March 28th, 2017
With back pain as a fairly common occurrence among American adults, it stands to reason that the incidence of it in pregnant women (about 50% of pregnant women will experience it at some point during pregnancy) is also prevalent and particularly annoying for a variety of reasons. The good news is pregnancy-related back pain usually passes after childbirth. But what’s a soon-to-be-mom to do in the meantime? Here is some important information that will hopefully provide you a bit more comfort.
As with all types of back pain, it is important to first note that the pain itself is a symptom, not a condition. Pain is the body’s way of telling your brain that something is not working properly. For this reason, it is important to try to locate precisely where the pain seems to be coming from, so the person feeling it can find the best possible way to relieve it. For example, pain that feels like it is coming from pelvic area or tailbone portion (referred to as Pelvic Girdle Pain or PGP) of the spine may have a different treatment recommendation than pain that is generally felt in the low back (referred to as Lumbar Pain, or LP).
For centuries, low back pain during pregnancy is something that has affected the quality of life for many soon-to-be-mothers. However, it has only been in the last 50 or so years that doctors and researchers have made the distinction between PGP and LP.
While some expectant mothers can suffer from a combination of PGP and LP, low back pain in pregnancy tends to take on two different patterns. These patterns appear to be the result of hormonal, mechanical and other factors. PGP on the other hand, is the more common type of low back pain that women experience during pregnancy, as well as in the postpartum period after childbirth. PGP is described by those who have experienced it as a deep and sharp pain between the hip bone and buttocks, which tends to radiate down to one thigh and in some cases, all the way down to the knee and calf of the affected leg.
Conversely, the experience of LP in pregnant women is often very similar to the way it is experienced in women who are not pregnant. LP pain tends to be felt as a generalized “hovering” pain and muscular tenderness around the low back, but above the sacrum (the large triangular bone at the base of the spine). Unlike PGP however, LP can tend to aggravate or escalate during the postpartum period and is usually worsened by certain activities like prolonged sitting. For most experienced physicians, differentiating LP from PGP is fairly simple. When there is doubt, there are some examinations a doctor can perform to mimic the pain, which can be helpful in pinpointing its cause.
Since it is a widely-held belief that low back pain is just part of the experience of pregnancy, many women don’t seek treatment for it early on or in some cases at all. But it’s important to understand that early, non-invasive treatments – from specific exercises to pelvic support braces – can help enhance quality of life, especially during those final months of pregnancy and help to reduce or prevent the pain from continuing after the baby is born. If you or someone you know is experiencing pregnancy-related back pain that hasn’t been addressed with a health care provider during a prenatal appointment, encourage them discuss it as soon as possible. A soon-to-be-mother needs and deserves to feel her very best, especially in anticipation of the physical, mental and emotional demands that come with the early weeks and months of caring for a newborn.