Pregnancy introduces women to a whole new variety of afflictions. Mornings are fraught with nausea (which often continues throughout the day). Breasts swell, as do ankles. Beloved foods become distasteful, while strange new culinary concoctions are impossible to resist.
Your back also takes a beating during these 40-or-so weeks. The combined forces of your expanding uterus, loosening ligaments, and shifting center of gravity tilt your pelvis forward and put added pressure on your back. As a result, more than half of pregnant women have low back pain.
Some women are more prone to this affliction than others. “Low back/pelvic girdle pain is especially common in pregnant women who are older, overweight, or have a history of back pain during a previous pregnancy. Women who already have joint hypermobility or are bearing more than one child at a time are also at higher risk,” said Zbigniew Gugala, MD, PhD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
You’re most likely to start feeling a twinge in your back in around your fifth month of pregnancy, and the ache can last until close to your delivery date. In up to half of women, the discomfort continues even longer – well into their first year of motherhood.
Here are a few tips to ease back pain during your pregnancy:
Exercise. The ideal back exercise program combines stretching, flexibility, and safe muscle strengthening exercises like yoga or swimming. Core strengthening is particularly important. As the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate your growing uterus, they aren’t as able to maintain your posture – forcing your back to carry more of the load. Though sit-ups aren’t recommended during pregnancy, you can do safer alternatives like pelvic tilts and side-lying knee lifts. Before you start any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe. If you’re not sure how to adapt your fitness for pregnancy, a physical therapist can show you some safe exercises to try.
Stand up straight. Another way to take some of the pressure off your back is by maintaining the correct posture. Stand and sit straight up, with your hips forward and head up. Don’t slump. When you sit, place a pillow behind your back for extra support.
Adjust your wardrobe. Switch from high heels to flats. Heels put added strain on your back. They also throw you off-balance, which increases your risk for a fall. Wear a support belt below your abdomen to take some of the pressure off your back.
Get support while you sleep. Sleep on your side, rather than on your back. Place a body pillow between your knees or behind your back to give you more support, and prevent you from making any twisting or turning movements during the night that could worsen back pain.
Lift safely. Don’t pick up any heavy objects while you’re pregnant. If you do have to lift, bend your legs for leverage – not your back.
Beat stress. Stress can make your pain even worse. Try relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or massage when you feel overwhelmed. When your back feels sore, apply heat or cold. Use a heating pad set on low, or ice wrapped in a towel – whichever feels better. You might also find relief from acupuncture, chiropractic adjustment, or massage. Just check with your doctor first to make sure they’re safe for you.
A little achiness in your back during pregnancy is normal. But if the pain is severe, or it lasts for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor. Also call if you have vaginal bleeding, fever, or burning during urination along with the back pain. These could be signs that you’ve picked up a urinary tract infection, or that you’re in premature labor.
September 19, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN