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Pregnancy related back pain

What to Do About Pregnancy Back Pain

July 12, 2018
4 min read

During your pregnancy, you may experience back pain from time to time. It’s not uncommon, and you might be able to treat or prevent it by changing the position you sleep in, or by doing some exercise each day. Here, we outline what causes back pain during pregnancy, provide some pain relief and prevention ideas, and explain when it’s best to contact your healthcare provider.

What's in this article:

Causes of Back Pain During Pregnancy Pregnancy Back Pain Relief and Prevention Ideas Types of Back Pain and When They Might Occur During Pregnancy Back Pain in Early Pregnancy Back Pain in the Second and Third Trimesters When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider FAQs at a Glance

Causes of Back Pain During Pregnancy

As many as 80 percent of moms-to-be experience back pain at some point during their pregnancy, and the causes can vary. The main culprit is often strain on the muscles of your back caused by pregnancy weight gain and by changes in your posture due to your growing belly. As your pregnancy progresses, there is more weight on the front of your body, making you bend slightly forward. To keep you balanced, your posture changes, and you might overcorrect and lean back a little too far. The extra strain can make your back feel stiff and sore.

Weak abdominal muscles can also cause back pain. As your baby grows, your tummy muscles can stretch and weaken. These muscles play an important role in supporting your spine, so as they weaken, your back can start to hurt.

Some pregnancy hormones can also play a role. Hormones that are meant to relax the ligaments and joints of your pelvis to help your baby pass through the birth canal more easily can also loosen the joints of your back, which can cause them to overextend, leading to soreness.

Pregnancy Back Pain Relief and Prevention Ideas

Your healthcare provider is your best resource for personalized advice and may recommend medication or physical therapy to help relieve the pain. These strategies might also help prevent or reduce the severity of back pain during pregnancy:

  • Exercise. One of the most effective options is getting regular physical activity, which helps strengthen your back and leg muscles. Regular exercise can also help improve your posture. Take a look at these stretches, which you could consider adding to your daily routine, too. Just make sure to get the green light from your provider before starting a new exercise regimen.
  • Applying heat or cold. Place a towel around the heating pad or ice pack to avoid burns, and place it on the sore areas.
  • Practice good posture. Stand up straight and tall; keep your shoulders back and relaxed; don’t lock your knees. When you sit, choose a chair with good back support or use a cushion to support your lower back.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Make sure your shoes have good arch support. Wear low-heeled rather than flat shoes. Avoid high heels, as these can shift your balance even further forward.
  • Sleep on your side. Use pillows between your legs and/or under your abdomen for support. A firm mattress can also give your back extra support.
  • Be careful when you pick up heavy objects. If you want to pick something up off the ground, don’t bend at the waist. Instead, squat to pick it up, and keep your back straight.
  • Avoid standing for long periods of time, if you can.
  • Support your belly. Wear maternity pants or a belly-support girdle to provide your abdominal muscles with extra support.

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Types of Back Pain and When They Might Occur During Pregnancy

There are many types of pain, and different people experience pain in different ways and at different times. For example, you might notice sharp jabs when you make certain movements, like getting out of a car or walking up a flight of stairs. Or, you might have muscle cramps or spasms when you sit or sleep in certain positions. Pain can come on suddenly or slowly, and you might feel anything from a sharp pain to a constant dull pressure or a throbbing ache that comes and goes. You might even experience a combination of these sensations. Sometimes it can be tricky to pinpoint the exact site of the pain. For example, you might have trouble distinguishing back pain from soreness in your pelvis or hip.

Back Pain in Early Pregnancy

There are many early symptoms of pregnancy, and if lower back pain is something you’re experiencing in the first trimester, ask your healthcare provider about what might be causing it. Back pain is not typically linked to early pregnancy, and it may be caused by something unrelated to pregnancy.

Back Pain in the Second and Third Trimesters

You might experience back pain during the second or third trimester. In addition to the potential causes listed above, back pain can result from a condition called sciatica. As the uterus expands, it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This causes pain that runs from your lower back down one leg to the knee or foot. Seeking medical help, taking warm showers, getting physical therapy, and taking pain-relief medication may help reduce the pain. The good news about sciatica is that it will likely resolve itself once your baby is born.

Toward the end of your pregnancy, a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, together with pressure in your pelvis, may be a sign you are going into labor.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Back pain is often one of the many normal aches and pains of pregnancy, but sometimes, it can indicate a more serious problem. It can be a symptom of preterm labor or a symptom of a urinary tract infection (UTI), for example. Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • The back pain is severe
  • The backache lasts more than two weeks
  • Your feet are numb
  • Your legs are weak
  • You have severe pain in your calves
  • You have vaginal bleeding
  • You have a fever
  • You have a burning sensation when you pee.

There is so much going on during pregnancy, and if back pain is getting you down, try to remember why you’re going through all this and more. You’ll soon have a baby to hold! Consider trying some of the tips in this article, and speak to your healthcare provider for expert advice on what could work best for your situation. With any luck, something you try will help relieve those aches and pains!

FAQs at a Glance

Is back pain common during pregnancy?

Yes. As many as 80 percent of pregnant women experience back pain at some point during their pregnancy.

Can you use a heating pad during pregnancy on your back?

Yes, if you are careful. To avoid getting burned, make sure you are using the lowest temperature setting, and place a towel between the pad and your skin for extra protection.

How should a pregnant woman sleep?

It may help ease back pain to sleep on your side with pillows placed between your legs or under your belly for extra support.

Is back pain a sign of labor?

Back pain may be a sign of labor. For example, during labor you may feel pressure on your lower back, and contractions can also cause a dull backache.

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