It’s no secret that pregnancy brings sweeping changes in a woman’s body from head to toe, but what about from front to back? Approximately 75% of pregnant women experience some degree of pregnancy back pain. Here’s why, and here’s what to do about it.
Why pregnancy back pain occurs
It seems obvious to state that growing a child brings about tremendous changes in a woman’s body, but pregnancy back pain is not only about the what, but also the where. Pregnancy shifts a woman’s center of gravity as the baby grows. The average woman gains between 25 and 40 pounds during pregnancy. A growing baby puts pressure on blood vessels and nerves in the pelvis and lower back. Little by little, weight shifts forward. Without thinking about it, it is common for women to compensate for this shift by moving their shoulders back. After nine months of this compensation, the lower back begins to feel compressed and tight.
Ligaments and connective tissues are also getting more fluid and relaxing to make way for shifts in the pelvis that occur during childbirth. This results in tremendous structural instability within the body, including the spine.
Another reason for pregnancy back pain is muscle separation in the abdomen. As a woman’s belly expands, the rectal abdominis muscles (two parallel muscles on the abdomen) separate to make room. This separation weakens the abdominal muscles in general. Weak abdominal muscles increase the chances for pregnancy back pain.
What to do about pregnancy back pain
While it is common, pregnancy back pain does not have to be inevitable. There are several things pregnant women can do from the moment they see two pink lines to prevent pregnancy back pain.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, when hormones are coursing through your body and wreaking havoc, it can be difficult to get motivated to get moving. Add fatigue to hormones and it’s a perfect storm of zero motivation.
Exercise, however, is imperative for a healthy pregnancy in general and to prevent pregnancy back pain specifically. When fatigue is high and hormones are raging, simple pelvic tilts to keep the muscles of the abdomen toned may be the only thing you can do. As you begin to feel better and more energetic, increase your exercise. Aim for low-impact workouts that engage the entire body. Think swimming, walking, and biking for full-body toning.
Prenatal yoga is also a great way to keep the back strong and healthy and to prepare for childbirth. Prenatal yoga focuses on breath as well as movement and can also help deal with the stress that may arise throughout pregnancy.
Improve your posture
Exercise will help with energy levels and keeping stress levels low, but poor posture when you aren’t exercising can still result in a sore back. If you are used to standing with poor posture, it can be challenging to re-train your body to stand correctly, but since it is already changing, pregnancy is a great time to make adjustments.
As a general rule, imagine that, when viewed from the side, there is a straight line that connects the ears, top of the arm bones, hip bones, knees, and ankles. Many of us slump forward, removing the curve in our backs, but pregnant women often have an exaggerated curve due to the weight of the baby. Learning how to stand correctly aligned helps the spine do the major work of supporting the body and allows the muscles to work more effectively with each other.
Chiropractic care during pregnancy can be a great tool to help treat pregnancy back pain when it arises. When looking for a practitioner, ask if they have experience treating pregnant women, both before and after giving birth. Labor and relaxed, loose ligaments and tendons allow bones to actually shift during the powerful contractions of labor. Quality chiropractic care can help relieve back pain during pregnancy and may also help shorten labor, delivery, and recovery time post-partum.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that works with energy flow in the body. Practitioners believe that any sign of illness or pain in the body is a result of blockages in energy. These blockages are released when acupuncturists place hair-thin needles into specific points on the body to release the energy and allow it to move freely.
There is evidence that acupuncture can help with back pain, so it stands to reason that acupuncture could provide relief from pregnancy back pain. Large scale studies have shown that at the very least it provides relief similar to some medications. This is a plus for pregnant women who don’t want to (or can’t) take certain types of medicines. Additionally, acupuncture has few, if any, side effects and is rated as safe for people of all ages and conditions.
Consider drug-free post-partum solutions
Even if you have not experienced pain during pregnancy, pregnancy back pain may occur postpartum. Major shifts occur in the musculoskeletal system during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. A new study has found that osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMTh) in postpartum women can help reduce their back pain by as much as 70%.
Jennifer Caudle, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, pointed out that this type of care can relieve pregnancy back pain with little or no risk to the new mother, improving quality of life for both mother and child. She noted:
“Women who’ve recently given birth are rarely studied beyond screening for postpartum depression and delivery complications, even though it’s well documented that low back pain is a common issue that hinders their quality of life during an already stressful time. This study shows that osteopathic manipulative therapy can relieve their pain without medication that could be passed to a breastfeeding infant.”
Pregnancy back pain is common but not inevitable. If you have experienced (or are currently experiencing) pregnancy back pain, what worked to help you find relief?