Women worldwide suffer from back pain during and after pregnancy. Many of them experience discomfort at multiple locations in the back. Interventions should focus on proper posture, relaxation techniques, and time-tested tools for relief.
Pregnancy-related back pain affects the majority of pregnant women.
Often pain and pressure is experienced in the upper and lower back and in the pelvic region.
Physical changes caused by the developing embryo and hormonal influences are the causes of back discomfort.
Though complete elimination of back pain may not be realistic, techniques to help reduce soreness and strain can significantly improve mobility and quality of life.
Statistics on back pain during pregnancy
Pregnancy-related back pain is a common concern for many women. According to a study done by the University of Utah School of Medicine, 94% of women experience truncal pain during pregnancy, and 75% of women experience it during the three months after giving birth. Interestingly, only 27% of those pregnant women and 13% of postpartum women reported a limitation in daily activities due to this pain.
It seems that with a few tips and tricks, decreasing and reducing back pain is all that is needed to maintain quality of life. The findings showed that pain severity was highest when it was felt in multiple places on the back.
Many women experience pain in the upper, lower, or pelvic area. However, most women report this discomfort in more than one location. If pain is severe enough, it can decrease mobility, impair work performance, and diminish quality of life.
Causes of back pain during pregnancy
Pregnancy affects a woman’s body in many ways. The physical changes become more and more evident throughout pregnancy as the developing embryo grows.
However, the hormonal changes begin much earlier and are equally instrumental in their impact on the body. Hormonal changes are most likely discounted because the proof is not as visible as a growing belly.
The maturing baby in utero and increasing water weight take a toll on the body. Understanding the physical changes that are happening during pregnancy helps women better understand the pain and prioritize self-care.
The uterus is the sack that houses the maturing embryo. As the uterus expands, the center of gravity shifts, which can change a woman’s posture. Poor posture can cause back strain at all times of life. However, pregnancy-related back strain is very common due to this gravitational shift in the body.
With the extra weight accumulated during pregnancy, muscles and joints must work harder. Women often report that this soreness is worse at the end of the day. In the second and third trimester, the abdominal muscles stretch and weaken, this process can be painful.
As previously mentioned, hormonal changes are often dismissed, but the body’s hormonal communication mechanisms are fascinating, and their impact is far-reaching.
As the body prepares for birth, a hormone called relaxin increases. This hormone does exactly what its name implies — it causes relaxation. Relaxin increases flexibility in the ligaments and joints. During pregnancy, the sacroiliac joint (SI joint) is greatly impacted by this hormone, which can cause pelvic soreness.
How to relieve back pain during pregnancy
Though many women report back pain during and after pregnancy, most are able to continue life as normal. However, decreased pain is always welcome. Here are some ways to reduce or relieve pregnancy-related back pain.
Good posture is the number one back pain reliever. Some people wonder what exactly good posture is, especially when the progressively growing abdomen changes daily. Here are some steps to follow to ensure good posture:
- Stand up straight
- Hold chest high
- Hold shoulders back
- Don't lock the knees
- Use a comfortably wider stance
- When standing for long periods of time, alternately rest one of your feet on a stool
- Take breaks
- Use a chair that supports the back
- Use a pillow to add support to the lower back while sitting
- When lifting, squat and lift with your legs
- Sleep on your side
Use the right equipment
Having and using the right equipment helps improve performance in all areas of life. Pregnancy is no different. Some products that can help you include:
- Low-heeled shoes (not flats) with arch support
- Abdominal support band
- Pregnancy pillow
It is important to remember that high-heeled shoes increase the forward pull on the body. This pull causes the back to work even harder to compensate for the high heels. Therefore, avoid wearing high-heeled shoes during pregnancy.
Before beginning an exercise routine, always talk to your healthcare provider. However, if approved, a stretching routine and water exercises have been shown to reduce pain, improve circulation, and help maintain appropriate weight gain.
An example of a backstretch that is both useful and easy is:
- While in the sitting position, place your hands on the knees.
- With the head in line with the spine, tuck your chin to the chest.
- While pulling the tummy toward the spine, round out the back and hold for several seconds.
- Relax and take deep breaths.
- If able, do ten repetitions.
Acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care
Acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic care have all been proven to be effective non-pharmacological treatments for back pain. So how do you know which one to choose? This is a common question.
There is no right or wrong answer. When choosing, it is really based on personal preference. It is also recommended to consider which type of treatment is available in your area, the quality of the provider who will be performing the therapy, and if pregnancy accommodations are available.
How do you massage a pregnant woman's back?
Being pampered at a spa with a back massage can be just what the doctor ordered. But how will the masseuse access the back with the protruding belly?
Pregnancy massages are available at certain spas. These locations provide a massage table that has a cut-out for the abdomen. This prevents pressure from being placed on the growing baby, while also allowing for a deep, relaxing massage for the mother-to-be.
Massaging mats are available for home use by placing these cushioned pads in a chair. Back rollers gently massage the back muscles while also providing heat therapy. Many women feel that these mats are worth their weight in gold, as they provide regular massage therapy at a fraction of the cost of spa massages.
Quick ways to relieve back pain at home
Practicing proper posture and prevention of back pain is of top priority, However, no matter how diligent women are in practicing prevention techniques, back pain is often inevitable. When you find yourself needing fast relief, pain medication, and hot/cold therapy can provide prompt comfort.
When used properly, pain medications can greatly improve the experience of pregnancy. Never take any medications while pregnant without first discussing it with your provider.
Often, healthcare providers will recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other pain reducers. They may also prescribe a muscle relaxant. To learn more about appropriate medications to take during pregnancy, check out this physician-authored article.
Hot and cold therapy
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), hot and cold compresses are helpful for different reasons. Heat therapy relaxes muscles and increases blood flow to the affected area, while cold therapy decreases inflammation. Both are useful and can be used alternately. Be careful to avoid burns and frostbite by limiting the time you use the compresses to no more than 20 minutes.
When should you see a doctor?
Though upper, lower, and pelvic pain are common for both pregnant and postpartum women, there are times when the pain is indicative of a more severe problem. How does someone know when to call?
- Extremely severe. If the pain is so severe that it is impacting your work, mobility, or quality of life, call your provider.
- Accompanying symptoms. If the pain is accompanied by vaginal bleeding, fever, or burning during urination, call your provider.
- Long duration. If severe pain lasts longer than two weeks, call your provider.
Discomfort during pregnancy is common. Most women suffer from some form of back pain. With a few tips and tricks in the wellness toolbox, you will be able to approach this pain with a plan. However, if in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Back Pain During Pregnancy.
- Mayo Clinic. Back pain during pregnancy: 7 tips for relief.
- Women's Health. Trajectories of lower back, upper back, and pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy and early postpartum in primiparous women.
- Britannica. Relaxin: hormone.