Back pain in pregnant women is a very common complaint. In fact, as many as 80% of pregnant women will have back pain at some time during their pregnancy. There are several types of back pain that occur among expectant mothers, but low back pain is the most common. But why does your low back hurt during pregnancy?
This article will explore the causes of back pain during pregnancy, discuss the different types of back pain that occur, and provide information about what can be done to prevent and relieve prenatal back pain.
Backache can occur for a number of reasons, which can be reduced to two main issues: hormones and postural changes.
During pregnancy, your body produces a veritable cocktail of hormones. Among these is a hormone called relaxin. The primary role of relaxin is to loosen the joints and ligaments in your body in order to help them stretch and widen. This allows your body to more easily make room for your baby inside of your pelvis. And, when the time comes for your baby to be born, the hormone relaxin will have helped the joints of your pelvis relax and stretch enough for your baby’s shoulders to pass through your pelvic bones.
But what does all that have to do with lower back pain? Well, unfortunately, your body is unable to isolate which ligaments and joints will stretch and loosen, and this happens on a broad scale throughout your body. As the ligaments and muscles which normally support your spine become lax, it can result in some instability in the spine, which can result in aching and discomfort.
As your uterus expands and your baby grows, it also causes immense changes in your posture, which can result in aching. As your abdomen and uterus stretch, it puts a greater strain on your back muscles.
Your center of gravity is changing. Your abdomen is shifting out and down, and your spine curves backward to try to compensate for this shift. As a result, your spinal muscles become sore and tired, and more prone to injury and strain.
There are two common types of low back pain in pregnancy, lumbar pain and posterior pelvic pain.
Lumbar pain is similar to the kind of back pain you may have experienced before you became pregnant. Lumbar discomfort is felt in the lower spine, at the level of, or slightly higher than, your waist. It can also result in pain that radiates to your legs.
Lumbar discomfort can be triggered by sitting or standing for extended periods of time or by repetitive lifting.
Posterior pelvic pain is low back ache that is experienced behind the pelvis, below the waist, and/or across the tailbone or sacrum. It can also be felt in the buttocks, on one or both sides, or in the back of the thighs. You may also have pubic pain. Posterior pelvic pain occurs four times more frequently than lumbar pain during pregnancy.
Posterior pelvic discomfort can be aggravated by bending, twisting, rolling, climbing stairs, and prolonged leaning forward such as occurs when you sit at a computer for extended periods of time.
Posterior pelvic pain is often mistaken as sciatica. When you have sciatica, it causes discomfort not only in the low back, hips, buttocks, and thighs, but also in the legs. With sciatica, the leg pain is generally more severe than the spinal pain, and is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or pin-pricking sensations. This aching and numbness generally radiates all the way into the toes. Numbness may also extend to the groin and genital areas.
Sciatica is generally caused by a herniated or bulging disk.
Your risk of low back pain during pregnancy increases if you have had back aches before becoming pregnant or during a previous pregnancy. You also have an increased risk of prenatal back pain if you are carrying twins or are overweight.
In order to maintain a healthy back during pregnancy, it is essential to engage in a regular exercise regimen. Exercise is essential for controlling and avoiding back pain. When your muscles are weak and inflexible, you are more likely to hurt. Regular exercise will stretch and strengthen your muscles and ligaments to better support your spine and prevent pregnancy back ache from occurring.
Pregnancy yoga, also known as prenatal yoga, is a wonderful exercise for pregnancy. It will help to both strengthen as well as stretch and loosen your body. At the same time, it helps relieve backaches.
Walking and swimming are two other preferred exercises, which are excellent for pregnancy. Walking will help keep your legs and hips strong and flexible. Swimming allows you to have a full body work out with minimal stress and strain on the body. Aquatic exercises are highly recommended for pregnant women, and are especially gentle and easy on the body. Avoid any activity which is high impact, or over-stretches your body. This can aggravate backaches.
Specific exercises to alleviate low back pain during pregnancy include pelvic tilt exercises, Kegel exercises, back stretches, hamstring stretches, chest stretches, and wall squats.
In addition to exercises, it is especially important to be aware of your posture, and how you are sitting or standing. Good posture means standing with your hips and pelvis tucked in, keeping your shoulders back and down, and holding your head up.
Sitting for long periods of time can cause your back to hurt. If you must sit for long periods of time, try to take frequent breaks from sitting (at least every half an hour). Also, when you are sitting, try elevating your feet slightly and avoid crossing your legs.
If you must stand on your feet for long periods of time, try resting one foot on a low stool and change positions often.
When you are pregnant, it is especially important to practice safe lifting and bending, to prevent undue strain on your back. When bending over, bend at the knees instead of the waist. Use your thigh muscles to push yourself back up instead of your spinal muscles. If you need to lift or move something heavy, try to ask for help.
Try to wear low heeled shoes and shoes that have a good arch support. High heeled shoes can aggravate back pain.
The sleeping position most friendly for prenatal back pain sufferers is side sleeping, preferably on your left side. Try sleeping with your knees and hips bent. Try placing a pillow between your knees, and one under your belly for support. You may want to try a pregnancy pillow. There are a wide variety of pillows available on the market that can help in alleviating spinal discomfort.
Try to keep stress in check. Meditation and breathing exercises, regular exercise, quality sleep, and adequate nutrition can all help keep you feeling more relaxed and at your best.
Some expectant mothers find that a warm (not hot) bath helps to alleviate pain. Try adding Epsom salts to your bathwater. The magnesium in the Epsom salt is especially helpful at soothing tired and aching muscles.
Take extra time to rest and take care of yourself. While exercise is important, so is rest. Make sure you get adequate rest and sleep, and don’t over-tax your aching back. This can help keep back pain in pregnant women in check.
Massage therapy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture may help comfort you when you need immediate relief from your discomfort.
Some women find that the use of a pregnancy support belt helps take pressure off of their back. Always talk to your doctor first.
If you are pregnant with back pain that is very intense, or your pain is rhythmic and feels like menstrual cramps, you should contact your health care provider for advice. Also, if you are having numbness you should always contact your health care provider.
A dull backache could be a sign of preterm labor. If you are concerned about your pain, you should contact your health care provider for further evaluation.
Orit Cox is a Holistic Health Practitioner and massage therapist in San Diego, CA and content writer for http://www.PregnancyMomandBaby.com, an information resource for pregnancy and mothers. Orit is also the author of The Pregnancy Pain Guide, featured at http://www.PregnancyPainRelief.com, where you can discover easy-to-implement techniques to relieve back pain from pregnancy
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