Pregnancy back pain is very common. At least 50 percent of pregnant women and up to 80 percent will experience back pain at some point during their pregnancy. This is completely natural from the added weight of the baby. However, combined with all the other issues that arise during pregnancy ranging from:
- Mood swings
- Morning sickness
- Urinary issues
- Lower back pain
This can cause uncomfortable symptoms and take a serious toll on the body. Severe back pain during pregnancy is rare. We’ll look at why you could develop pregnancy back pain, along with steps and proven ways to feel better.
Back Pain Causes
Pain can occur at any trimester, but it usually arises in the later months as the baby and belly grow. Pain can be mild to severe and usually happens in the lower back. There does not have to be pre-existing back problems.
Pregnancy itself changes the body in ways that can lead to back pain. Example: As the uterus gets heavier, there is added strain placed on the back muscles. This can alter proper posture and cause discomfort/pain. Pregnancy changes the center of gravity and accentuates the spine’s curve in the lower back. When the abdominal muscles and core are weak and not strong enough, the changes of the curvature worsen since it is these muscles that stabilize the back.
When pregnant, the body releases a hormone called relaxin that loosens ligaments, which is the tissue that connects the bones to each other inside the pelvis. The ligament loosening can affect back support and be a cause for pain. Other reasons women experience pregnancy back pain include:
- Poor posture
- Standing for too long
Tips for Relief
There are ways to ease pregnancy back pain without medical intervention. Here’s how:
Pay Attention to Posture
When standing up, make sure to stand straight with the shoulders held back. If you must remain standing for a long time, elevate one foot on a box, chair, or stool to relieve the pressure on the spine. Try to avoid standing for long periods. Remember to take regular breaks and get off your feet. Maintain proper posture when sitting, as well.
Utilize an Ergonomic Chair
Both at home and at work that offers plenty of support for the back. Also, a small cushion or pillow placed behind the lower back, along with a stool or footrest for elevating the feet can be highly beneficial.
Of course, do not lift heavy objects, and avoid bending at the waist to pick up items off the floor. Instead squat, bend the knees, and lift with the legs, not with the back.
The best time to start an exercise regiment is before conception. Regular physical activity/exercise can help prevent and ease back pain, along with all of the other benefits.
Doing simple exercises before getting pregnant can improve core strength, which can go a long way. Try to get as close as possible to a healthy weight before getting pregnant. This has the added benefit of reducing pregnancy risks and cesarean delivery.
Once pregnant, mild or moderate exercise can help get a handle on back pain and prep the body for childbirth. Gentle workouts are the way to go. These will strengthen the back, core, and leg muscles. Recommended for pregnant women are:
- Prenatal yoga
Ask your provider which exercises, stretches are best for you. Remember movement is far better than resting too much. Also, working with a physical therapist or chiropractor in back strength will help immensely.
Wear comfortable, spine supportive shoes. High heels should be removed altogether and take caution with flats, as these can and do often lack arch support. Shoe inserts/orthotics can help.
Maternity support belts for back pain relief can also be an added tool. Currently, there is not a great deal of scientific proof that they work. But many women swear by them when they were pregnant.
Try sleeping on one side with the knees bent, along with a pillow between the knees or under the abdomen. Another possibility is using a firmer mattress. This can support the back better than a soft sinking mattress. If a firm mattress is not possible, consider placing a stiff board under the mattress for added firmness.
Take naps, making sure to get the proper sleep that the body needs. This is especially true as the later weeks of pregnancy approach. This is easier said than done, but a warm bath can help the body relax before bed.
Some women have found alternative medical approaches like acupuncture and prenatal massage to be quite helpful in easing pregnancy back pain. Before trying it out talk to your OB/GYN. Once discussed, you can decide if it’s a healthy choice. Make sure the masseuse or alternative practitioner has experience working with pregnant women.
Pregnancy back pain is a leading cause of opioid prescriptions. When it comes to medication, a critical issue is potential for opioid abuse. There are some over-the-counter meds that can help ease back pain.
However, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs have been linked to pregnancy complications, and most doctors recommend not using them. Instead, try acetaminophen, which is just as effective and safe during pregnancy. Using hot and cold compresses and pain relief creams/ointments can also help. Pregnant women should always speak with a healthcare provider before starting any medication.
Medical Help for Pregnancy Back Pain
During pregnancy, some back pain is normal. When there is severe pain, sudden pain, or pain that lasts longer than two weeks this could be a sign of a more serious condition. It could be an indication of preterm labor, a urinary tract infection, or kidney stones.
Call a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Back pain that does not get better/improve
- Back pain on one side of the body
- Back pain along with weakness in one or both legs
- Rhythmic back pain/s
- Accompanied back pain with vaginal bleeding, fever, urinary burning or change in vaginal discharge
- Suddenly unable to walk due to pain or weakness
- Lose feeling in the back, legs, buttocks, and pelvis
- Numbness could be the sign of a compressed nerve
Pregnancy back pain usually fades away once the baby is born, these steps can be taken in the meantime to ease any discomfort. Don’t forget to ask your OB/GYN for recommendations.