Back pain is common during pregnancy, especially as your baby grows larger.
During pregnancy, your uterus expands and your weight and hormone levels change – shifting your center of gravity and weakening your abdominal muscles. These changes can affect your posture and put extra strain on your back.
The good news is there’s plenty you can do to help ease your pregnancy backaches.
Here’s what to know about pregnancy back pain and how to find relief.
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What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant, your body releases a hormone to relax pelvic-area muscles, joints, and ligaments – including those that support the spine – to aid stretching and prepare for delivery.
Meanwhile, your expanding uterus stretches and weakens your abdominal muscles that play a crucial role in spine support. You’re also carrying some extra weight, prompting posture changes.
All of these factors can increase stress on the joints and muscles, leading to back pain.
Women who had back pain prior to pregnancy are more likely to have it during and earlier in their pregnancy. Other risk factors include obesity and certain pre-existing health conditions.
When Should I See My Doctor About Pregnancy Back Pain?
Anyone experiencing back pain during pregnancy should first talk to their provider to make sure it’s not a sign of something more serious.
Your doctor can then recommend best management practices and tips for relief. They may even recommend you see a physical therapist for further guidance.
It’s important to keep your doctor looped in because back pain can be a sign of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor, or conditions like urinary tract infection.
- Your symptoms are new, severe, or persistent.
- You feel numbness or weakness in the legs, groin, bladder, or anus.
- Your back pain is accompanied by painful urination, blood in the urine, chills, fever, or vaginal bleeding.
- You have a fever accompanied by a dull ache across your lower back or along the sides of your back.
How Can I Relieve or Prevent Pregnancy Back Pain?
Your healthcare provider is the best person to ask about methods to prevent and relieve pregnancy back pain.
They’ll offer suggestions and determine if you need further treatment from a physical therapist or back pain specialist.
In general, your doctor may recommend:
- Maintaining proper posture: Sitting and standing upright, bending from the knees (not the waist) when lifting objects, and supporting your lower back will help minimize back tension. Don’t hunch, and use a footrest to slightly elevate your feet when sitting. Prioritize back support while sitting by using a small pillow or cushion behind your lower back, or using lumbar supports. Avoid standing for long periods of time. If you do need to stand for longer durations, rest one foot on an object, such as a stool, to ease strain.
- Gentle exercise: Low impact movements like walking, stretching, and yoga may improve posture and balance to alleviate back pain by keeping back, abdominal, and pelvic floor muscles stronger during pregnancy. Staying physically active has a host of other pregnancy health benefits, too.
- Not lifting: Pregnant people are at a greater risk of back injury, so avoid lifting too much weight and ask for help with heavy objects whenever possible. When you do lift, remember to lift with the legs and knees while keeping your back straight.
- Wearing supportive clothing: You may find relief wearing an abdominal support garment, such as maternity pants with built-in support bands, to reduce back strain. Additionally, wearing low-heeled, comfortable shoes with proper arch support and avoiding high heels that tilt your body may help. Supportive footwear can improve your posture, increase stability, and reduce the risk of experiencing lower back pain, too.
- Applying temperature: A heating pad or cold pack on the affected areas may offer temporary relief. Be sure to protect your skin from burns, and use only 10-15 minutes at a time. Set heating pads to the lowest possible temperature setting.
- Massage: Working out muscle tension and soreness with the help of a massage therapist may offer pain management and stress relief benefits. Some people have found short-term relief from chronic back pain through acupuncture, too.
- Sleeping on your side at night and keeping your knees bent.
Physical therapists specializing in women’s health can safely and effectively treat your back pain and other pregnancy-related problems before and after delivery. Learn more about the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at www.upmc.com/services/rehab.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.