While some women find pregnancy to be a joy, others experience one uncomfortable symptom after another.
One of the most common and even painful side effects of pregnancy is back pain.
This makes sense when you consider that your center of gravity is changing, you’re gaining weight, and hormonal changes are relaxing ligaments in the pelvis.
Knowing that back pain is normal doesn’t do much to help, unfortunately. Here are the most common causes of the pain you’re feeling and what you can do about it.
Most pregnant women experience back pain
Have back pain? You’re not alone. The American Pregnancy Association reports that 50-70% of all pregnant women experience some type of back pain.
Lower back pain is the most common, affecting about two-thirds of pregnant women. Lumbar pain and posterior pelvic pain are most commonly reported.
Some women develop back pain early in their pregnancy, but most experience pain that starts during the second trimester and steadily worsens.
Increased Elasticity of the Sacroiliac Joint May Be to Blame
The sacroiliac joint connects the pelvis and the spine. It’s this joint that allows you to alternate movement when you walk.
During pregnancy, the powerful ligaments that control the joints loosen due to the production of a hormone called relaxin.
Increased elasticity of the ligaments is essential to expand the birth canal during vaginal delivery.
Unfortunately, increased movement and instability of the joint can also be a source of lower back and hip pain, according to a study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology.
During pregnancy, you may gain about 25% of your body weight or 25-35 pounds during a healthy pregnancy.
Your spine will need to support all of this extra weight with little time to adjust. This is a common cause of lower back pain, but it’s not the only way the additional weight hurts your back.
Your growing uterus and baby will also put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in your back and pelvis. This can worsen the back pain you experience, especially if a nerve gets pinched.
Your Posture Changes With Pregnancy
Of course, the weight you gain isn’t spread evenly; it’s mostly in your abdomen.
Your center of gravity will gradually shift throughout your pregnancy and your posture and how you move will likely change. You may not notice your changing posture, but your back will.
As you compensate by leaning back, the muscles in your lower back will become strained and contribute to soreness and pain.
Try these tips to maintain good posture and combat the lower back pain.
- Stand with a wide, supportive stance.
- Keep your shoulders back but relaxed.
- Do not lock your knees.
- Keep your chest held high.
- Sit in a chair that offers good back support or adds a small pillow behind your lower back for better support.
- Wear low-heeled but not flat shoes with arch support to keep you from shifting your balance.
Abdominal Separation Can Cause Lower Back Pain
As your pregnancy advances, your uterus will put pressure on the large vertical bands of abdominal muscles that meet in the center of your abdomen.
The largest of your abdominal muscles work with your lower back and pelvis to help you transfer weight and move.
With too much pressure, these muscles can slowly separate in a condition called diastasis recti. This refers to these bands of muscles pulling away from the attachment point called the linea alba.
About two-thirds of pregnant women develop this condition. It’s more likely to happen if you have had more than one child, especially close together, a heavy baby, multiples, or you are over 35 when you get pregnant.
When diastasis recti occur, your back muscles must work even harder to support your core.
Lower back pain isn’t the only symptom you may notice. Abdominal separation can make vaginal birth more difficult, make it hard to breathe, and, in extreme cases, lead to a hernia.
This video shows how diastasis recti happen and why it’s so important to recognize and treat.
Not sure if you have diastasis recti? The tell-tale sign during pregnancy is your belly getting a dome or cone shape when you use your ab muscles while trying to sit up.
At rest, you may see a valley or divot in the center of your abdomen, according to the kinesiologist and exercise physiologist Sarah Zahab.
Stress Can Contribute to Back Pain
Pregnancy can be a stressful time, and this stress can cause tension in the muscles of your back. You may experience stress-related back pain as a constant ache or muscle spasms.
You can’t avoid all stress, but it’s important to take steps to reduce it as much as possible. Chronic stress floods your body with cortisol and other stress hormones.
This can affect your sleep, which is especially important during pregnancy to support a healthy immune system.
When the body spends too much time fighting the effects of chronic stress, it’s harder to fight invading bacteria and viruses.
The physical pain of stress, including a backache and tension headaches, can be all too real during pregnancy.
If you need help combating stress, BabyCenter offers some good advice. Try calming exercises like stretching and yoga and get plenty of regular, low-impact exercise like swimming.
Get in the habit of saying “no” to slow down and take on fewer chores and activities to support a healthy pregnancy.
Back Pain May Be a Sign of Serious Problems
Most pregnancy-related back pain is nothing to worry about, but it can be a sign of trouble, according to Parents Magazine.
If you experience back pain that seems sudden or comes and goes in waves, it may indicate uterine contractions and preterm labor.
If you experience this back pain along with abdominal pain similar to cramps, it may be a good idea to call your doctor.
If you experience sudden, severe, or sporadic pain, mention it to your physician. This can be a sign of rare pregnancy-associated health problems like arthritis or osteoporosis.
An ache in your lower back or along your sides between the hips and ribs may be a sign of a bladder or kidney infection.
You may experience other symptoms such as fever, chills, or painful urination. If your doctor confirms an infection, it will need to be treated right away with antibiotics.
Chiropractic Manipulation May Help
Chiropractic treatment can be a safe and effective way to manage pregnancy-related back pain.
Chiropractic care is a drug-free and natural way to relieve neck, back, and joint pain and help control other symptoms of pregnancy.
According to a clinical review of chiropractic care during pregnancy published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 75% of pregnant women who received chiropractic treatment experienced pain relief.
Pelvic changes, posture changes, increased back curvature, and a growing abdomen are physiological changes that occur in the preparation for childbirth.
The goal of chiropractic care is establishing and maintaining spinal and pelvic alignment and balance.
If you’re considering chiropractic adjustment, the American Pregnancy Association recommends choosing a chiropractor who has received additional training in pregnancy wellness.
Webster Certified chiropractors use the Webster Technique, which can reduce nervous system interference while balancing the pelvis, ligaments, and muscles. It can even prevent or convert a breech birth position.
There Are Things you can Do at Home to Ease Back Pain
While chiropractic care can help, you can also take many steps at home to ease your back pain.
Start by choosing the right shoes. For everyday walking, wear flat boots or supportive sneakers with good arch support.
Rubber-soled wedges can also work to distribute your weight across a large surface area.
Yoga and stretching can be very helpful at releasing tight ligaments, freeing pinched nerves, and easing muscles.
This video walks you through several gentle prenatal stretches for the back and hips.
Pregnancy can interfere with sleep quality, which can also worsen back pain. Try sleeping with a wedge under your stomach while sleeping on your side.
This braces your baby bump to keep it from pulling on and straining the muscles in your back.
Research has also found that pregnant women who exercise 3x a week for 12 weeks during the second half of their pregnancy report less low back pain.
There are many forms of exercise that can be safe yet effective during pregnancy like swimming, brisk walking, aerobics classes, Pilates, and prenatal yoga.
Back Pain Usually Subsidies After Delivery
If you’re suffering from back pain, there’s the good news: it probably won’t last long after delivery.
Over a period of about six weeks postpartum, the ligaments in the pelvis naturally regain rigidity to support the normal motion.
With some women, it can take up to 5 months for the effects of relaxin on joints and ligaments to completely wear off.
Maintaining a healthy post-baby exercise routine can help with postpartum laxity and help you overcome any remaining back pain.