Managing Pregnancy-Related Back Pain
by Krisha McCoy, MS
If you are pregnant and suffering from back pain, you are not alone. At least half of all expectant mothers will experience back pain during their pregnancy. The changes in your body weight and center of gravity, ligament laxity, and poor abdominal muscle tone during pregnancy all put added strain on your back.
But there are things you can do during your pregnancy to prevent or decrease back pain. By keeping yourself healthy and using strategies to reduce the strain on your back, you can have a more comfortable pregnancy.
What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?
During a healthy pregnancy, you will gain approximately 25-35 pounds. This added weight must be supported by your spine, and can result in severe discomfort in your lower back. In addition, as your baby grows during pregnancy, your center of gravity is shifted forward. This shift increases the stress on your joints and causes your back to curve forward. Back pain can also be triggered by poor posture or stress.
Strategies to Prevent and Relieve Back Pain
While you cannot prevent the weight gain and shift of center of gravity that occurs during pregnancy, there are some things you can do to alleviate the extra stress on your back.
Regular exercise during your pregnancy will strengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility, relieving the stress placed on your back from pregnancy-related weight gain. A study in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that women who participated in an exercise program 3 times a week for 12 weeks during the second half of pregnancy had a significant decrease in the severity of low back pain.
If you are able to exercise during pregnancy, walking, swimming, and stationary cycling are safe, effective cardiovascular exercises. In addition, abdominal and back strengthening exercises can provide muscle strength to support your growing belly. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend an exercise program that is safe for you.
If your pain is only in one area, heat therapy or cold therapy may help. Place a cold compress on the sore area several times a day for up to 20 minutes. After 2-3 days of cold treatment, begin applying heat for 20 minutes several times a day. Since heat to the abdomen is not recommended during pregnancy, use mild heat to the back only, and check with your doctor before doing so.
Making adjustments in your home and work life can go a long way in relieving back pain.
Sleeping: Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees will take stress off your back. Make sure you have a firm mattress.
Sitting at a desk: If you sit at a desk for several hours a day, position your computer monitor so it is at or below eye level. Have your keyboard and mouse within easy reach. Use a chair that supports your back or place a rolled-up towel behind your back for support. Rest your feet on a stack of books or stool to eliminate some stress on your back. Finally, sit up straight, with your shoulders back to avoid the strain slouching places on your spine.
Lifting heavy objects: When lifting heavy objects, bend your knees, keep your back and neck in straight alignment, and lift with your legs—not your back. Keep heavy objects as close to you as possible. And whenever possible, ask for help when moving heavy objects.
Limit standing and sitting time: Take shorter, frequent breaks so that you are not standing or sitting for long periods of time. Get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour.
In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into your skin in certain locations, which are thought to release natural painkilling substances. There is some evidence that acupuncture can help back pain in pregnant woman.
A chiropractor can perform spinal manipulation exercises to adjust your spinal structures and restore your back mobility. When performed correctly, chiropractic manipulation can be safe during pregnancy, but consult your physician before receiving chiropractic care.
Acetaminophen is safe for most women to take during pregnancy. If your back pain is not relieved by nonmedication treatments, talk to your doctor about using acetaminophen. If you are using acetaminophen to relieve back pain, be careful not to take more than 4,000 mg in a 24-hour period.
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Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 5/9/2017
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