pregnancy pain

Back Pain During Pregnancy

Back Pain During Pregnancy

Most pregnant women experience some form of back pain during their pregnancy. Although lower back pain does not typically become an issue until the fifth month or mid second trimester, it can begin as early as 8-12 weeks for some women. You are more likely to suffer from prenatal back pain if you have struggled with back issues prior to your pregnancy. Back pain during pregnancy can range from mild discomfort and treatable at home to acute chronic pain that necessitates treatment from a specialist. If you are one of the 50-80 percent of women who experience some degree of back pain while pregnant, determining the cause and type of pain will help you choose the best treatment approach. You don't have to accept that pain is a normal part of pregnancy

Before identifying the potential cause or causes of your back pain, it is important to differentiate between the two types of pain that are typical during pregnancy. The first is lumbar or lower back pain and the second is known as posterior pelvic pain. Understanding the characteristics of each type of pain will help you determine its possible cause and what you may or may not be able to do to relieve it. 

Lumbar/lower back pain:

  • Is felt at or above the waist in the center of back
  • May radiate in the legs or feet (also known as sciatica)
  • May worsen with prolonged episodes of sitting or standing
  • Feels similar to lower back pain experienced while not pregnant
  • May also cause tenderness of the muscles surrounding the spine

Posterior pelvic pain:

  • Is 4 times more prevalent than lumbar pain
  • Is a deep pain experienced below and to the side of the waistline and/or across the tailbone
  • Can be experienced on one or both sides
  • Can be felt in the buttocks and backs of thighs
  • Does not easily resolve with rest
  • Can be experienced as pubic pain
  • Physical fitness does not lessen the likelihood of onset

Common Causes of Back Pain during Pregnancy:

  • Weight gain: Normal weight gain during pregnancy can range from 25 to 35 pounds. That is a considerable amount of excess weight for the spine and lower back to support. Your growing baby is also putting added pressure on your uterus, blood vessels and the nerves in your pelvis and back.Hormonal changes: During pregnancy, your body produces the hormone relaxin which helps to relax and loosen the joints in the pelvic region to prepare for childbirth. Consequently, this hormone can also cause other ligaments to loosen including ones that support the spine. This can unfortunately lead to instability and back pain. Relaxin also helps breech babies get into optimal position.
  • Posture: Your growing baby bump causes your center of gravity to shift which also can negatively impact your posture. These changes to your posture can often be the culprit of back pain during pregnancy.  Improving posture is one of many reasons to do yoga during pregnancy.
  • Stress: Similar to when you are not pregnant, stress can cause excess tension in the muscles in your back when you are expecting. This tension and stress can cause back pain and spasms.Other often unavoidable actions that may sometimes increase back pain during pregnancy include running, walking, lifting, bending, twisting and climbing stairs.  

Treatment for Back Pain during Pregnancy: 

  • Alternating hot and cold compresses: Try starting with icing your back three times per day for twenty minutes each time. After two days, switch to applying heat to your back three times per day for twenty minutes each time. Never apply heat to your stomach during pregnancy. 
  • Exercise: Moderate exercise during pregnancy will strengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility. Try taking a brisk walk or going for a swim.
  • Practice good posture: Give a little extra attention to sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders back rather than slouched over. You can also try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees to alleviate stress placed on your back from your growing belly.
  • Reduce stress in your life: Essential oils are a great way to reduce daily stress, but If you are feeling a considerable amount of emotional stress that is taking a toll on your back, consider talking with a trusted friend or family member or seeking professional counseling.
  • See a chiropractor: Chiropractic care is a great, safe and natural way to reduce back pain and other physical discomforts common during pregnancy. Health Foundations works in partnership with Dr. Amber Moravec at Naturally Aligned Family Chiropractic to provide relief from pain during pregnancy and labor through regular chiropractic care. 
  • Try acupuncture: The Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture has been found to be successful at alleviating lower back pain during pregnancy among other prenatal physical discomforts. Health Foundations offers community acupuncture with Jenna Niggeler every Wednesday evening from 6:00pm - 8:00pm - call the office at 651.895.2520 to schedule an appointment.

Other simple measures that may help prevent and alleviate back pain during pregnancy include:

  • Wearing flat supportive shoes
  • Squatting rather than bending over to pick things up
  • Tylenol when approved by your care provider

When to Call Your Care Provider:

Although back pain during pregnancy is unfortunately very common, you should call your doctor right away if you experience severe or increasing pain or pain that comes on quickly that is accompanied by rhythmic cramping. These symptoms may indicate rare but serious complications such as pregnancy related osteoporosis, septic arthritis, vertebral osteoarthritis or preterm labor.

Back Pain during Labor:

Lastly, it is not uncommon to experience back pain during labor. Back pain that may be indicative of labor will be persistent, rhythmic, and increasing in intensity and it will not be resolved by changing your position or activity. If you believe you are in labor, contact your care provider to determine the appropriate next steps. 

Back pain during pregnancy is an unfortunate but often manageable condition. Determining what factors may be contributing to your pain can help you figure out what changes you can make to your lifestyle and what treatments you can seek for relief. To learn more about coping with back pain during pregnancy or chiropractic care and other wellness services, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.

