Back Pain During Pregnancy: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 10 July 2019
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    The majority of expectant mothers experience some form of back pain during pregnancy. It affects your daily activities and even disrupts your sleep. Next, we’ll uncover the possible causes, treatment methods, and tips for preventive care.

    Possible causes of back pain during pregnancy

    For some women, lower back pain begins with the onset of pregnancy. Other contributing factors include being overweight, having a history of back pain, and carrying multiple fetuses.

    What causes back pain during early pregnancy?

    Changes in hormone levels, as well as physical and psychological stress, lie at the root of back pain in the earliest stages of pregnancy.

    1. Hormonal changes: Between the 7th and 10th weeks, a hormone called relaxin is produced by the body. It relaxes ligaments, muscles, and joints (primarily near the pelvis) to make room for your growing baby. Relaxin also aids in the expansion of the vaginal canal for delivery. As a result, the alignment and stability of your spine and pelvic joints shift, creating lower back pain. Additionally, some women will notice joint pain and hypermobility, thanks to the release of progesterone and estradiol.
    2. Stress: Although pregnancy is one of the most exciting events of your lifetime, it may serve as a source of stress as well. Besides affecting your emotional and psychological mood, it has a direct impact on physical health. Pregnant women often suffer from stress symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, worsening muscle pain and stiffness, and backaches.

    What causes back pain in the second and third trimesters?

    Back pain in the later stages of pregnancy can be explained by a number of different things:

    1. Leaning backwards: As your baby’s weight increases, your center of gravity shifts towards the front of your body. In an effort to correct this imbalance, you naturally lean backwards, straining your back muscles and creating pain and stiffness.
    2. Weight gain: The significant increase in weight brought on by pregnancy is responsible for lower back and joint pain. Take the time to monitor and track your total weight gain as it could impact your health and your baby’s health.
    3. Muscle separation: There are two parallel muscle bands which connect in the middle of your abdominal region. They function to stabilize your spine and support your back. As it grows, the fetus may push, stretch, or even separate these muscles, weakening them and making you more susceptible to injury. 
    4. Posture or position: Excessive standing and bending over, as well as poor posture, are all potential triggers for lower back pain during pregnancy.

    How to relieve back pain during pregnancy

    Breathe a little easier with these helpful tips for alleviating back pain:

    • Routinely stretch your lower back.
    • Use a cold or warm compress on the affected area to reduce inflammation and relax tight muscles.
    • Sleep on your side (preferably the left) instead of your back. Slip a pillow underneath your abdomen and another one between your legs.
    • Improve your posture, keeping your back straight and shoulders square whether sitting or standing.
    • Buy a lumbar pillow for additional support when seated.
    • Schedule an appointment for a prenatal massage to loosen up back muscles, reduce stress, and improve range of motion.
    • If your doctor approves, consider seeking alternative therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic services. Just remember to let the provider know you’re pregnant.
    • Practice meditation or prenatal yoga to de-stress.
    • Wear a maternity belt, brace, or other supportive device, as recommended.
    • Take pain-relieving medications only when prescribed by a doctor.
    • Get plenty of sleep every night.

    Tips to prevent pregnancy back pain 

    As they say, prevention is the best medicine. Practice the healthy habits below and stop pregnancy back pain before it starts.

    • Do doctor-approved strengthening exercises for your back and spine.
    • Maintain a healthy and optimum weight throughout your pregnancy.
    • Wear shoes with low, rather than flat, heels that offer good arch support. Avoid high heels as they shift your center of gravity further to the front, making falls more likely.
    • Do not stand for extended periods of time.
    • Never try to lift large or heavy objects. When lifting smaller objects, squat down and lift with your legs, not your back.
    • If your doctor approves, try light impact workouts (e.g., walking or water exercises).
    • Sleep on your side (preferably the left) instead of your back. Slip a pillow underneath your abdomen and another one between your legs.
    • Improve your posture, keeping your back straight and shoulders square whether sitting or standing.
    • Elevate your feet whenever you are seated.
    • Get plenty of sleep every night.

    When to get help for pregnancy back pain 

    Seek the advice of a medical professional if you notice any of the following symptoms:

    • Severe back pain or increased pain when coughing or sneezing
    • A sudden onset of back pain
    • Rhythmic back cramping, which may indicate preterm labor
    • Severe back pain that lasts for more than 2 weeks (and might require physical therapy or medication)
    • Back pain accompanied by bladder/bowel incontinence, weakness of the leg muscles, or changing sensations at or below the affected area
    • Back pain accompanied by fever, burning during urination, or vaginal bleeding

    Generally speaking, pregnancy back pain usually fades after delivery. In some cases, however, back pain during pregnancy could be a sign of urinary tract infection or preterm labor. That’s why it’s crucial to contact your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms.

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (10 July 2019)

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