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Back Pain during Pregnancy Back Pain during Pregnancy

Back Pain During Pregnancy

Back pain and back discomfort are common during pregnancy and should be expected by most women.  In fact, studies have shown that about 50-80% of pregnant women experience pregnancy-related lower back pain. 

Back Pain

Back pain may be experienced during any point of your pregnancy but it is most commonly experienced in the later stages of the pregnancy as the weight of the baby increases.  For many women, it interferes with daily activities and the ability to get a good night's sleep. The severity of the back pain typically ranges from mild discomfort after standing for a long time to severe pain that interferes with daily life and the ability to sleep well at night.

During pregnancy back pain often occurs because of a change in the body's center of gravity, poor posture, or a loosening of the muscles and ligaments during pregnancy before you are ready to deliver the baby.

On the positive side, here are things you can do to help manage pregnancy-related back pain. Below are some of the things you may want to try in order to reduce low back pain:

  • Put a heating pad or hot water bottle on your back.
  • Rest in bed on a firm mattress and sleep on your left side.
  • Put a pillow under your knees when you are lying down.
  • Practice good posture. Stand with your head up, shoulders back and straight, chest forward, pelvis tucked in, and stomach pulled in.
  • Wear a back support brace or belt.
  • When sitting use a straight-backed chair and hold your spine against the back of the chair.
  • Bend your knees and hips and keep your back straight when you lift a heavy object and do not lift heavy objects higher than your waist.
  • Use a licensed health care professional such as a chiropractor or massage therapist
  • Hold packages you carry close to your body, with your arms bent.
  • When you are driving, sit close to the pedals and use a hard backrest or pillow.
  • Try to gain only as much weight during your pregnancy as recommended by your health care provider.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes.
  • Stay active with regular exercise but try not to be overactive. Although it may seem desirable to rest when you are having this back pain, gentle stretching and movement will often decrease muscle spasm resulting in a decrease of pain.

Make sure to talk to your health care provider. Pain in your back may be a sign of a more serious problem. Be aware of what is called 'back labor" since In the late stages of pregnancy, a low, dull backache may be a sign that you are in labor.

Exercise for Back Pain During Pregnancy

Strengthening the abdominal muscles, back muscles, pelvic floor, buttock, and thigh muscles can effectively help prevent and decrease back pain. The following are some of the many exercises you can do:

  • Pelvic Tilts (for abdominal muscles): The simplest way to learn the pelvic tilt is to lie on the back with knees bent, feet resting on the floor. Place your hand in the small of your back, and you will most likely notice a space between your back and the floor. Now try to flatten the lower part of the spine against the floor, so that you feel no space between your back and the floor. The buttocks should be relaxed in order to isolate the abdominal muscles. The pelvic tilt can be performed while lying on your back, standing, on your hands and knees, or sitting.
  • Arm and Leg Raises (for back muscles and buttock): Kneel on your hands and knees with a straight spine. Do a pelvic tilt to keep your pelvis stable and then lift your right arm and left leg to form a straight line with your spine. Pause in this position and then slowly lower your arm and leg. Alternate lifting the opposite arm and leg. If you have difficulty keeping your balance in this position, modify the exercise by performing only the leg or arm raises separately.
  • Kegels (for pelvic floor muscles): To exercise the pelvic floor muscles, try to envision pulling the muscles of the vaginal area up and in towards your baby. You should not feel your buttocks, thighs, or abdominals tightening as you do this.
  • Wall Squats (for abdominal muscles, buttock muscles and thigh muscles): Stand with your head, shoulders, and back against a wall with your feet about 1 to 2 feet away from the wall. Press your lower back into the wall and squat as if you were going to sit down, with the knees approaching a 90-degree angle. Come back up slowly, keeping your back and buttocks in contact with the wall.

Stretching can be just as important as cardiovascular and strength training. To improve flexibility, it is recommended that your stretches be performed daily after you are warmed up. Although there are many stretches that can safely be performed during pregnancy, the muscles that most often contribute to back pain are the back, hamstring (in the back of the thighs), and chest and neck muscles.

  • Back stretch: Start on your hands and knees, with your legs wide apart and hands placed forward just a little in front of your head. Place a small pillow under you to give support to your abdomen, if needed. Sit back on your knees and stretch your arms forward to feel a stretch along the spine.

  • Hamstring stretch: Face a chair and place one foot up on it, keeping both hips and feet facing forward. Keep your back straight and lean forward from your hips to feel a stretch in the back of the thigh. If you can’t stand tall or your knee bends, try a lower step.

  • Chest stretch: Stand with your head upright and with your back straight. Clasp your hands behind your back, and without leaning your shoulders forward, gently stretch your arms up and back to feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders and arms.

  • Neck stretch: Sitting or standing, bring your head forward and tipped to one side. With the hand on the same side as your head is tipped, reach up behind your head and give a gentle pull. Turning your head as you pull can help isolate the specific neck muscles needing stretching.

For additional information, visit the page Exercise and Pregnancy.

Additional Information

Mayo Clinic: Back pain and pregnancy
American Pregnancy: Back pain
Exercise for back pain during pregnancy
Expectant Mothers Guide: Back Pain During Pregnancy

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