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Herman & Wallace Blog

Depression and Posture in the Postpartum Period

In our blog, we have highlighted the importance of recognizing and screening for postpartum depression. What relationships exist between a person's posture and depression in the postpartum period? Prior research reporting on four studies of posture (Riskind & Gotay, 1982) noted that subjects placed in a slumped physical posture appeared to develop helplessness more easily than those placed in an upright posture. These authors also stated that physical posture was a valuable clue for an observer who attempted to identify states of depression. Results of the fourth study include that "…subjects who were placed in a hunched, threatened physical posture verbally reported self-perceptions of greater stress than subjects who were placed in a relaxed position."

A recent study addressed depression, back pain and postural alignment in eighty women between 2 and 30 weeks postpartum. Depressive symptoms were measured with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Pain scales included a visual analog scale (VAS) and the Nordic Musculoskeletal Questionnaire (NMQ while posture was assessed with visual observation. Findings of the study include that VAS pain scores were elevated in the women who were depressed. Back pain intensity and postpartum depression were also strongly associated. The authors suggest that back pain may be a risk factor for postpartum depression as well as a comorbidity. The article further states that physical therapists "…should be prepared to identify depressive symptoms as a comorbidity associated with posture changes and recurrent symptoms, signs of remission and recurrence that generate difficulties for treatment progression."

Can we look at this issue as a chicken and egg discussion, as in, is poor posture causativeto depression, or vice versa? And,if smiling has been determined to have the ability to improve happiness, can improved posture positively affect symptoms of depression? We know that postural dysfunction and pain can be a vicious cycle in our patients. Is screening for depression an equally important aspect of postural correction? Could postural taping, support, or re-training positively affect postpartum depression, and if so, should we be assessing and re-assessing our patients for depression as a means to document therapy benefits? The fun thing about reading research results is that the studies often lead to more questions, further hypotheses, and curiosity in relationship to how we interact with our patients. Can patients understand the relationship between postural correction and emotional health? Sounds like an opportunity for more research, and for dialoging with our patients!

If you are interested in learning more about postpartum health, click here for more information about the second course in our Peripartum series, Care of the Postpartum Patient. The next opportunities to take this class are June in Houston, and Chicago in September!

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