During pregnancy, your body experiences many changes as the fetus develops. Some of these changes are exhilarating—like feeling the baby move inside your belly. Others are not quite as pleasant. Back pain during pregnancy is a common and frustrating symptom for many pregnant people, especially during the last trimester. Fortunately, there are things you can do at home and with your physical therapist do to reduce back pain when you are expecting.
The back is literally a “sore spot” for an estimated 50 percent to 80 percent of expectant parents. Here are the reasons why back pain is so common among pregnant individuals.
Your back must support the added weight you gain as your baby gets bigger, and as you retain the extra fluids necessary for the amniotic fluid, placenta, and baby’s circulation. While back pain commonly develops between the fifth and seventh months of pregnancy, it can occur as early as eight weeks into the pregnancy for some people.
Hormones also play a part in low back pain and upper back pain during pregnancy. A hormone called relaxin causes the pelvic ligaments and joints to “relax” during pregnancy in preparation for labor. This is wonderful to help you push the baby out when the time comes, but it can also lead to back pain if the joints become too flexible, without enough support from the muscles surrounding the pelvis.
As your body shape changes and your “bump” blooms, you may notice your center of gravity shifts forward, which changes your posture. Your abdominal muscles also stretch and change. That may compromise the strength of your “core” which may also contribute to changes in posture. You may notice yourself bending or slumping over more as your pregnancy progresses and your uterus and baby grow. That can put added strain on your back, which can trigger pain in some people.
Many people find back pain during pregnancy resolves itself once the baby is born. But that is no consolation if you are currently pregnant and back pain is making your life miserable. Acute or chronic pregnancy back pain can interfere with exercise, work, sleep, and simple daily tasks.
Here are some practical ways to prevent and relieve back pain for a more comfortable and enjoyable pregnancy.
As your center of gravity moves to the front of your body, it is normal to try to compensate for that change by leaning back, which can put undue strain on low back muscles and can make it difficult for your “core” muscles to work properly. Try to be mindful of your posture and resist arching your back excessively.
Good posture principles:
• Stand up tall and straight.
• Hold your chest high.
• Keep your shoulders back and down.
• Avoid locking your knees.
• Have a comfortable, wide stance.
• Use a small pillow to support your back when sitting.
Sitting or standing too long in the same position can irritate the muscles and joints in your back. It’s important to get moving. Regular exercise helps your back stay strong, mobile, and healthy during and after pregnancy.
Be mindful to choose safe, gentle activities that are approved by your healthcare provider. Walking, prenatal yoga, and water exercise are wonderful ways to relieve a tired back, improve circulation, and help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications for many. It’s important to get clearance from your birth professional before starting any new exercise routines.
It’s best to leave the heavy lifting to others during pregnancy if you haven’t had specific training to prepare you to do so while pregnant. Lifting a heavy object can lead to back pain and other injuries. Although you are more flexible than usual–that doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt. If you must lift an object, try to avoid bending over at the waist. Squat straight down, bend your knees, and lift with your legs.
A maternity support belt, or “belly band” is an adjustable brace worn around the abdomen during pregnancy. It is a girdle that supports the belly and your back muscles to prevent or reduce back pain. There are a variety of types of belts available, so if you aren’t sure which to purchase, you may want to consult with a trained clinician for advice.
A heating pad or ice pack may offer some relief for a tired and sore back during pregnancy. For heat, wrap a heating pad on the lowest setting in a towel (to prevent burns) and apply for up to 20 minutes. Some people find cold compresses provide some relief from pregnancy back pain as well.
Physical therapy is an effective treatment option for back pain during pregnancy and postpartum. Your physical therapist teaches you how to maintain healthy posture and prescribes proven exercises to help support your spine and pelvis during pregnancy.
A variety of therapy strategies, including hands-on techniques, exercises, and taping can be beneficial for pain relief and improved mobility and function throughout your pregnancy. Because every patient—and every pregnancy—is unique, your therapist creates a custom physical therapy treatment approach based on your overall health individual symptoms, and goals.
Physical changes during pregnancy have an enormous impact on how well and how long you sleep. But good sleep during pregnancy is so important for a healthy parent and a healthy baby. If pregnancy back pain is keeping you up at night, try this technique:
• Sleep on your side and bend one or both knees.
• Place a pregnancy or support pillow between your knees and ankles. This lifts your knees up to be level with your hips, reducing the strain on your lower back.
• Place a vertical pillow under your belly and upper body to support your chest and arm.
A full-body pillow also works very well to create an ideal sleeping posture that supports your body in all the right places to ease the strain on your back.
While back pain can be common during pregnancy, you should always be vigilant of your symptoms and share your concerns with your healthcare provider. Signs to look out for include severe and/or persistent back pain that lasts for more than two weeks, vaginal bleeding, fever, or burning during urination. These can be symptoms of other conditions that require medical attention.
Many pregnant people experience back discomfort at some point. And an estimated one in three have persistent back pain during the first postpartum year. Physical therapy is a safe and noninvasive treatment for low back pain and upper back pain related to pregnancy , both during pregnancy and in the postpartum phase. Find a physical therapy clinic near you.