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Pregnancy Back Pain

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

Back pain is extremely common – over 90% of adults will experience it at some point during their lifetime. But throw in the extreme bodily changes experienced during pregnancy, and we’re talking about a whole different ball game. Between 50-70% of women will experience back pain during pregnancy for a multitude of reasons. Some types of back pain can be treated at home while others may indicate a more serious problem. In this article, I’ll discuss what symptoms to look for and ways to manage your pain so that this joyful time in your life can be a little more joyful.

Your lower back is comprised of the bottom five vertebra (called the lumbar vertebra) and the sacrum (which is part of the pelvis), as well as a network of muscles that effect the function of the mid-back into the low back and down into the pelvis. The nerves that leave the lumbar vertebra feed into your lower extremities. Back pain (officially called dorsalgia) usually falls into two categories – neuropathic (caused by nerve strain) or nociceptive (caused by strain to the bones or musculature).

Pregnancy only builds upon this foundation of back pain. The root of the problem is posture – during pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is released to soften the pelvic area and loosen the joints in preparation for birth. While this will come in handy later during delivery, the resulting changes in posture can wreak havoc on the lower back. These postural changes only get worse as the baby continues to grow, increasing weight and gradually changing your center of gravity to put more strain on your back. Add in stress, and you’ve got a recipe for back pain disaster.

It’s true that some lucky women make it through pregnancy without experiencing much, if any, back pain. You are more likely to have pregnancy back pain if you’ve had back problems before, have poor posture, are overweight, or have poor flexibility and general fitness. The good news is that these are all areas that can be addressed before and even during your pregnancy to combat back pain.

First, make sure you use good posture. Good posture is the easiest, most natural positioning for the body. The human spine has an S-curve shape; this allows it to act like a coil or spring, able to absorb force efficiently while maintaining its strength and stability. Check your posture for the following components: 1) Head straight with your chin neither out nor tucked in; 2) Shoulders comfortably back; 3) Stomach tucked in; 4) Feet flat on the floor (although if you’re experiencing back pain, elevating your feet may help).

Next, a doctor-approved diet and therapist-approved exercise plan will boost your general fitness and help you control not only back pain, but pregnancy woes of all kinds. Depending on the stage of your pregnancy, exercise should primarily be light impact. Swimming, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines are all excellent choices, as is walking (be sure to use good posture while doing so). Your physical therapist can also recommend a stretching and strengthening program to further protect your back.

Lastly, most minor back pain can be managed with rest, ice or heat therapy, and over-the-counter pain medications (again, if approved by your doctor). Wear comfortable, supportive shoes, and take frequent breaks throughout the day to get off your feet. Make sure you get plenty of sleep; if pain is keeping you awake, try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees. And don’t hesitate to wear a pregnancy support belt if you need the extra stability.

While the majority of pregnancy back pain can be managed at home, if your back pain is sudden, severe, or accompanied by cramps, fever, nausea, or bloody discharge, notify your doctor immediately.

Pregnancy need not be a 9-month sentence for back pain. Being proactive in the care of your back will help you enjoy your pregnancy to the fullest.

Don’t let pregnancy pain hold you back. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pregnancy Pain Assessment!