, Bagwell said she is eager to work with colleagues and clinicians on the study and also to involve students in the research.

“We’re very excited,” Bagwell said. “The collaborative nature of the lab makes projects like this one possible. Some first-year PT students will be assisting with the project and it will be great experience for them to contribute to and to see what happens in a study like this.”

The project is set to begin on June 1. Bagwell is looking for female subjects between the ages of 19 and 50, including pregnant women who would be available for the movement pattern study during their pregnancy and for four to six months post-partum. The study is also looking for healthy females with no history of severe lower extremity or trunk injury and who have never been pregnant.

For more information on participation, contact Bagwell at 402-280-5188 or jennybagwell@creighton.edu.

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