Anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of pregnant women experience some degree of back pain. Usually occurring during the later stages of pregnancy, persistent back pain can make it difficult to sleep and cause an assortment of other distracting aches and pains. Fortunately, most pregnancy-related back pain can be managed. However, it’s important to know why this type of pain occurs. Here are some of the main causes.
The average pregnancy weight gain can be anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds. Though necessary for a growing baby, this extra weight can also place extra pressure on the spine.
Pregnancy hormones loosen muscles and joints to prepare the body for the birthing process. This relaxation often extends to the soft tissues that support the lower spine. The hormone relaxin can also affect ligaments in the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.
Natural balance, or center of gravity, slowly changes as a pregnancy advances. As a result, spinal alignment can change and place added stress on the vertebrae and discs.
Proper posture tends to be more difficult to maintain during pregnancy, especially if a woman is shifting to positions that may not be supportive for the spine. Pregnant women should avoid excessive bending or standing for long periods to counter alignment changes.
The emotional stress that sometimes accompanies pregnancy can result in added muscle tension. As muscles become weaker, physical stress can also naturally develop within the body, especially around the pelvic area.
Women can ease their back pain during pregnancy by wearing supportive shoes, but not entirely flat ones. If they have to do some lifting, they should squat and lift with their legs. Side sleeping tends to be easier on the spine than sleeping on the back, and light exercise can also strengthen abdominal and back muscles. Getting plenty of rest, elevating the feet, and wearing a maternity support belt can also be helpful. A Los Angeles spine surgeon can help pregnant women find additional solutions for alleviating back pain.
Hormones produced during pregnancy loosen ligaments around the lower spine to prepare for childbirth. However, relaxed ligaments that also support the spine may contribute to back pain, as can pregnancy-related weight gain and changes in posture. It may be comforting to know spine pain related to pregnancy often goes away following delivery. If immediate relief is what you want, some exercises may ease your back pain as your pregnancy progresses.
Cardiovascular exercises are often recommended during pregnancy because they’re a safe way to work spine-supporting muscles while also increasing the circulation that delivers essential nutrients to tissues. Strive for 30–45 minutes of mild to moderate cardio exercises 3–5 days a week. Options include:
The purpose of pelvic tilts is to strengthen the abdominal muscles that indirectly support the spine from the front. To safely do pelvic tilts while pregnant, lie on the floor or a foam pad with your knees bent, place your hands around the lower part of your back where it curves, and tighten your stomach muscles. Doing so will cause your lower back to elevate slightly. Pelvic tilts can also be done while sitting or standing up against a wall.
Strengthen spine-supporting buttock muscles with arm and leg raises. While kneeling on your hands and knees, keep your spine straight. You’ll then do a pelvic tilt and lift an alternating arm and leg. Pause briefly and return to your original position, then repeat with the other arm and leg. If you have difficulty, you can modify these exercises by lifting an arm or leg separately instead of doing both together.
The pelvic floor muscles work with the deep abdominal and back muscles to support the spine, and these muscles can also become weakened during pregnancy. Work these soft tissues with Kegel exercises by tightening your vaginal area muscles as you envision pulling them toward your developing baby. Abdominal and buttocks muscles aren’t tightened with Kegel exercises, which may also help with bladder control.
Stand with your back, shoulders, and head against a wall to work your thigh, abdominal, and buttock muscles. Keep your feet about 1–2 feet away from the wall. Your lower back is then pressed gently into the wall as you squat as if you were sitting. Go down as far as is comfortable before coming back up to a full standing position. Keep your buttocks and back against the wall as you work your way back up.
Back and neck pain may become noticeable early in a pregnancy. Minimize your discomfort in these areas with back and neck stretches. For back stretches, start on your hands and knees with your legs apart and your hands above your head. Support your abdomen with a pillow beneath it. If this type of stretch becomes too difficult, work your spine in a similar way by sitting on your knees and reaching forward until you feel the stretch. Your neck can be stretched while sitting or standing. Tip your head to one side as you bring it forward, then reach behind your head and gently pull. If you have specific neck muscles that need to be stretched, turn your head as you pull it from behind until you feel the stretch in the affected area.
Work the three hamstring muscles in the back of your thigh while facing a chair. Place one foot up on the chair and lean forward while keeping your back straight until you feel the stretch. If you can’t get your foot up on the chair, try using a stool instead. You can also do seated hamstring stretches by sitting comfortably on the floor or a mat. You’ll then reach to one side and then the other to touch your toes. Don’t force the stretch if you can’t comfortably reach your toes.
The controlled-motion poses done with yoga and Pilates can also work your core muscles during pregnancy, and the related deep breathing techniques may ease the stress that sometimes contributes to back pain. Check with your doctor before doing any exercises while pregnant, especially during the later stages of the pregnancy.
Many women think back pain is just a part of pregnancy they have to live with, but relief is possible. If you’re having severe or persistent pain in your back or neck, be sure to consult with a spine specialist for prompt diagnosis and treatment. At The Spine Institute, our pioneering doctors have experience with every type of back pain, and they lead the industry with cutting-edge methods for relieving pain, from non-surgical treatment to traditional spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles residents are encouraged to call one of our friendly team members to schedule an appointment at 310-828-7757.