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Lower back pain during pregnancy: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime. In fact, lower back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. Although everyone can develop pain in the lower back area, women are at a higher risk than women, especially before period and during pregnancy. Lower back pain during pregnancy is oftentimes a source of concern, especially for first-time moms. What can you do about it? Why do women experience pain in the lower back during this special time in their lives? Keep reading to find out.

Is lower back pain a sign of early pregnancy?

Women experience symptoms of pregnancy at different rates. While some women do notice some slight changes in their body early on, others develop symptoms later in the pregnancy. Also, symptoms vary from one woman to another, they’re highly subjective. Despite the fact that lower back pain in pregnancy is associated with later stages, it can be an early symptom too.

If you don’t usually have back pain and start feeling discomfort out of blue, it could mean your ligaments are starting to loosen up. Hormones that are responsible for relaxing a mother’s body and prepare it for childbirth, are secreted in early stages of pregnancy, even before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.

Since lower back pain is also common before or during the menstrual cycle, it can lead to confusion. For example, an affected woman may feel like her lower back pain is only due to period, but in fact, she’s pregnant. Women tend to experience lower back pain throughout the pregnancy so you can expect to deal with this symptom at different stages.

Besides lower back pain, other early symptoms of pregnancy include:

  • Being overweight or obese prior to your pregnancy
  • Constipation
  • Cravings and food aversions, they typically start in early pregnancy and last until the end
  • Darkening of areola (the area around the nipple)
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination due to hormonal changes
  • Headache
  • Late or missed period
  • Mild bleeding or spotting
  • Mood changes
  • Morning sickness or nausea and vomiting throughout the day
  • Sensitivity to certain smells i.e. they make you feel nauseous or induce vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore, tender, heavy, full breasts (some women also feel tingling sensation in their breasts)
  • Thick, milky discharge from vagina due to thickening of vaginal walls

What Causes Back Pain during Pregnancy?

Now that you know the lower back pain in females can be an early sign of pregnancy too and it follows you throughout this special time in your life, it is impossible not to wonder* why we experience pain in this area. What causes back pain during pregnancy?

The first thing you should know is that lower back pain is a common symptom that most women experience. Evidence shows that prevalence of lower back pain among pregnant women ranges between 25% and 90%. One-third of these women experience severe pain which reduces* their quality of life.

Most women experience lower back pain during their first pregnancies, 80% women report the pain they feel disrupts their daily routine while 10% of them can’t work due to the severe pain they endure.

Although every woman can experience this type of pain during her pregnancy, some ladies at a higher risk. Common risk factors for lower back pain include:

  • Carrying twins or more fetuses due to increased pressure on the pelvis
  • History of lower back pain (without being pregnant)
  • History of lower back pain in pregnancy
  • History of pelvic trauma
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Weak back and abdominal muscles

Causes of lower back pain during this special time in your life are numerous. Here’s the basic rundown of the most common reasons why pregnant women experience back pain:

  • Changes in hormones

    – Throughout the pregnancy, a woman’s body produces* a hormone called relaxin. As you can conclude by its name, the main purpose of the hormone is to enable ligaments in the pelvic area to relax. This hormone also allows joints to become looser in order to make the actual labor easier. That being said, relaxin can also make spine-supporting ligaments looser. As a result, this specific area of your body becomes instable and painful due to sacroiliac joint malfunction. In fact, dysfunction associated with sacroiliac joint is a common cause of lower back pain in womengenerally

  • Muscle separation

    – While the uterus starts to expand in order to accommodate a growing baby, the rectal abdominis muscles may separate along the center seam. These muscles extend from the rib cage to your pubic bone. Separation of these muscles aggravates lower back pain and it is a common occurrence during pregnancy

  • Posture changes

    – Pregnancy changes a woman’s gravity center. In turn, you may start to adjust the posture and the way you move, without even realizing that. The change in posture can result in strain and pain in lower back area

  • Stress

    – Emotional stressoccurs is impossible to avoid in all aspects and stages of life, and pregnancy isn’t an exception. Unfortunately, the importance of resolving emotional stress is sometimes ignored. Stress can lead to muscle tension in the back, thus making you feel spasms and back pain. This explains why pregnant women tend to experience increase* in intensity of back pain during stressful times throughout their pregnancies

  • Weight gain

    – The most common (and obvious) cause. As you’re gaining weight the pressure on your lower back, that has to carry your torso, increases*. Most women gain about 25-35 pounds and some women put on even more weight, but spine has to support* all that anyway. The weight of the growing baby in a mother’s uterus forms a great deal of pressure on nerves and blood vessels in the back and pelvic area

Scientists explain that during pregnancy a woman’s body is exposed to certain factors causing dynamic instability in the pelvic area and lower back pain could be secondary to hormonal alterations. Since many pregnant women report their back pain worsens during night time, it is theorized that expanding uterus puts a lot of pressure on the vena cava and causes congestion in the pelvis. The result of this activity is pain that radiates to your lower back too.

