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Pregnancy and Lower Back Pain

Updated on May 30, 2013

Factors Leading to Low Back Pain During Pregnancy

The good news is you’re pregnant. The bad news is your back is hurting like never before. And to make matters worse, in addition to the back pain you may also be experiencing pain into the thigh or leg commonly known as sciatica.

You are not alone when it comes to pregnancy and back pain. As much as 70% of women experience back pain at some point during their pregnancy. So the question is why do so many women experience lower back pain and sciatica during pregnancy?

For many women the pain can be attributed to an expanding uterus which stretches the abdominal muscles resulting in an increased pull on the pelvis and even altering how your body opposes gravity.

An additional change that accompanies pregnancy is an alteration of specific hormones in the body. These changes can loosen your ligaments around the lower back spine and pelvis resulting in less stability of the joints in this area.

For some women, their lower back or pelvis joints were already out of alignment but didn’t cause significant pain until the weight, pressure and postural changes began to increase.

If you experienced lower back pain prior to pregnancy at any point in your life and especially if it is associated with a past motor vehicle accident, slip and fall or other trauma, the chances you will experience it with pregnancy increases.

Differentiating Lower Back Pain Types

With pregnancy you will likely experience pain in the back of your pelvis, in your lower back or a combination of both. Some women may also experience pain into the leg.

Pain in the lower back is often made worse by lifting and long periods of sitting or standing. Pain that is more localized to the back of the pelvis (commonly reported to the medical or chiropractic doctor as ‘pain in the hips’) is usually affected by movements such as going from sitting to standing, walking, climbing stairs and lifting.

The most common cause of pain whether in the lower back or pelvis is misalignment of the joints in the spine or pelvis leading to irritation of nearby nerves. Over active muscles (spasm) is another common factor leading to the pain. In a small percentage of women, a disc bulge or similar more serious condition may be contributing to the pain and in particular if there is pain going down into the leg below the knee.

Tips for Relieving Lower Back Pain

Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, becoming sedentary during pregnancy is typically going to increase versus decrease your lower back discomfort and tightness.

As joint stability, posture and muscle tension begin to change, taking action on your own may prove to prevent the back pain from setting in.

Try the tips that follow:

Get Active: Something as simple as walking around the block may help your back loosen up. However, don’t go shopping or vacuum the house and consider that your walking for the day. You need to lengthen your stride, maintain a brisk pace and really focus on consistent motion in your hips to get the most out of walking.

Other activities that are generally low stress on a pregnant body include cycling and swimming. Both get the joints moving and oxygen rich blood flowing to the muscles without a significant strain on the body.

Be Strict with Stretching: Lower back stretching exercises are another great option. With just a simple YouTube or internet search you will no doubt find easy to understand exercises that focus on the hips, legs and lower back to reduce muscle tension.

Typically the most relief will be found through stretching the hamstring muscles (see picture inset), the muscles on the front of the thighs, and muscles in and around the hips. As your baby grows you will often times need to modify how you do the exercises, but the key is doing the stretching on a daily basis so that once stretching session builds on the previous.

Pay Attention to Posture: Becoming conscious of your body position will help you prevent from inadvertently slouching which is common secondary to your growing stomach and changing hormones. Simply making a more conscious effort to sit and stand straight. If it helps, try to imagine a string attached to the top of your head with someone above you pulling it up towards the ceiling. That will help keep you more erect.

A tip many of my pregnant chiropractic patients benefit from is to implement the use of props to aid in maintaining proper posture and as a reminder to maintain good alignment.

Stop Sloppy Sleep Habits: Sleeping with your spine and hips in better alignment will likely have a positive impact on your pain. Don't allow your lower back to twist while you are deep in your slumber. Instead try lying on your side with a pillow between your knees to keep your pelvis in good alignment and reduce the strain on your back.

You might also consider putting something in front of you, such as your spouse, a pillow or even your pet so you can't easily roll forward; rotating your spine out of proper alignment.

Conservative Treatment Options for Pregnancy Lower Back Pain

While most medications are not an option for pregnant women looking for back pain relief, there are conservative treatment options that may not only provide pain relief but even correct the underlying problems causing the pain.

In the event that subluxated (misaligned) joints in the lower back spine or pelvis are contributing to your pain, a skilled chiropractor can detect and correct the issue effectively, and relatively quickly, in most cases. Through gentle spinal adjustments, he or she will realign and restore proper mobility into the affected joints. When looking for the right chiropractic fit for you, be sure to ask if the doctor has worked on pregnant women in the past.

Acupuncture is another safe alternative that can help to relieve back pain associated with pregnancy. The acupuncture treatment will likely consist of very thin needles being inserted into the skin at specific points that will help control pain and relax tight muscles.

A massage therapist that has extended training in pregnancy massage may be a great treatment solution for reducing pregnancy related back pain. By pinpointing and relaxing the tight muscles that are specifically associated with pain, immediate relief is reported by many patients.

With these conservative options, follow up visits may be necessary to get maximum benefit. In addition see the self help tips above as these will compliment the treatment you are receiving and help you obtain the results you are seeking much sooner.

Back Pain With Pregnancy

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      AaronsMomma 4 years ago

      I'm currently 27 weeks pregnant and have been experiencing mild back pain and sciatica. Thanks so much for the useful tips!