For many expecting mums, one of the biggest complaints during pregnancy is the aching back! Research suggests that somewhere between half and three-quarters of all women experience back pains during pregnancy.
Some women experience back pain during early pregnancy (in the first trimester), while others experience it around week 18, early in the second trimester. It can sometimes worsen as the second trimester progresses until you give birth when it can get replaced by postpartum back pain! Here’s everything you need to know about back aches during pregnancy.
Causes Of Back Pain In Pregnant Women
Back pains during pregnancy typically affect the lower back, where the pelvis meets your spine, at the sacroiliac joint. Here are some of its causes:
Weight gain:Medical reports suggest that during a healthy pregnancy, a woman typically gains between 25 and 35 pounds. As the spine has to support that weight, it can cause lower back pain.
Plus, the weight of the growing baby and uterus puts pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in the pelvis and back.
Posture changes: Pregnancy shifts your centre of gravity and you may gradually even without noticing begin to adjust your posture and the way you move. This can also result in back pain or strain.
Hormone changes: During pregnancy, your body makes a hormone called relaxin which allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax. The joints become loose in preparation for the birth process.
This hormone can also loosen ligaments that support the spine, leading to instability and pain.
Muscle separation: As the uterus expands, two parallel sheets of muscles (the rectus abdominis muscles), which run from the rib cage to the pubic bone, might separate along the centre seam. Such a separation of the muscles might worsen back pains during pregnancy.
Stress: Emotional stress can also cause muscle tension in the back, which might be felt as back pain or back spasms.
Stress affects the expectant mother’s mood and psychological state of being and can also cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, stiffness, and muscle pain.
Types of Back Pain In Pregnancy
Mechanical instability in the lumbar spine (lower back) and pelvis leads to lower back pain during pregnancy. Some of its types are:
Lower back pain while lying down or sleeping: The lower back pain during pregnancy might worsen at night as a consequence of the expanding uterus, which applies pressure on a major blood vessel-the vena cava-and causes blood vessel congestion in the pelvis and the lumbar spine.
Pregnancy back and hip pain: The hip might become painful during pregnancy due to changes in the lower back and pelvis and lead to conditions like transient osteoporosis and avascular necrosis of the femoral head.
Transient osteoporosis is a rare condition that occurs due to weight-bearing in the third trimester of pregnancy. It weakens the hip bone and results in acute pain with limited motion in the hip.
Women with this condition usually walk by taking short steps to avoid pain.
Avascular necrosis of the femoral head is a condition wherein biological changes in pregnancy due to high levels of natural steroids, including adrenocorticoid, oestrogen, and progesterone hormones, and weight gain increase the joint pressure and muscle strain in the hip.
Lower back and abdominal pain with cramping: Severe back pain during early pregnancy along with cramping might indicate a ruptured ectopic pregnancy where the egg fertilises and grows in a place other than the uterus, most commonly inside the fallopian tube, which ruptures due to the growing size of the fertilised egg.
Back labour pain: Pain during active labour is caused by contraction of the muscles of the uterus and is same like the intense menstrual cramp. Some women might experience severe lower back pain during labour, often called back labour that becomes intense between contractions and remains steady between contractions.
This pain might occur when the baby is mispositioned in a way that the back of the baby’s head presses against the mum’s back (occiput posterior position).
Treatments for Back Pain In Pregnancy
Some of the treatment options for backache in pregnancy are:
Stretch the lower back regularly.
Try to sleep on the side with a pillow between the legs and below the abdomen.
You can use a warm compress to relax tight muscles or reduce inflammation.
Try to make postural changes, such as standing and sitting upright, so that the back is straight and shoulders square.
You can wear a maternity belt for extra abdominal and back support.
Using a lumbar pillow for additional back support while sitting can also be a good idea.
Prenatal massages can help relax tight muscles, improve range of motion, and relieve stress.
Reducing stress through meditation, prenatal yoga, and other mindfulness techniques can also relieve back pains during pregnancy.
Try to avoid standing for long periods and lifting too much weight.
Practice proper lifting techniques by squatting down and using the legs instead of the back.
Try to avoid sleeping on the abdomen.
When to Seek Treatment for Back Pain In Pregnancy from A Doctor?
Expecting mums experiencing back pain during pregnancy should contact the doctor if they experience the following symptoms:
Intense pain and cramps
Pain that lasts more than 2 weeks
Cramps occurring at regular intervals and gradually intensify.
Difficulty or experiencing pain when urinating.
A tingling sensation in the limbs and vaginal bleeding
Fever and irregular vaginal discharge
How Can I Avoid Backaches During Pregnancy?
Some of the ways to avoid the back pain symptoms of pregnancy are:
Practice good posture: As your baby grows, your centre of gravity will shift forward. To avoid falling forward, you might lean back which in turn can strain the muscles in your lower back and contribute to back pain.
You can keep these principles of good posture in mind:
Stand up straight and tall and hold your chest high.
Try to keep your shoulders back and relaxed and don’t lock your knees.
Consider complementary therapies: According to research, therapies like acupuncture might relieve back pain during pregnancy.
Chiropractic treatment can also ease back pain and provide comfort for some expecting mums as well.
Include physical activity in your daily routine: Exercising regularly with doctor’s consultation throughout your pregnancy can help you stay healthy and improve your posture and decrease discomforts such as backaches and fatigue.
Exercises to Ease Back Pain In Pregnancy
Here are some of the exercises that can ease lower back pain in pregnancy:
Pelvic Tilts (for abdominal muscles): You can lie on the back with knees bent, feet resting on the floor. Now, place your hand at the back, and you will most likely notice a space between your back and the floor.
Try to flatten the lower part of the spine against the floor so that there’s no space between your back and the floor.
Your buttocks should be relaxed in order to isolate the abdominals.
Kegels (for pelvic floor muscles): A super-easy way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles is kegel exercise. A form of pelvic floor exercise that involves squeezing and relaxing muscles in the pelvic and genital areas, kegels will be a saviour for all those expectant mums who are experiencing back pain.
The best thing is that you don’t need to join a gym to train these muscles.
Wall Squats (for abdominal muscles, buttock muscles, and thigh muscles): Stand with your head, shoulders, and back against a wall with your feet about one to two feet away from the wall.
Now 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.
You can come back up slowly, keeping your back and buttocks in contact with the wall.
Back ache during early pregnancy and in the later stages is normal. But there’s nothing to worry about as you can minimise back pain by avoiding excessive standing, wearing supportive shoes, and focusing on good posture. You can also use ice packs for relief.
Is back pain normal during pregnancy?
Back pain is a common part of pregnancy and is more likely to happen if you’ve experienced back pain before becoming pregnant, or if you’re overweight.
What role do the abdominal muscles play in back pain?
The deep abdominal muscles, along with muscles at the back, make up your ‘core’ muscles and help keep your body stable and balanced, protecting your spine.
If you are experiencing back pain during pregnancy, there might be abdominal muscle strains that can actually worsen the back ache.