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Most women will experience some sort of discomfort in their back while carrying their child. It is possible to have back pain at any time during pregnancy, but it usually occurs in the last trimester (last three months) as the baby grows and puts more pressure on the body.
A 2011 study published in Hippokratia also confirms that low back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints of pregnant women. For some women, it may be the outburst of chronic low back pain, and for others, it may be disabling pain during pregnancy and for a variable period after delivery. (1)
Causes of Back Pain During Pregnancy
In 2008, a study published in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine reported an increased incidence of back pain associated with pregnancy. Evidence suggests low back pain is the normal result of a multitude of mechanical, hormonal, and vascular changes associated with pregnancy. (2)(1) The most probable causes include:
- Increased weight – Weight gain of the pregnant woman along with the weight of the growing baby and uterus puts pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in the pelvis and back.
- Changes in posture – The shift in the center of gravity due to pregnancy leads adjusting the posture and the way pregnant women move, resulting in back pain or strain.
- Hormonal changes – The hormone, relaxin, released during pregnancy to prepare the body for the birthing process by softening the joints and ligaments in the pelvic area, also causes the ligaments in the spine to loosen up, resulting in pain and instability. (3)(4)
- Muscle separation – The expanding uterus results in separation of two parallel sheets of muscle (the rectal abdominis muscles) running from the rib cage to the pubic bone, which worsens the pain.
- Stress – Stress leads to muscle tension in the back resulting in backache.
Women who are overweight or had back pain prior to pregnancy are at a higher risk of having back pain during pregnancy. (2)
Prevention of Back Pain During Pregnancy
You can reduce the intensity of backache during pregnancy by taking certain precautions.
- Practice good posture – Stand straight and tall. Focus on your posture and how you move.
- Avoid high heels – Avoid high heels and go for soft and comfortable shoes which do not put any strain on your feet.
- Lift with care – If you need to lift small objects, squat down slowly and rise back slowly. Do not take strain and seek help if needed.
- Don’t take strain – Avoid standing for too long in a position.
- Use maternity bra & belt – Wear a supportive maternity bra of right size. Also, wear a maternity belt to help hold up your belly and take the pressure away from your back.
- Sleep with support – Use pillows for support while sleeping. Also, use a firm mattress for sleeping to prevent and relieve backaches.
- Sleep on your side – Try to sleep on your side during the third trimester to reduce the risk of stillbirth.
- Get up from the bed carefully – For getting out of the bed, roll to one side and push yourself up to sitting position. Swing your legs to the side and stand slowly.
- Practice meditation – Meditation increases your pain tolerance level, which can come in handy both when managing back pain and during labor.
Alternative Cures and Remedies for Back Pain During Pregnancy
Here are some of the best ways to deal with backaches during pregnancy.
1. Exercise regularly
To ease back pain during pregnancy, exercise is the best option. Exercising regularly would strengthen your muscles which in turn would prepare your body to cope with the aches and pains of pregnancy.
A 2012 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercising during mid-pregnancy can result in a lower prevalence of low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, and depression in late pregnancy. (5)
Pregnancy-related low back pain is often recommended to be managed with exercise using moderate strength and stabilization exercises. (6)
During pregnancy, walking is a great exercise. You could also include swimming, low-impact aerobics, and cycling on a stationary bike in your exercise routine after consulting your doctor.
2. Get a prenatal massage
Getting a prenatal massage from a certified prenatal massage therapist can bring quick relief from back pain during pregnancy. Such massage is especially beneficial when the back pain is the result of muscular clenching that irritates nerves and sends pain signals to the brain.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology found that pregnant women who benefited from massage therapy reported reduced anxiety, improved mood, better sleep, and less back pain. (7)
Another study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2008 found that massage leads to improvement in leg pain, back pain, depression, and anxiety as well as reduced anger. There was even improvement in the relationship when the massage was performed by their partners. (8)
Note: Consult your doctor to make sure that prenatal massage is safe for you, and only go to a certified prenatal massage therapist.
3. Do prenatal yoga
Yoga, a mental and physical practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy, is another way to get relief from back pain during pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga can help improve your posture and tone your body, which in turn can help reduce the pain. It can also help you sleep better and relax your mind and muscles. Plus, yoga helps in preparation for the birthing process.
A 2015 study published in the Japanese journal Nihon Koshu Eisei Zasshi reports that prenatal yoga may help reduce pelvic pain and back pain as well as improve mental health conditions (stress, depression, anxiety, etc.) and perinatal outcomes (obstetrical complications, delivery time, etc.) (9)
A 2012 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that an active ingredient in a yoga program may be mindfulness, which has been effective in symptom reduction and general health improvement in a variety of conditions that are relevant to pregnancy, such as anxiety, depression, back pain, and stress. (10)
During pregnancy, it is recommended that you join prenatal yoga classes rather than doing it on your own.
4. Maintain a good posture
To deal with back pain during pregnancy, you need to try to maintain a good posture. First of all, you need to avoid lounging around in a chair all day, as it actually puts more strain on your spine and causes more pain in your back.
When sitting, use a good quality chair that provides good support, preferably with a straight back, arms, and a firm cushion. Also, use a footrest to elevate your feet slightly, and avoid crossing your legs. You can also place a rolled-up towel for support behind your back.
When sleeping, try to sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees to help take the stress off your back.
Do not sleep in a supine position, as it puts additional pressure on the large vessels circulating blood between you and your baby. This can increase your risk for a stillbirth especially when the baby’s growth is already restricted. (11)
Always stand up tall and straight with your shoulders back, as if you are trying to get your head to touch the ceiling.
5. Try acupuncture therapy
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted into your skin at certain locations. It can be quite effective for relieving low back pain during pregnancy.
A study published in 2004 in Acupuncture in Medicine says that acupuncture seems to alleviate low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, as well as increase the capacity for some physical activities and diminish the need for drugs, which is a great advantage during this period. (12)
A 2001 study published in Pain Medicine reports that acupuncture seems to be safe and effective for pain relief in lower back pain, pelvic pain, or both during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. (13)
Another study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in 2017 found that acupuncture demonstrated advantages in treating pregnancy-related low back pain and pelvic pain through quantified experimental data. (14)
Note: Always get acupuncture done by an expert who specializes in this technique.
6. Apply ice packs
Cold compresses made with ice are effective in reducing pain in the back during pregnancy and in labor. (15) The cold temperature reduces inflammation, which helps relieve the pain.
How to use:
- Fill a plastic bag with crushed ice and wrap it in a towel.
- Put the compress on the back area for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Do this repeatedly, waiting 30 minutes between each application.
If ice is not available, you can also use a bag of frozen vegetables.
Always make sure you do not put the ice pack directly on the skin; wrap it in a thin towel, then place it on the aching area.
7. Moist heat application can help
Like ice packs, applying moist heat on your back may help. Heat increases blood circulation to the area and warms the muscles to ease pain and inflammation. (16)
How to use:
- Soak a towel in warm water and squeeze out the excess. Put the warm, moist towel over your back for 10 minutes at a time. Repeat several times a day for 2 to 3 days.
- You can also turn the shower head to pulsating for a free back massage.
Caution: Be careful not to apply heat to your abdomen during pregnancy.
Carrying a fetus in your belly for 9 months puts a lot of strain on your back. This is why childbearing women often suffer from persistent back pain that can disrupt their daily activities and interfere with a good night’s sleep.
The good news is there are several things you can do to help deal with this common complaint. The above listed tips and interventions can help prevent or reduce this pregnancy-related back pain.
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