Upper Back Pain in Pregnancy: Causes, Remedies and Prevention

Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rima Sonpal (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Back pain is something most expecting mothers experience at some point during their pregnancy. Many of them complain about upper back pain during pregnancy. Yes, most of the back pain that occurs is in the lower back area, near the abdomen, and it is due to the additional weight gained during pregnancy. The back pain can be very irritating for pregnant women and make night sleepless. Tossing and turning because of this pain in turns irritates the person, and it is also harmful to the mother. That is why it is important to notice the signs and symptoms of any pain that occurs during pregnancy and find a solution to it with the help of expert advice.

When Does Upper Back Pain Usually Occur In Pregnancy?

Upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain, but its effects can be just as unpleasant. The pain can occur at any time during the pregnancy but is more common in the third trimester. Upper back pain usually occurs because the weight distribution of the body changes when the pregnancy progresses, and the back has to cope with all the additional weight. It can also occur as a result of the ligaments and the muscles of the back loosening up as labour approaches, which reduces the inherent stability of the body. Either way, upper back pain during pregnancy is just as big a problem as lower back pain, so care must be taken to alleviate the pain for the comfort of the mother.

Causes of Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

Back pain can happen due to a number of reasons, and it is not limited to just pregnancy. In general, bad posture and sitting/standing in one position can induce back pain on upper right side or the whole side in the human body. Here’s what causes upper back pain during pregnancy.

  1. Change in Balance: The uterus expands throughout the pregnancy, so the mother is forced to stretch the muscles of her neck and pull her shoulders for prolonged periods to maintain balance. This causes a strain on the spine and results in upper back pain in the expecting mother’s body.
  2. Size of the Uterus: The size of the uterus keeps growing throughout pregnancy, which puts pressure on its surroundings. The nerve endings and the blood vessels surrounding the spine are most affected, resulting in back pain. This gets especially pronounced if the mother lies on her back in the third trimester.
  3. A Shift in the Centre of Gravity: As your pregnancy progresses, you will find your body’s centre of gravity gradually shifting to the front. This can induce back pain as your back muscles are not used to holding so much weight.
  4. Incorrect Posture: Incorrect posture can place unnecessary stress on the back and the spine, which directly results in upper back pain. A mother gains around ten to fifteen kilograms over the course of her pregnancy, so even standing upright for a long time can result in upper back pain. High heels also have a detrimental effect on your spinal column.
  5. Symphysopathy: Symphysopathy is a hereditary condition where the pubic articulation and the pelvic area of the mother are too soft and overly stretched. This results in haemorrhages in the area, and affected people also have poor coordination of movements.
  6. Hormonal Changes: Relaxin is a hormone which is secreted in the pregnant woman’s body which helps to relax the pelvic joints and ligaments to prepare the body for childbirth. A common side-effect of this process is that the mother experiences back pain as a result of the strain on the muscles and the spinal column.

Pregnant woman back pain

Best Stretches for Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

Here are some stretches you can do at home during your pregnancy:

  1. Doorway pectoralis stretches: Stand next to the door frame and place your arms on the frame at shoulder height with your elbows bent to 90 degrees. Now, place one foot forward and perform a gentle lunge till you feel a light stretch from the chest into the front of the shoulders. Hold the position for 30 seconds and then repeat it three to five times a day.
  2. Scapular retraction: After the pectoralis stretch mentioned above, perform this stretch. Imagine holding a pencil between your shoulder blades as you let your arms hang at your sides and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for five seconds, then release. Repeat 20 to 30 times, several times daily.

What Are the Remedies to Relieve Upper Back Pain When Pregnant?

Home remedies are preferred for a reason. They don’t require much money and can be easily done with the items present at home. If you are suffering from upper back pain during pregnancy, you can try these remedies to alleviate the same:

  1. Consume a Lot of Calcium: Calcium can strengthen the bones and muscles of the body so that your body becomes more capable of sustaining all the gained weight. Dairy products, meat, green vegetables and fish contain enough calcium for a pregnant mother. But do consult the doctor if you opt for calcium supplements.
  2. Focus on the Footwear: Any footwear that places undue stress on the spinal column is a strict no, as it directly contributes to upper back pain during pregnancy. High heels must be avoided at all costs, and you must select shoes that are made of natural material, comfortable and have good soles.
  1. Bend Correctly: Bending can place unnecessary stress on the back muscles and the spinal column since the mother is now carrying a lot of additional weight. If you want to pick up something from the floor, remember to bend your knees first before leaning down, and also to lift with your knees instead of your back.
  2. Posture Is Everything: You might have seen that pregnant women often walk with their shoulders pulled back and a straight back. This posture while walking is followed for a reason– it reduces a lot of the load put on the spinal column while walking. You must also remember to change your position as often as possible so that no part is under too much stress.
  3. Sleep Well: Sleep is essential for everyone’s health, not just a pregnant mother. The correct sleeping position during pregnancy is to lie on your right side, and not on the back. Most upper back pain goes away once you lie down for a bit, in the right posture.

