For pregnant women, back pain during pregnancy is not a trivial matter.
If not addressed, pregnancy back pain can have a negative impact on your daily lifestyle. Creating problems during the course of your pregnancy, pain can continue for an extended period after delivery.
While fairly common, (estimations are between 50 and 80 percent of women experience some form of back pain during pregnancy) it should definitely not be accepted as just part of the process. To help make your pregnancy as pleasant as possible and facilitate an easier delivery, back pain should be addressed as quickly as possible and managed throughout your pregnancy.
Lower back pain in pregnancy that lasts several weeks or months is a predictor for postpartum back pain (pain after birth). For this reason, pregnant women are encouraged to seek appropriate back pain treatment during pregnancy.
Likewise, any postpartum pain that lasts longer than six to eight weeks should be treated in order to avoid chronic back pain or recurring back problems following pregnancy.
Studies show lower back pain in pregnancy usually occurs between the fifth and seventh month of pregnancy. In some cases, pain in the lower back can begin as early as eight to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Women with pre-existing lower back problems are at a higher risk of back pain, and their back pain can occur earlier in the pregnancy.
There are two common types of back pain in pregnancy:
Lumbar Pain (Lower Back Pain)
Lumbar pain during pregnancy is generally located at and above the waist in the centre of the back. This lower back pain may or may not be concurrent with pain that radiates into your leg or foot.
In general, lumbar pain during pregnancy is similar to lower back pain experienced by non-pregnant women. This type of pain typically increases with prolonged postures (such as sitting, standing, or repetitive lifting), and tenderness may also be present in the muscles along the spine during pregnancy.
Posterior Pelvic Pain
Posterior pelvic pain (in the back of the pelvis) is four times more prevalent than lumbar pain in pregnancy. It’s a deep pain felt below and to the side at the waistline, and/or below the waistline on either side across the tailbone (sacrum). Such pregnancy pelvic pain may be experienced on one or both sides.
Posterior pelvic pain can extend down into the buttock and upper portion of the posterior thighs, and does not usually radiate below the knees.
It can be associated with pubic pain. The pain does not quickly resolve with rest, and morning stiffness may also be present.
Posterior pelvic pain during pregnancy can be brought on or exacerbated by the following activities:
- Rolling in bed
- Climbing stairs
- Sitting and rising from a seated position
- Lifting, twisting, bending forward
- Running and walking
- A job that involves prolonged postures at extreme ranges (such as sitting at a computer and leaning forward, standing and leaning over a desk or workstation) increases the risk of developing pregnancy pelvic pain.
Unlike many other forms of lower back pain in pregnancy, a previous high level of fitness does not necessarily prevent posterior pelvic pain while pregnant.
Labour Pain During Pregnancy
It is important to note that labour pain is a different type of pain. It is similar to an intense menstrual cramp and has the following characteristics:
- The pain is persistent.
- It increases in intensity and frequency over a short period of time.
- It is not affected by your level of activity (while back pain associated with pregnancy is often activity-induced).
Written By: Stephen Montgomery, MD and Linda Sawyer, PT (12/03/2009)
Stretches May Help Ease Pain and Tension During Pregnancy
Along with correct posture and specific body mechanics for routine activities, stretches can also assist in reducing back pain discomfort.
Here are a couple of examples:
On all fours align wrists under the shoulders and knees under the hips or slightly wider if needed for comfort. Take a deep breath, and with the exhale breath pull baby upward with your abdominals as you round your back and press firmly into your arms and hands. Slowly release the rounded back position and allow the baby weight to pull your lower back as far down as comfortable. Repeat 5 to 10 times, being careful to avoid holding your breath.
Hamstrings and Hip Flexors
To stretch hamstrings, place one foot on the seat of a chair (while holding on to something for balance), keeping your spine straight. Bend from the waist toward the toes, until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. To stretch your hip flexors, kneel on one knee with other foot flat on the ground in front of you (don’t let your knee travel over the toes). With your back flat, lean forward, keeping your body in line. You should feel the stretch in the front of your kneeling leg. Try raising your arms above your head for a fuller stretch. Try to stretch gently (and daily) for best results.
For expectant mums that sit for long periods of time, here are a few things that can help make sitting more comfortable:
- Always place a lumbar support (rolled up towel, small pillow, or even a sweater) in the small of your back as you sit.
- Use an ice pack when your back is sore. Simply wrap it in the lumbar support and ice for 15-20 minutes every hour or so.
- Use a small box or step to rest one foot as you sit in your chair.
- If possible, fit your chair to your body. Raise or lower the seat so that when sitting, your feet rest comfortably on the floor.
- Be aware of your posture as you sit. Your bottom should be as far back in the seat as possible and your back should be resting against the back of the chair. Move your chair close to your desk to avoid leaning forward too much.
- Stand up and stretch your back every half hour. Place your hands on your hips, feet shoulder width apart, and stretch backward as you look up.
- Chair Stretch: Sit in your chair with your feet as far apart as possible; lean forward dropping your arms between your legs until your feel the stretch in your lower back.