Back Pain in Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.
Learn about the ways to decrease pregnancy back pain.

Recommends to Help Back Pain in Pregnancy:

  • Do not wear flat shoes, wear low heeled shoes with arch support.

  • Do not lift heavy objects, get help.

  • Do not sleep on a soft mattress, to make your bed firmer place a board between the box spring and mattress.

  • Make sure to keep your back straight when lifting, by squatting down and bending your knees.

  • Always use a small pillow to support your back when sitting in a chair. The chair should have a strong back support.
  • Sleep on your side and place a pillow between your knees.

  • You can use either heat or cold on your painful back areas.

  • If you have to stand for long periods of time, take frequent breaks and place one foot on a low stool when standing.

  • A massage or chiropractor may help.

  • Tylenol may be used anytime during pregnancy for your back pain. The nonsteroidal antinflammatory medications (Motrin, Advil) can be used up to the 24th week of pregnancy.


Normal Pregnancy Changes that Cause Back Pain

  • The normal increase weight associated with pregnancy places increased pressure on your joints, up to two-fold.

  • The normal increase curving of the spine to compensate for the enlarged uterus causes back pain.

  • The normal postural changes from the stretching, weakness, and separation of the abdomen muscles will cause back pain.

  • The spine develops joint laxity which places a strain on the muscles of the back.

From the second trimester until you deliver your baby, you may experience back pain and discomfort. Nearly 75 percent of all pregnant women will experience some form of back pain in pregnancy, making this symptom one of the most common pregnancy complaints.

Pregnancy-related back pain and discomfort is related to the physical changes you experience when you're expecting a little one. Similar to round ligament pain, it's another "growing pain" of pregnancy.

Because your uterus expands many times its pre-pregnancy size, this ends up shifting your center of gravity – which causes you to tilt backwards to avoid tumbling forward. When you lean backwards, this adds strain on your back muscles and makes them work harder than before. In addition, as your uterus gets larger, it causes the abdominal muscles that support your spine to stretch and weaken. This can contribute to the back discomfort that you experience in the second and third trimesters.

Your hormones also play a role in back pain and discomfort in pregnancy. The elevation of the pregnancy hormones estradiol (estrogen) and progesterone is associated with increased joint pain (back pain).

You may find that your backaches and pain is worse at the end of the day. Unfortunately, back discomfort will get worse the further along you are in your pregnancy. This is simply a pregnancy symptom you must suffer through for your little bundle of joy.

How to Get Relief from Back Pain

Throughout your pregnancy, you can get relief from back pain and discomfort with the following techniques:

  • Pay attention to your posture – Instead of leaning backwards, stand up straight and hold your chest high. This may seem like it's hard to do, but good posture may help you feel better. If your job requires you to stand for an extended period of time, elevate one foot on a box or stool. This will make staying upright more comfortable. When you are sitting, you should find a chair with good back support. If you don't have that luxury, place a small pillow behind your back.

  • Wear the Right Shoes – You may see pregnant celebrities walking down the red carpet with high heels, but high heels aren't practical for the regular Jane. To reduce your back discomfort, you should wear low-heeled shoes (not flat) with good arch support.

  • Ask for Help When Lifting – It's not a good idea to lift heavy objects when you are pregnant. It may put you at higher risk for a back injury, not to mention it adds even more strain on your back. If you need to lift or pick up a heavy object, don't be afraid to ask someone else for help. When picking up a small object, you need to squat down, keeping your back straight, and lift with your legs. Do not bend forward and lift with your back.

  • Sleep on your side – As your uterus grows, you may find that sleeping on your back is uncomfortable. Even if you find it comfortable, you should avoid it. Sleeping on your back forces the weight of your uterus on your back muscles, spine, and major blood vessels. This increases the likelihood you will suffer from backaches during pregnancy, as well as impaired circulation – which can reduce blood flow to your baby. The best sleep position for pregnancy is on your left side. You may also consider using a pregnancy pillow for support.

  • Heat or Cold Therapy – If you find that your backaches bother you, you might get some relief with a heating pad, or by applying ice packs on the painful area. Massage may also help you feel better. If you have a willing partner, ask him to rub your back. Not only is this a romantic gesture, but it also may help you feel better.

Back pain in pregnancy is uncomfortable, but it's absolutely normal. However, back pain is one of the main symptoms of preterm labor – labor that starts before 37 weeks pregnant. You should call your caregiver if you experience severe pain or back discomfort that lasts longer than 14 days. Back pain that comes with burning when you urinate, vaginal bleeding or spotting, or a fever warrants a phone call to your doctor right away.

When Minor Interventions Aren't Enough

If you find your back pain during pregnancy continues despite your best efforts you may need to see your doctor for a more thorough evaluation. Many women suffer from sciatica during pregnancy, which can contribute not only to back pain and hip pain but also numbness or tingling in the leg.

You might need a referral to a physical therapist or chiropractor. Many women find routine chiropractic care extremely beneficial for relieving the most common forms of back pain in pregnancy. A qualified practitioner can help correct structural or postural irregularities and help you improve your posture. Many women find significant relief from a single session or two. Others find a routine visit once a month during pregnancy just what they need to keep back pain at bay.

Other therapists that may prove helpful for relieving back pain during pregnancy include: acupuncturists, osteopaths and physiotherapists. Be sure to find out whether the provider you choose is familiar and comfortable working with pregnant women. Another excellent alternative is massage therapy. A qualified and well trained therapist can help relieve muscular tension which can contribute to back pain during pregnancy.

Last but certainly not least, it is important you try to gain a reasonable amount of weight during pregnancy. Most women will need to gain between 25 and 35 pounds. Too much over the recommended weight gain can contribute to back pain during pregnancy. By eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise during pregnancy, you will undoubtedly reduce your risks for developing significant back pain and feel better throughout your pregnancy!

Comfort Measures for Back Pain

There are also some modalities you can use to help alleviate back pain during pregnancy. Among these are maternity support belts and pregnancy pillows.

A pregnancy pillow will provide exceptional support for your back. Pregnancy pillows help accommodate your growing belly and help alleviate pregnancy back pain.

A pregnancy support belt can help by lifting your abdomen without squeezing it thus avoiding back pain in pregnancy. They encourage more effective posture and may eliminate lower back pain altogether.
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