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As you step into the journey of pregnancy, you get busy flipping through books, magazines and other online resources to know everything about pregnancy, babies, and the expected changes in your body. A healthy pregnancy, a healthy you and a healthy baby are your main goals. So, you read more about nutrition, lifestyle, physical and emotional well-being, changes in your body, exercises, medical tests and some common symptoms of pregnancy. Like morning sickness, one other common problem that affects many pregnant women is back pain. More than two-thirds of pregnant women experience severe backaches during pregnancy.
Pregnancy and back pain
Back pain is one of the most common symptoms that pregnant women complain of. In some women, it starts early in pregnancy and remains as they progress through the nine months. In other women, it worsens and continues to hinder them even after the baby is born. Some women experience upper back pain during pregnancy, while some experience lower back pain.
Back pain during early pregnancy or first trimester
Although it’s not very common to have back pain in the first trimester, there are some chances of experiencing lower back pain in early pregnancy too. Hormonal changes during pregnancy is one of the main reasons. In early pregnancy, there is an increase in the body’s levels of progesterone – a hormone that stimulates the uterus. This helps loosen the ligaments that attach the pelvic bone to the spine. It is because of this loosening of your hip joints and relaxing of the ligaments that you may experience pain while walking, standing and sitting for long hours.
Back pain during the second trimester of pregnancy
The second trimester is a high-risk time for back pain to crop up. As the uterus expands, it weakens the abdominal muscles and alters your centre of gravity. This affects your posture and leads to pressure on your back. If the strain on your back presses a nerve, the back begins to ache.
Back pain during the third trimester of pregnancy
As you advance into the third trimester, you gain more weight. Carrying extra weight increases the stress on your joints and the work for your muscles. Muscular imbalance and stress leads to increased pain in the back when you walk, stand for long hours, get out of a low-level chair, or bend and lift things.
If you do not experience back pain initially, but suddenly start experiencing severe pain during the late half of second or third trimester, it can be a sign of preterm labour. Do ensure that you consult your doctor at once.
Is it normal to have back pain during pregnancy?
Yes, it is normal to expect various changes in your body during pregnancy, including back pain. While many bodily changes occur naturally as a part of pregnancy, they also induce various related repercussions. Some of these affect you emotionally, and some can affect you physically. Back pain during pregnancy is not surprising. It is a symptom which occurs in a majority of pregnant women because natural changes like the shifting of the centre of gravity, weight gain, muscular imbalances and muscular fatigue stress the back and gives rise to a backache. A surge in pregnancy-related hormones creates joint laxity and decreases the required support from the joints, thereby leading to back problems. Also, activities that load the spine make back pain inevitable in pregnant women.
Why do I have a backache while I am pregnant?
Pregnancy brings about a number of changes in your body posture and lifestyle. The risk of having back pain is higher if you have a weak back and weak abdominal muscles, coupled with inflexibility and a sedentary lifestyle. Carrying more than one baby (twins or triplets) also increases the backache. The way you carry yourself while performing simple tasks also has an impact on the joints and muscles. In addition to the bodily changes such as growing uterus, shift in centre of gravity, excess weight and hormonal changes, some of the other reasons that are responsible for giving you backache while pregnant are as follows:
- As your baby grows, you find yourself leaning backward to prevent falling forward. This little change in your posture can strain the back muscles in your lower back, leading to backache
- Wearing high-heeled footwear shifts the balance and also gives more pressure to the back. This increases the chances of having a back pain and also having a fall
- When lifting objects, if you stand and bend, it increases the pressure on the back region
- Fatigue caused by pulling the spine to do more physical work also leads to back aches
- Emotional stress can also cause muscular tension in the back, leading to back pain or back spasms
Types of back pain in pregnancy
There are different types of back pain that you can experience during pregnancy, including Lumbar back pain and Posterior pelvic pain.
What is Lumbar back pain in early pregnancy?
Lumbar pain is felt at the waist level, over and around the spinal cord. Sometimes, you can feel the pain radiating towards your legs. Lumbar pain occurs in the lumbar vertebrae, which is at your lower back. Activities, like sitting and standing for long hours or lifting heavy objects, can worsen the pain
What is Posterior pelvic pain during pregnancy?
