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The "Mother Load" and Return to Sport: A Case Report of Returning to Professional Netball Following Cesarean Section.

BACKGROUND: Increasing numbers of elite female athletes are competing in professional sport, and many wish to become pregnant and return to competitive sport after childbirth. Athletes have a higher risk of pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) than non-athletes (54% versus 7%) and there is also an increased prevalence in post-partum women compared to nulliparous women (35% versus 2.8-7.9%). Additionally, PFD has been shown to influence athletic performance. High quality evidence for elite athletes is lacking, and there are no exercise guidelines specifically for these women to prepare or effectively guide their safe return to sport (RTS). The purpose of this case report is to detail the management of an elite athlete who presented following cesarean section (CS) with the goal of RTS within 16 weeks.

CASE DESCRIPTION: A 27-year-old primiparous Caucasian professional netballer presented at four weeks post- caesarean section (CS) for RTS screening and assessment of pelvic floor muscle (PFM) function. Assessment included readiness and fear of movement screening, dynamic pelvic floor muscle function, structural integrity of the CS wound, levator hiatal dimensions, bladder neck descent, and early global neuromuscular screening. Measures were collected at four weeks, eight weeks, and six months post-partum. The post-partum athlete demonstrated alterations in pelvic floor muscle function, reduced lower limb power and psychological readiness. A functionally staged dynamic and sport specific pelvic floor muscle training program was implemented and adapted to the patient for her early post-partum timeline.

RESULTS: Rehabilitation strategies were effective in achieving the primary outcome of RTS at 16 weeks post-partum with no adverse events reported at 6 months follow-up.

DISCUSSION: This case highlights the need for a holistic and individualised RTS management approach that includes women's and pelvic health risk factors in a professional athlete.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 5.

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