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When Pregnancy Is a Pain in the Back

Dr. Anand Blog

June 8th, 2018

A WOMAN'S BODY IS IN A constant state of change during pregnancy, and the spine is no exception. The spine has a tough job of supporting our entire frame, holding it upright and maintaining a balance from our backs to our bellies. It's no wonder that when pregnancy starts to change these things, the spine begins to undergo its own adaptations, as well. A direct result of these changes is the often-discussed pregnancy-related back pain. If you're carrying a baby and find yourself feeling the discomfort, don't worry. Back pain is extremely common during pregnancy, especially toward the end, as the back adjusts to compensate for the new body dynamic. In fact, 50 to 70 percent of all women encounter back pain at some point during their pregnancy.

When Pregnancy Is a Pain in the Back

Back pain during pregnancy typically happens at the area where the pelvis meets the spine at the sacroiliac joint, and it's often referred to as pelvic girdle pain. Women with this type of back pain have described it as a deep stabbing pain that's felt between the hip bones and buttocks, but others can experience the pain as more of a general dull ache in the lower back – what we call lumbar pain. Pelvic girdle pain is four times more common during pregnancy and in the postpartum period after childbirth as the body is working to return back to its baseline.

So what exactly is causing all of this spine pain? Weight gain, for one thing. A relatively rapidly growing belly and the associated weight a woman gains can put extra stress on the muscles and nerves of the back, as the spine is now responsible for weight it's not used to supporting. In addition, as your baby grows, your stomach will start to protrude forward, which actually changes your center of gravity. To re-center the body, the spine can actually begin to curve forward at the bottom – a condition called lordosis. Having this type of altered posture can stress the back muscles and nerves to fatigue, and long periods of standing or bending over can make the pain even worse.

Another potential cause of pregnancy-related back pain is hormones. These little chemical messengers are running wild during pregnancy, with levels fluctuating up and down throughout the entire 40 weeks of gestation. Some of the hormones released – specifically one called relaxin – soften the ligaments in the pelvic area and loosen the joints in preparation for childbirth. The problem is that relaxin can also loosen ligaments that support the spine, causing instability and leading to … you guessed it, an achy back.
As we've come to find out the important role abdominal muscles play in achieving a strong posture, let's discuss yet another reason for pregnancy induced back pain. As the uterus and baby start to grow bigger, two sheets of abdominal muscle that run from the rib cage down to the pubic bone can begin to separate along the center. Losing strength in the abs can directly affect the stability of the spine because its support is dwindling. With all these changes in the body and with the onset of some pain – and again, hormone fluctuations – stress levels can shoot through the roof. Emotional stress can be held in muscles in the back, manifesting as pains, aches or even spasms. It's not uncommon to see a flare-up of pain during the most stressful times of pregnancy.

With many of these risk factors out of your control, dealing with back pain during pregnancy can seem daunting. But there are things you can do to ease the ache. And remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, ladies – unless you suffered from chronic back pain before you became pregnant, your pain will more than likely subside right after giving birth. So hang in there. Exercise can be one of the best ways to relieve back pain during pregnancy because it strengthens muscles at the same time as increasing flexibility, so your spinal muscles will be more ready and willing to take on whatever changes come their way. Walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike are all great, low-impact options when you have a baby on board. Alternating hot and cold packs, being aware of your posture and keeping it as straight as possible, and even acupuncture may be able to take the edge off. Choose supportive tennis shoes over high heels, squat instead of bending over and if you can, avoid sleeping on your back.

Back pain during pregnancy is bound to happen for many women, and not all cases require a visit to the doctor. But as always, listen to your body and don't be afraid to seek help if you feel you need it. Your physician can help evaluate your pain and make the best recommendations for treatment – giving you the best chances for bouncing back after childbirth.


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