Posterior pelvic pain is one of the most common types of lower back pain that pregnant women experience. The pain is experienced in the back of the pelvis. The pain is severe on one or both sides of your buttocks or the back of your thighs. Some women also experience pain over their pubic bone. Walking, climbing stairs, rolling over in bed, lifting objects, and trying to sit or get out of a bath tub or low chair instigate posterior pelvic pain. Therefore, you must be cautious while sitting on a chair during pregnancy. In this posture, if you lean forward over a desk, the pain can worsen
What are the causes of back pain in pregnant women?
Back pain typically occurs at the sacroiliac joint, a point where the pelvis meets your spine. Some of the causes of this back pain include the following:
1. Weight gain
Weight gain during pregnancy is normal and essential for the baby’s growth. The typical weight gain ranges between 11 to 15 kilos, and the spine supports this body weight. This added load triggers a pain in the back. Additionally, the weight of the growing baby and the growing uterus adds to the pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in the back and the pelvis area
2. Posture changes
The increase in weight during pregnancy shifts your center of gravity, and you may tend to lean forward. This shift gradually triggers a change in posture. This change in the posture results in back pain
3. Hormonal changes
During pregnancy, hormones such as relaxin and oestrogen can have an effect on your body. Relaxin, a pregnancy-related hormone, triggers ligaments in the pelvic area to relax, and joints become looser. In other words, this hormone creates joint laxity. Ligaments, which support the spine, also relax or loosen up. Relaxation of these ligaments leads to instability and pain. Hormonal surges, coupled with weight gain and change in centre of gravity add to decreased support of the joints, leading to back pain
4. Muscle separation
Separation of the rectal abdominis muscles also triggers back pain. The rectus abdominis muscles are located in the front of the body inside the abdominal region. As your pregnancy advances, the uterus grows and expands. This expansion can cause the two parallel sheets of the rectal abdominis muscles to separate along the centre seam leading to a back ache
Your emotions play a vital role during pregnancy. Typically, any kind of emotional trauma or stress has a direct impact on your health. This is true in pregnancy as well. You can observe that as stress increases, the intensity of the back pain also increases. Emotional stress can cause muscle tension in the back region, and increase stiffness and muscular pain. This tension can trigger a back pain or back spasms
Day-to-day activities that involve a lot of running around and intense physical activities that tire you add to your body’s fatigue during pregnancy. Additionally, the change in the centre of gravity creates muscular fatigue, which causes you to drastically change your posture. Poor postures worsen back pain
7. Muscular imbalances
During pregnancy, a shift in the centre of gravity due to weight gain also induces muscular imbalances as the body has to carry additional weight. This extra weight means more work for your muscles. It also increases stress on your joints. These muscular imbalances trigger strain on load-bearing organs in the body. If you already have muscle weakness or inflexibility, then this muscular imbalance worsens it and increases back pain
10 Tips for Back Pain Relief during Pregnancy
As some of your questions about back pain have now been answered, let’s look at how to get relief from it. Exercising, yoga and other stress-relieving remedies can help you address back pain.
Back Pain Exercises in Pregnancy
Exercising is one of the best options to give you relief from back pain. However, check with your doctor before you start your exercise program. Some of the most useful exercises include:
Swimming is a very good exercise for pregnant women. While it strengthens your abdominal and lower-back muscles, the buoyancy of the water removes the strain off the ligaments and joints. Research indicates that water exercises reduce the intensity of back pain during pregnancy. However, consult your physician before you start your swimming exercises and ensure that you take precautions while getting out of the pool
2. Weight Training
Weight training helps in building your stamina and also strengthening the abdominal muscles, back muscles and legs. Therefore, it can prevent lower back pain during pregnancy. Weight training for pregnant women should be done by consulting a professionally trained instructor after your doctor’s approval. Pregnancy-related weight training includes squatting and shoulder-lateral exercises
3. Walking and Stretching
Stretching and walking are two very good simple, yet effective exercises to help you gain relief from back pain. Stretching increases the flexibility in the muscles that support your leg and back. Prenatal yoga stretches help in balancing. Walking is an easy option and making it a part of your daily routine works wonders. It is an effective cardiovascular exercise, which is safe and helps you be active throughout your pregnancy.
