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Back Pain During Pregnancy: Types & Five Main Cause

Back pain is a common companion on the journey of pregnancy.  Studies estimate that over half of all pregnant women experience some degree of back discomfort during their pregnancy.  While it can be a source of worry and frustration, understanding the causes and implementing some simple strategies can significantly improve your comfort and well-being.

This blog delves into the world of back pain in pregnancy, exploring the reasons behind the 

aches and offering practical tips for relief.


Back Pain During Pregnancy

Five leading causes of back pain during pregnancy


1. Hormonal shifts


During pregnancy, your body goes on a lot of hormonal shifts. One of the key players in this journey is a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin, as the name suggests, loosens ligaments and joints in your body. This is nature's way of preparing your body for childbirth, allowing for easier delivery. However, the loosening effect of relaxin isn't just limited to your birthing canal. It can also loosen the ligaments and joints in your lower back and pelvis. This instability in the joints can lead to pain and discomfort.


2. Shifting center of gravity


As your baby grows inside your womb, your uterus naturally expands. This expansion pushes your center of gravity forward, changing the way you stand and walk. To compensate for this shift, your posture changes subtly. Often, this involves an increased curve in your lower back, a condition known as lordosis. This increased curve puts extra strain on the muscles and ligaments in your lower back, leading to back pain.


3. Weight gain


Pregnancy is a time of healthy weight gain. This extra weight is essential for the development of your baby. However, the additional pounds also put more pressure on your spine, particularly your lower back.  Imagine carrying a heavy backpack – the more weight you have, the more strain it puts on your back muscles.


4. Muscle separation


The growing uterus can also lead to a condition called diastasis recti. This occurs when the rectus abdominis muscles, also known as your six-pack muscles, separate in the midline. This separation weakens your core, which is a group of muscles responsible for supporting your spine and pelvis. A weak core makes it harder for these muscles to effectively support your back, leading to back pain.


5. Stress


Pregnancy can be a whirlwind of emotions – excitement, joy, anticipation, and yes, even stress. Stress hormones like cortisol can have a number of effects on your body, one of which is tensing up your muscles. Tight muscles in your back can contribute to pain and discomfort.


Types of back pain during pregnancy


Back pain during pregnancy isn't a one-size-fits-all experience. While the discomfort might feel similar, the location and cause can vary. Knowing the different types of back pain can help you identify the culprit behind your ache and find targeted relief strategies.


1. Lower back pain


This is the most common type of back pain during pregnancy, affecting a large number of expecting mothers. The pain is typically felt in the lumbosacral region, which is the area where your lower back meets your pelvis. It can manifest as a dull ache, a sharp stabbing pain, or a constant nagging discomfort. This pain can be caused by a combination of factors we discussed earlier, including:


  • Hormonal changes loosen the joints in your lower back, leading to instability.

  • The increased curve in your lower back (lordosis) puts extra strain on the muscles and ligaments.

  • The extra weight of your growing baby puts pressure on your spine.


2. Sacroiliac joint pain


This pain is localized in the sacroiliac joints, located on either side of your lower back, where your sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine) connects to your iliac bones (the large bones in your pelvis). The pain can be sharp and stabbing and may radiate to your buttocks or down the back of your leg. Similar to lower back pain, this discomfort is often caused by the loosening of ligaments due to hormonal changes, making the sacroiliac joints less stable.


3. Sciatica


Sciatica is a radiating pain that travels down the back of your leg, often starting in your lower back and buttocks. It's caused by compressed nerves in your lower spine, usually due to a bulging or herniated disc. This compression irritates the nerves, causing pain that can travel down the leg and sometimes even to your foot. While sciatica can occur at any time, it's a more common complaint during pregnancy due to the pressure your growing uterus puts on your lower back and the changes in your posture.


4. Round ligament pain


This sharp pain is felt on either side of your lower abdomen or groin. It occurs when the round ligaments, which are thick bands of muscle and tissue that support your growing uterus, stretch and tighten. This pain is often described as a sudden twang or pulling sensation and is usually short-lived. It's most commonly felt during the second trimester as your uterus starts to expand more rapidly.



When to seek medical attention


While most back pain during pregnancy is not a cause for major concern, there are situations where seeking professional medical advice is crucial:


  • Severe or persistent pain: If the pain is unbearable, interferes with your daily activities, or worsens with time, consult your doctor.

  • Pain accompanied by other symptoms: Fever, vaginal bleeding, burning urination, or numbness in your legs are red flags and require immediate medical attention.

  • Sudden or sharp pain: Sudden, sharp pain might indicate a more serious issue like a kidney stone or pregnancy-related complications.


Effective strategies for managing back pain


Fortunately, there are several ways to manage back pain during pregnancy and improve your comfort:


1. Maintaining good posture:  Being mindful of your posture throughout the day can significantly reduce strain on your back. Stand tall with your shoulders back and relaxed, keep your core engaged, and avoid slouching.


2. Exercise regularly:  Regular exercise strengthens your core and back muscles, improving their ability to support your spine. Low-impact exercises like prenatal yoga, swimming, and walking are excellent options.


3. Apply heat or ice: Applying a heating pad or warm compress to your lower back can help relax tight muscles. Conversely, an ice pack can reduce inflammation and pain, especially during flare-ups.


4. Supportive footwear: Opt for comfortable, low-heeled shoes with good arch support to distribute weight evenly and improve your balance.


