Is back pain in pregnancy normal?
Back pain during pregnancy is an uncomfortable reality for many women. Doctors estimate that between 50 to 80 percent of women experience backaches and pains at some point during their pregnancy. So what causes back pain in pregnancy? Should you worry if it continues? Here’s what you need to know about pregnancy back pain and when to seek help.
Back pain is one of the most common problems women face during pregnancy. It can happen at any time, but most women experience back pain in the second half of their pregnancy as the baby grows in size. This pain can range in severity and be felt in different places. Most commonly, pregnant women feel aching in the lower back, either in the lower lumbar region or in the posterior pelvic region.
Of the two, posterior pelvic pain is more common for most women. You can feel it on either one or both sides of your body. It’s a deep pain both below and at the sides of your waist that can continue through the sides of your backside and to the backs of your thighs.
Lower lumbar pain is less common. This kind of backache in pregnancy is felt at or above your waist, right in the center of your back. Like posterior pelvic pain, it can continue through your legs and even expand down toward your feet.
What causes back pain in pregnancy?
Back pain during pregnancy can have several causes:
Existing conditions. Some women feel back pain or discomfort right away if they are already at risk for back pain. This includes women who have a history of back pain or those who are overweight.
Hormone shifts. One of the primary sources of backaches is a hormone called relaxin. When you become pregnant, your body creates higher amounts of this hormone in your ovaries and placenta. Its job is to relax the ligaments in your pelvis, but it can also affect other parts of your body, including your lower back, hips, knees, and ankles.
Pressure on your back muscles. While your baby grows, your uterus stretches and thickens to provide support and sustenance. The additional weight of the growing baby and womb puts stress and pressure on your back muscles, causing pain or stiffness in your lower back. Women also gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, so the added baby weight puts strain on your spine.
Changes in posture. As your baby continues to grow, your center of gravity changes. The extra weight often drags your body forward, so many women compensate by leaning backward. This causes even more strain on your back and may provoke backaches.
Stress. Pregnancy puts extra stress on your body. It tends to build up in weak areas of the body. This, along with changes in your pelvis, can cause extra back pain during stressful times of your pregnancy.
Avoiding and easing pregnancy back pain
Having a backache during pregnancy can interrupt your daily life. You might sometimes find that the pain becomes intense enough to get in the way of your daily routine or a good night’s sleep. Luckily, there are several things that you can do to ease your back pain or even avoid it altogether.
Avoid heavy lifting. While you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t try to lift any big, heavy objects. If you need to lift something, make sure you bend your knees and keep your back straight as you descend and rise. Lift with your legs to avoid straining your back, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Wear comfy shoes. High heels aren’t going to be comfortable during pregnancy as your body changes. They also push your center of gravity forward even more. Opt for flat shoes that evenly distribute your weight and keep your body in proper alignment.
Get good support. When sitting down, keep your back straight and supported. This could mean investing in an ergonomic chair or buying pregnancy-support pillows. You also want good support at night, so find a mattress that properly supports your back. If your mattress is too soft, you can put sheet plywood or a bed board under the mattress to make it firmer. Sleeping on your side with either one or both of your knees bent can better support your body and help you get better rest.
Exercise. Getting in some exercise is good for your health and can help keep your back muscles strong. Gentle activities like yoga, swimming, or walking are usually safe for pregnant women. You can also try stretches at home to loosen up your back muscles.
Complementary therapy. Some treatments may help ease your back pain while pregnant. Acupuncture and chiropractic care can relieve some women of their aches and pains, even though more research is needed. If you choose to try a complementary therapy, be sure to tell your chiropractor or acupuncturist that you’re pregnant.
Hot and cold. Try applying a cold compress for 15 minutes to relax your muscles. Switch it up then, applying a warm compress to your back for another 15 minutes. Keep alternating until you feel your back pain subside.
When should I be worried?
While back pain during pregnancy is relatively normal, it may also signify that something else is going on. You should contact your doctor or midwife if you experience these symptoms:
- Severe back pain
- Back pain that continues getting worse or that starts suddenly
- Bleeding from your vagina
- Pain while urinating
- Rhythmic cramping
- Tingling or loss of feeling in your legs, backside, or genitals
These symptoms could point to conditions like preterm labor or a urinary tract infection (UTI). Serious back pain can also be a sign of septic arthritis, vertebral osteoarthritis, or osteoporosis brought on by pregnancy, but these conditions are rare.
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American Pregnancy Association: "Back Pain During Pregnancy."
Brigham Health Hub: "How to Prevent Back Pain During Pregnancy."
Cedars Sinai: "Back Pain During Pregnancy."
familydoctor.org: "Back Pain During Pregnancy."
Lifespan: "Back Pain During Pregnancy."
Mayo Clinic: "Back pain during pregnancy: 7 tips for relief."
NHS: "Back pain in pregnancy."
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