Pregnant woman sitting straight

  1. Exercise: While gaining weight during pregnancy may seem normal, it still does not mean that the mother should gain more than the necessary amount of weight. You are expected to gain around 14 kilos by the end of the pregnancy, so exercise is necessary to ensure that you do not pass this threshold. Swimming and walking are the best exercises for mothers to keep fit.
  1. Belly Bands: Belly bands during pregnancy can go a long way in helping distribute the weight on your back. They take the load off the spine and can be a blessing for affected mothers.

How Can Pregnant Women Prevent Upper Back Pain?

Here are some ways you can prevent the occurrence of upper back pain while you are pregnant.

  1. Avoid Lifting and Carrying Heavy Objects: Your back and spine are already under a considerable amount of pressure, so it would be unwise to add to that stress by lifting unnecessary or heavy objects. Remember to bend using your knees and not to twist while lifting.
  1. Wear Comfortable Clothing: A supportive bra can really help prevent upper back pain early in pregnancy. Shoes too, as mentioned earlier, can play a huge part in preventing upper back pain.
  2. Reduce Stress Levels: Physical stress obviously contributes to back pain, but emotional stress also plays a part. It can cause back spasms and tension in the muscles, which manifest as back pain in the upper back area. So talk your stress out with a friend or a therapist- it is more important than you think.
  3. Invest in a Supportive Bra: A good and comfortable supportive bra does not put much pressure on the back, keeping the spine more neutral and tension-free.
  4. Practice Neutral Standing Posture: When you are standing, don’t slouch. Instead, stand straight with chest high and shoulders back and loosened up. In addition, don’t lock your knees and have a good gap between your stance to support your body and distribute the weight equally.
  5. Maintain a Sitting Position: Similar to the standing position, you have to maintain your sitting posture as well. While sitting, your back should be straight, and your shoulders should be pulled back and rolled down. The buttocks should touch the chair’s back. Also, select a hard, straight-backed chair to sit on. A soft pillow or a small rolled-up towel may be placed behind the curve of the back for additional support.
  6. Exercise Daily: To keep tension away from the back, continue to do mild and safe, expert-recommended exercises during pregnancy that stretches your body to a healthy extent during pregnancy. Don’t stretch too hard. You can try the stretches we mentioned earlier.

Tips to Relieve Back Pain

  • Using a warm or cold compress to relax the tight muscles.
  • Getting prenatal massages from a massage therapist specialising in pregnancy massages.
  • Using alternative methods like chiropractic services or acupuncture to relieve the pain.
  • You can try swimming to flex the back muscles and relieve them. It is helpful in relieving upper back pain during pregnancy the first trimester.
  • Prenatal yoga is also helpful in improving posture and keeping stress at bay.

When to Contact a Doctor

You have to pay a visit to the doctor if:

  • Your symptoms suggest that you are going to go into labour.
  • You have lower back pain accompanied by vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid.
  • The back pain is accompanied by burning when you pee, and frequent urination– this may indicate a urinary tract infection.
  • The pain is severe and shows no signs of easing up even after a couple of weeks of trying remedies.
  • The pain is accompanied by a tingling sensation and loss of feeling in your extremities, which might indicate problems with the spinal nerves.


Pregnant woman doctor appointment

Upper back pain in early pregnancy and pain during pregnancy in the second trimester or throughout the pregnancy can be prevented or alleviated by using home remedies and bringing changes in your lifestyle, so mothers need not worry about this too much. Pain in pregnancy in the third trimester can get extreme due the enlarged belly, so it is important to be aware of any unusual signs. However, if the symptoms do not go away even after trying the remedies, you should pay a visit to the doctor. Is upper back pain a sign of labour? It could be, and a visit to the hospital is warranted if you experience contractions along with it.

Also Read: Exercises to Get Rid of Back Pain during Pregnancy

Previous article «
Next article »