However, ensure that you wear appropriate footwear – it is a good idea to choose comfortable, well-fitting, low-heeled shoes that support your feet and let them breathe. Also keep yourself hydrated during the walk; your body needs a lot of water now to carry nutrients, keep you free from digestive troubles, and protect you from dehydration. So, remember to enjoy your walk and not exhaust yourself
Remedies for back pain during pregnancy
In addition to exercises, let us look at other remedies that can help you get relief from back pain. Some of these remedies include:
1. Practising good posture
As you progress through your journey of pregnancy, your baby grows, and to prevent falling forward, you might end up leaning backwards. This posture change stresses the lower back muscles and triggers back pain. Therefore, practising good postures can be helpful in giving relief from back pain. Some of the best postures include:
- Standing up straight and tall
- Holding your chest high
- Keeping your shoulder and back relaxed
- Using a comfortable and wide position while standing
- Resting your feet and taking frequent breaks when you have to stand for long hours
- Avoiding locking of knees
- Taking care while sitting by choosing a chair with support or placing a pillow behind your back for support
2. Getting the right gear
Just like clothing, other accessories like footwear also play an important role in ensuring comfort during pregnancy. Due to the increase in weight and shift in the centre of gravity, avoid high-heel shoes because they can shift your balance further and lead to a fall. Wearing low-heeled footwear with good arch support helps you ease your walking experiences
3. Lifting properly
Lifting heavy objects during pregnancy can be challenging. So, it is good to take precautions. It is advisable to ask for help because bending and lifting heavy objects can strain the back and cause unnecessary pain. If you must lift small objects, squat and lift them slowly with the support of your legs
4. Sleeping appropriately
Your sleeping posture plays a very crucial role in pregnancy. Additionally, the correct sleep posture can provide relief from back pain. To get a good night’s sleep, avoid sleeping on your back. Sleep on your side and keep your knees bent. You can also use pillows for support. Place these pillows between the knees, behind the back and under the abdominal area. You can also consider using a firm mattress to support your back
5. Practising relaxation techniques
Practising relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing and massages can help ease pregnancy back pain. Yoga and deep breathing can help in easing muscle tension, relaxing you with deep sleep. Although there are no research results to prove this, you can try light massages or apply heat or cold packs to give relief from your back pain. A number of pregnant women experience some relief through massage and hot/cold packs
6. Exploring complementary therapies
Research indicates that acupuncture provides relief from back pains that occur during pregnancy. Chiropractic treatment also helps to get relief from back aches. This treatment emphasizes on manual adjustment or manipulation of the spine in an attempt to minimize back pain. However, if you want to explore these therapies as complementary options to get relief, ensure that you consult your healthcare provider
7. Including daily physical activities in your routine
Physical activities such as walking, stretching, squatting, water exercises and other simple household chores can help you be active and also strengthen your back. Although you would prefer to be curled up in bed during a bout of backache, adequate amount of physical activities can actually give relief to your back pain
While these remedies for back pain can be very beneficial for pregnant women, it is advisable to consult your physician or healthcare provider before starting with them.
While more than two-thirds of pregnant women experience back pain during pregnancy, around one percent of women are affected by “sciatica”. Sometimes, lower back pain radiates into the thighs and buttocks, and can be confused as sciatica. Sciatica during pregnancy is not common, and it is caused by a bulging disk in the lower part of the spine. If you have sciatica, the pain radiates below the knees, foot and toes. It is coupled with a tingling sensation or numbness in the legs. Severe sciatic pain can cause numbness in your groin or genital area. You might experience difficulties in urinating or bowel movements. If you experience these symptoms, it is recommended to visit your doctor and discuss treatments for sciatic pain. These include massage, chiropractic care and physical activities.
Now that you are aware of back pain during pregnancy, its causes, types, and also remedies to help you get relief from it, it is time you stop fretting and continue to enjoy your journey of pregnancy. Remember to take control of your physical well-being by paying special attention to your spine, back, and legs. Learning relaxation methods and following appropriate sleep postures can help you tremendously as you swim through your memorable journey.