Pregnancy is a joy to be treasured for most women and also a trying time to cope physically and mentally. Among other discomforts, back pain is one of their main grouses during pregnancy. Almost 75% of women who are pregnant have some forms of back pain. Some have symptoms of back pain during the early stage of pregnancy while more than half experience it during the last three months.
A pregnant woman may experience different types of back pain, but low back pain is the most common. The back pain can be moderate or intense, but it can usually be treated. In some cases, it can be prevented.
What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?
When a woman becomes pregnant, her body is subject to a lot of physical changes. Her pelvis and abdomen expand and her weight increases putting more pressure on her spine, leading to back pain. The pain may also be due to an increase in a hormone called relaxin, causing the supporting ligament to stretch and joints to loosen.
Back pain during pregnancy may be caused by several factors and some of these are:
- Increase in Weight. When a woman becomes pregnant, her body is subject to a lot of physical change. She tends to eat a bit more than normal and typically put on 10 to 15kg in weight over the full term of her pregnancy. As the baby grows, the additional weight adds pressure to her pelvis and spine.
- Hormone Changes. The increase in hormone called relaxin during pregnancy cause the ligament to stretch and joints to loosen leading to instability and pain.
- Change in body posture. As the uterus expands and stretches the centre of gravity changes. The abdomen shifts out and down causing the spine to curve backward to compensate for this shift. This leads to the spinal muscles to ache.
- Muscle separation. As the uterus expands, the rectus abdominate muscle may move apart causing back pain. This is a paired muscle running vertically on each side of the anterior wall of the abdomen down to the pubic bone.
- Emotional Stress. It is normal for a pregnant woman to fret about the health of her baby, worrying about what to eat and drink. All these emotions and anxiety can be all-consuming and creates tension in muscles that affect her back.
What Are The Symptoms of Back Pain During Pregnancy?
The most common back pain for pregnant women is the lower back or lumbar pain. This occurs in the area of the lumbar vertebrae and/or the posterior pelvic. The pain can be dull or sharp, continuously or occurring at irregular intervals. The pain may also spread to the legs.
Posterior pelvic pain is felt lower on your body than lumbar pain, deep inside the buttocks or the back of your thighs. Standing or sitting for a lengthy time, lifting heavy things or climbing stairs may worsen the condition.
A small percentage of pregnant women may also suffer from sciatica, a condition caused by a herniated disk at the lower spine. The pain can radiate down to your legs and even your feet and toes. You may feel some numbness and tingling sensation in your legs. For serious sciatica cases, numbness can be felt in your genital area as well as difficulty to urinate or defecate.
How To Prevent Or Minimize Back Pain During Pregnancy?
- Maintain an ideal weight as additional weight is bad for your back
- Adopt a good sitting posture to reduce strain on your spine. Make sure the chair you are sitting on has good lumbar support, arms rest and a firm cushion. Raise your feet to a comfortable level by using a footrest. Avoid crossing your legs which will trust your pelvis forward and strain your back.
- Do not sit for too long. Take breaks by walking, standing and doing light stretching.
- Do not stand for too long. Rest one leg on a low stool and do some knee bending exercises.
- Refrain from carrying heavy things. When lifting heavy loads, do it slowly with a wide stance and with knees bent.
- Do not wear high-heeled or very flat footwear. To keep your body balance and in proper alignment wear comfortable shoes with low heels.
- Sleep on firm mattress and pillow to provide good support your back and neck
- Exercise regularly. It helps to strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility, alleviating the stress on your spine. Exercises that are safe for pregnant women include swimming, walking, yoga and stationary cycling.
- Do pelvic tilts to strengthen your abs and ease your back.
- Take a warm bath.
When To Seek Treatment?
Consult your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:
- Severe and constant pain or getting progressively worse.
- Numbness in one or both legs or you suddenly feels uncoordinated and have difficulty in walking.
- Pain in your lower back or in one or both sides under your ribs. This can be a symptom of infection in your kidney especially if you have a fever, nausea, or blood in your urine.
- Loss of feeling in your buttocks, anus, bladder or genital area, and have difficulty in urinating or have a bowel movement.
Treatment For Back Pain During Pregnancy
- Heat and cold treatments. These help to relax your muscles and improve blood circulation to you back. Place a hot pad or a hot water bottle on your lower back for about 15 minutes few times a day. After several days, switch to cold compression (a bag of ice). Stick to one that offers better result. Whether you apply heat or cold treatment, remember to cover the pad or bottle with a thin piece of cloth to protect your skin. Avoid putting the heat pad or bottle to your abdomen.
- Massage. A good massage to your aching back help to relax your body offers temporary relief.
- Acupuncture. Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective in easing back pain during pregnancy.
- Chiropractic. Chiropractors use hands-on spinal manipulation to restore mobility to joints and align the musculoskeletal structure so that the body can heal itself without surgery. This technique is safe for pregnancy if done correctly and you should consult your doctor or chiropractor.
- Medication. If alternative treatments mentioned above do not alleviate your back pain, then medication is the next option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe for pregnant women to take. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or Aspirin are not recommended. You may ask your doctor to prescribe other medicines for pain or muscle relaxants during pregnancy.
- Counselling. This may be encouraged if your back pain is caused by emotional stress and relationship problems.
Back Pain during pregnancy is a common problem which can be managed. Appropriate treatment can help to provide significant relief to back pain during pregnancy. The good news is that there is no direct link between the outcome of pregnancy and back pain. So look forward to your bundle of joy.