Back pain during pregnancy

Back pain during pregnancy
About 50 percent of pregnant women suffer from back pain.


About 50 percent of pregnant women experience back pain. The pain usually starts between the fifth and seventh month, and is generally felt in the lower back and the back of the pelvis.

Causes

When you are pregnant, the weight of your belly increases significantly, shifting your centre of gravity. You may therefore arch your back to compensate, which alters your posture.

What’s more, certain pregnancy hormones make your joints more flexible. While this makes delivery easier, your joints are less stable and you may experience increased back pain. These changes can affect your core mobility, balance, and flexibility, and your muscles’ resistance to fatigue.

Prevention

Good posture can help prevent back pain. When standing, try to keep your back straight, your chest high, your shoulders back, and your knees slightly bent. Imagine there’s a string attached to the top of your head that’s pulling your entire body upwards. Suck in your belly button and make sure your weight is evenly distributed between both legs.

Rest twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes, lying on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your legs. Adding another pillow under your belly will put less strain on your back.

The following tips can help reduce daytoday back pain:

  • Elevate your legs when lying down or sitting.
  • Make sure your back is well supported when sitting. If it helps, put a pillow or cushion in the hollow of your back.
  • Sleep on your left side with a pillow between your knees.
  • Wear shoes that have good support, and always sit down to put on your shoes.
  • Move your feet when you turn instead of twisting your spine.
  • When you get out of bed, roll onto your side, bend your knees, and use your arms to push yourself into a sitting position. This helps reduce pressure on your back and pelvis.
  • If you need to pick something up off the ground, keep your back straight and bend your legs, as if you were squatting. However, avoid lifting heavy objects.
  • Empty the dishwasher from the side so that you can bend your knees rather than lean forward.

Helpful exercises

Here are a few exercises you can do to help prevent back pain. These exercises increase flexibility, improve balance, and relax the muscles, which reduces musculoskeletal pain.

At the beginning of each exercise, contract your pelvic floor muscles as if you were trying to stop yourself from peeing or passing gas. Don’t forget to breathe!

Exercise No. 1

  • Get on all fours with your knees hipwidth apart and your hands shoulderwidth apart.
  • Make sure to keep your back straight and your abdominals engaged. Now round your spine.
  • Hold this pose for a few seconds, and then come back to your neutral position.
  • Be careful not to let your back sag. Repeat 10 times.

Exercise No. 2

  • Lie on your back. Make sure your back is flat against the floor.
  • Bend your knees while keeping your feet on the ground, slightly apart.
  • Tuck in your navel by engaging the abdominals. Be careful not to move your pelvis or to squeeze your buttocks or legs.
  • Hold this pose for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times. Rest for 1 minute, then repeat 2 more times.
  • Once you have mastered this exercise, try doing it on all fours, sitting, or standing.

Exercise No. 3

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Tuck your chin to your chest.
  • Reaching your hands behind your thigh, use your arms to gently bring one leg towards your chest.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds before gently lowering the leg.
  • Alternate with the other leg.
  • Repeat 3 times for each leg. Remember to respect your body’s limits.

Exercise No. 4

  • Get into a seated position.
  • Place your right foot on your left knee.
  • Gently fold forward, keeping your back straight until you feel a stretch in your left buttock and leg.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
  • Alternate with your right leg.

Other forms of exercise recommended for pregnant women are swimming (or aquafit classes), prenatal yoga, walking, and stationary cycling. Indeed, regular physical activity helps reduce back pain. It’s usually suggested to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. However, if the pain is too intense, you can also exercise for three 10-minute periods spread out during the day.

Pain relief

Some women find that a maternity belly band helps support the baby bump and reduces pressure on the pelvis. Consult your doctor or another health care professional to find out if this is a good option for you.

You can also apply cold or heat, depending on which feels best. Hot baths and massages can also be effective in reducing pain. Some studies suggest that acupuncture and physiotherapy can provide pain relief.

You might even be able to take acetaminophen (e.g., TylenolMD, AtasolMD) to relieve the pain, but it’s important to speak with your doctor first. You can also apply trolamine salicylate (e.g., MyoflexMD) to the affected area.

When should you see a doctor?

You should consult your doctor in the following cases:

  • The pain persists for more than two weeks, increases, or radiates down the legs.
  • You also have symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, a burning sensation when urinating, or fever.
  • You are late in your pregnancy and experience regular stomach pain that comes and goes. This could be contractions.

 Things to keep in mind

  • Weight gain during pregnancy can increase tension in the back, causing pain.
  • Good posture can help prevent back pain.
  • Exercises, massages, and even heat and cold can alleviate pain.

 

Naitre et grandir.com

Scientific review: Geneviève Morin, physiotherapist in perineal re-education and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, CHUM
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: May 2020

Photo: 123rf/Diego Vito Cervo

 

Sources

Please note: Hyperlinks to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the information you’re looking for.

  • Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal. “Avoir un dos en santé par les étirements.” www.chumontreal.qc.ca
  • Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal. “Avoir un dos en santé après l’accouchement.” www.chumontreal.qc.ca
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • Fontana Carvalho, Adriana, et al. “Effects of lumbar stabilization and muscular stretching on pain, disabilities, postural control and muscle activation in pregnant woman with low back pain: A pilot randomized trial.” European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 2020.
  • Gutke, Annelie. et al. “Treatments for pregnancy-related lumbopelvic pain: A systematic review of physiotherapy modalities.” Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, vol. 94, no. 11, 2015, pp. 1156–1167.
  • NHS. “Back pain in pregnancy.” www.nhs.uk
  • Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec. “Maux de dos et grossesse.” oppq.qc.ca
  • Shiri, R., et al. “Exercise for the prevention of low back and pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” European Journal of Pain, vol. 22, no. 1, 2018, pp. 19–27.