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.