Reducing Pain in Pregnancy

Many of us experience pain during pregnancy…but is it just an unavoidable part of being pregnant?  Not necessarily.  In fact, our bodies are well-designed for pregnancy (if it truly wrecked us we wouldn’t have lasted long as a species!).  Our lifestyles, however, cause us to use our bodies in a way that strains our tissues—sitting for long periods, wearing heels, not walking often enough, and more.  Add pregnancy to the picture and it’s no wonder many women experience aches and pains in pregnancy. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce your aches and pains and enjoy the physical experience of pregnancy more.

Alignment

We all know the stereotypical image of a woman in late pregnancy—belly thrust forward, back arched, feet waddling like a duck.  None of this is natural, nor is it ideal for our bodies.  In this position, our spinal discs and our nerves can be compressed, causing a whole host of problems.

Moreover, it is not just enough to exercise in pregnancy, its important to do so with good alignment.  Carrying our bodies in the right way, all day, is important to staying healthy always, and especially during pregnancy.

Consider these alignment tips for standing, sitting, and walking. (These are good tips for everyone, by the way!)

Standing

Poor alignment plus the added weight of pregnancy can really stress the joints, spine, ligaments, muscles, and nerves.  Try these tips:

  • Shift your pelvis back in space so that your weight rests into your heels instead of the middle or front of your foot.  Think about stacking your bones on top of each other, from your heels all the way to the shoulders and head.  You should be able to lift your toes off the floor.  Your knees should not be bent.  Check your ribs to make sure they are not thrusting forward (if you can still find ribs!).
  • Untuck your pelvis.  Though we’ve been taught this is good posture, it is actually bad for the body.  Allow for the natural curve of the low back.  Though you may feel at first that you are sticking your booty out, it is actually optimal alignment (it not only relieves back pain and a host of other ailments, it prevents “flat bottoms” by toning the hamstrings and glutes and supports a healthy pelvic floor)
  • Wear only flats or negative-heel shoes, such as Earth brand shoes.  These put your toes a bit higher than your heels, helping to decompress your lower back.  Heeled shoes throw your body out of alignment (and potentially mess with your balance!)

Sitting

If you must sit for long periods of the day because of work or your other daily activities, consider a standing work station to use for at least parts of your day (see ideal standing position tips above).  If a standing work station is not possible, consider using the last five minutes or so of every hour (you can set an alarm) to stand up, stretch your calves and other muscles, and walk around if possible.  You may also want to sit on large exercise ball for some or most of the day.

seated alignment

While sitting, roll your weight forward onto your sit bones instead of tucking your tailbone under and sitting on it.  Your sit bones are the ones you can feel in the middle of each buttock if you feel for them.  You can also feel for the tailbone at the midline and explore how your seated posture affects the tailbone.  You want it untucked (facing more downward than out the front of your body).  This can also foster optimal fetal positioning, which can impact your birthing experience greatly.

Walking 

Keep the following tips in mind as you walk throughout the day:

  • Keep your torso upright, not pitched forward.
  • Let your arms swing naturally and relax your shoulders.
  • Walk with your feet facing forward

beautiful pregnant woman on a meadow with blue sky

Simple Movements for Pregnancy Aches and Pains

In addition to these alignment practices, there are additional simple and gentle exercises you can do to ease pain during pregnancy.  Here are a few.  Aim to complete these exercises three times a day or more, working up to holding them for 30 to 60 seconds.

Upper body tension

Your lungs’ decreased real estate in your body and new habits such as sleeping on your side can cause stress in the neck, upper back and shoulders.  Try this simple stretch:

Palms up, place your hands on the back of a chair.  Walk your feet slowly back until all four limbs are straight and your legs are hip-distance apart, feet parallel pointing ahead. Back your hips up until your torso is fully extended and your hips are behind your feet.  Take deep breaths and feel the sides of your rib cage expanding.

Hip and pelvic pain

Keeping the deep hip rotator muscles underneath the buttocks and around the lower hips flexible can help reduce hip and pelvic pain during pregnancy. Here is a simple seated exercise that can help.

Sit in a chair with feet on the floor bring one ankle over and just above the opposite knee. Check to make sure your pelvis is untucked (see above), it will want to tuck if your hips are tight.  Sitting at the edge of a rolled towel can help you get into the correct position.  Work to get the ankle and knee of the lifted leg parallel to the floor.  Switch legs and repeat.

Tight or sore hamstrings (upper backs of your legs)

Hamstrings often get tight in pregnancy. Stretching these large muscles will create space in your knee joints and ease leg tension.

Stand barefoot, feet hip distance apart and facing forward.  Place your hands on the seat of a chair, palms down and straighten your legs.  Put your weight into your heels and untuck your pelvis, creating that natural curve in your lower back.  (You may want to check in a mirror.)

Swelling and pain in the lower legs and feet

Tight calf muscles can lower the circulation in the feet and legs, so by stretching them, you can increase blood flow and circulation, reduce discomfort, and decrease swelling in the ankles.

Place a thick rolled-up towel/yoga blanket or yoga mat on the floor and stand facing and just behind it. Place the ball of one foot on the mat or towel and lower the heel to the floor. Straighten both legs, keeping the thigh muscles relaxed. Then take a small step forward with the opposite leg. To increase the stretch, move the front foot further forward. Do this on both sides.

There are many other stretches and poses that are great for pregnancy and labor preparation, such as squats and tailor's or cobbler's pose.  More on those in a future post.

Be well mamas!

Information for this post is primarily based on the fantastic work of Katy Bowman, check her out here and here.