5. Ergonomic support:  Invest in a pregnancy pillow to support your back and belly while sleeping. Use a lumbar support cushion for your chair at work or home to maintain proper posture while sitting.


6. Massage therapy:  Prenatal massage, performed by a qualified therapist, can be a wonderful way to relieve muscle tension and improve circulation, easing back pain.


7. Relaxation Techniques:  Stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness exercises can help reduce muscle tension and improve your overall well-being.


8. Maintain a healthy weight: Gaining weight within the recommended range for your pregnancy helps prevent excess strain on your back. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance.


9. Sleeping positions:  Avoid sleeping on your stomach as your pregnancy progresses. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees can help align your spine and promote better comfort.


10. Supportive sleep surfaces:  A firm mattress with a supportive pillow can make a significant difference in your sleep quality and minimize back pain. Consider adding a pregnancy wedge pillow to elevate your upper body and reduce pressure on your back.


11. Stretching and strengthening exercises:  Gentle stretches and specific exercises designed for pregnancy can help strengthen your core and back muscles, improving their ability to support your spine and reducing pain. Consult a qualified physical therapist to develop a safe and effective program for you.


12. Pain relief options:  Over-the-counter pain relievers are not always  considered safe during pregnancy, but always consult your doctor before taking any medication. Tab Paracetamol  is usually safer as analgesic during pregnancy. Topical pain relievers like creams or gels can also offer localized relief.


13. Alternative therapies:  Some complementary therapies, like acupuncture  care, can be beneficial for managing back pain in pregnancy. However, it's crucial to choose a qualified and experienced practitioner who specializes in prenatal care.


Long-term back pain management and prevention


Back pain during pregnancy might feel like a temporary hurdle, but the good news is the strategies you learn to manage it can benefit you long after delivery. Here's how to keep back pain at bay and maintain a healthy, comfortable spine in the long term:


1. Maintain core strength


Your core muscles, encompassing your abdominal and lower back muscles, play a crucial role in supporting your spine. During pregnancy, these muscles work overtime to adapt to your changing body. Continuing core-strengthening exercises after delivery are vital. These exercises help rebuild and maintain core strength, which translates to better posture and less strain on your back as you carry your baby and navigate daily activities.


2. Healthy weight management


While gaining weight is a natural part of pregnancy, losing any excess weight above the recommended range can significantly reduce pressure on your spine. Consult a doctor or registered dietitian to develop a safe and healthy weight loss plan after delivery. Remember, focus on a balanced diet and gradual weight loss for optimal health.


3. Lifting like a pro


Proper lifting techniques are essential for preventing back pain, both during and after pregnancy. Here's the golden rule: always bend at your knees, keep your back straight, and use your leg muscles to lift objects. Avoid lifting heavy items alone, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Additionally, consider using ergonomic tools like lifting straps or dollies to minimize strain on your back.


4. Ergonomics at work


If you work a desk job, creating an ergonomic workstation can significantly reduce back strain. Invest in a supportive chair with good lumbar support and adjust the height to allow your knees to bend at a 90-degree angle while your feet rest flat on the floor. Ensure your monitor is positioned at eye level to prevent neck strain. Take frequent breaks to get up and move around, stretching your legs and back to prevent stiffness.


5. Body Awareness


Being mindful of your daily activities is key to preventing future back pain. Pay attention to how you move throughout the day. Avoid slouching while sitting, standing, or carrying your baby. When breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, maintain good posture and alternate arms to prevent uneven strain. Listen to your body's signals – if an activity aggravates your back, take a break or adjust your approach. Investing in a supportive post-partum belt or belly wrap can also offer temporary relief and help with muscle recovery.


Additional Considerations


  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body's signals. Avoid activities that aggravate your pain, and take breaks to rest when needed.

  • Hydration: Staying hydrated is essential for overall health and can also help alleviate back pain. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

  • Supplements: Talk to your doctor about prenatal vitamins or calcium and magnesium supplements, which can support bone and muscle health and potentially reduce back pain.

  • Emotional support: Pregnancy can be emotionally demanding. Talking to a partner, friend, or therapist or joining a pregnancy support group can help manage stress and improve your overall well-being, indirectly impacting your pain perception.


Conclusion


Back pain during pregnancy is a common experience, but it doesn't have to define your journey. By understanding the causes, implementing preventive measures, and exploring various treatment options, you can effectively manage back pain and enjoy a more comfortable and pain-free pregnancy. Remember, communication with your doctor is key throughout your pregnancy. Don't hesitate to discuss any pain concerns you might have and work together to develop a personalized plan for optimal comfort and well-being.


Want to consult the best orthopedic surgeons in Pune? Please take a look at the links below.



More From Dr. Surendra Patil


 
 About The Author: Dr. Surendra Patil (M.B.B.S DNB / D.Ortho)

Dr. Surendra Patil, MBBS, Diploma in Orthopaedics, DNB - Orthopedics Surgery, is a dynamic surgeon with skilled hands well versed in various surgical procedures in orthopedics and exceptionally well-read in his chosen expertise. He is proficient in Arthroscopic Surgeries, Adult Joint Reconstruction Surgery, Accidents & Emergencies, Joint Replacement, Healthcare Management, and Healthcare in general. He is an experienced Medical Professional with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Follow: LinkedIn 

 

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