It is not uncommon to come across connections between lower back pain during pregnancy in sciatica, but keep in mind this isn’t a frequent cause. Interestingly, sciatica affects only 1% of pregnant women.

How can you Prevent Back Pain during Pregnancy?

Preventing lower back pain can be quite difficult for pregnant women primarily because there are too many changes in their bodies going on and they all put stress on the spine in one way or another. Don’t despair, you’re not totally helpless.

According to scientists, it is important for healthcare providers to inform future mothers about lower back pain, particularly those who are a high-risk group. Teaching expectant moms about the pain they’re about to experience and encouraging them to be proactive and take necessary measures to alleviate* the pain, can improve* their overall quality of life.

Doctors can help women decrease* the risk of pain by educating them about the importance of proper posture and how to carry growing weight without causing too much pressure on the lower back area. For this purpose, some healthcare providers may recommend aerobic or physiotherapy exercises to their pregnant patients.

Interestingly, while exercise proves to be an effective management technique for lower back pain in pregnancy it isn’t effective for pelvic girdle pain. Pregnant ladies can decrease* the risk of experiencing pain in the lower back by learning how to lift weights without stressing their backs. This practice can come useful throughout the pregnancy and beyond.

Other preventive measures that can help women reduce* lower back pain to some extent is the use of cushions and beds, proper seats, and paying attention to their techniques of getting in and out of bed. Bearing in mind that lower back pain can be difficult to prevent for pregnant women due to above-described reasons, your best bet is to learn how to manage the pain and lower its intensity to improve* your quality of life.

How do you Get Rid of Back Pain during Pregnancy?

Pregnant women deal with a number of symptoms from the moment they conceive until the childbirth and lower back pain is one of them.

Experiencing pain in this area makes it more difficult for you to move and it’s understandable why you find it so frustrating. Even though the pain in lower back certainly is stressful and makes performing daily activities more difficult, there are numerous solutions that can help you alleviate* the pain and feel much better*. Below, you can see the list of the most common lower back pain management techniques:

  • Counseling

    – While counseling can’t take away the pain like pills, it can still help you feel better* by helping you resolve and cope with emotional stress. As mentioned above, emotional stress can make the lower back pain more severe and the problem persists when you refuse to be proactive. Although it is impossible to avoid stress altogether talking to a therapist or a trusted friend or family member can be a great management technique for lower back pain in women during their pregnancies

  • Exercise

    – When the back area hurts, all you want to do is to stay in bed all day and do nothing. The comfortable bed may seem attractive, but as soon as you move the pain becomes even worse. When managing pain in low back, it is crucial to establish a balance between rest and physical activity. In fact, regular exercise is recommended to pregnant women to manage the severity of symptoms and make labor easier. The first thing you should do is to consult your healthcare provider and ask about exercises he/she would recommend for lower back pain. In most cases, your doctor may recommend weight training to strengthen* the muscles that support* abdomen, back and legs, and stretching exercises. The goal of stretching exercises is to improve* flexibility in the muscles that support* your back and legs.

    Remember, when performing stretching exercises you should do it gently. Other activities your doctor may recommend include walking and pelvic tilts

  • Improve* your posture

    – As mentioned above, inadequate posture is a major cause of lower back pain in females during pregnancy. Avoid slouching because it strains your spine. Pregnant women make a common mistake where they slump their shoulders and arch the back while their baby bump grows. This seemingly insignificant mistake causes way too much pressure on your spine and low back and leads to pain. That’s why you should stand up straight and keep shoulders back and buttock tucked in. If your work is associated with sitting most of the time, don’t forget about proper posture and make sure you’re sitting straight. Use a footstool to prevent lumbar pain

  • Keep weight in a healthy range

    – Although pregnancy is a period when you are expected to gain weight, you should still pay attention to your lifestyle and foods you eat. It is not uncommon for women to gain way more weight when pregnant than it is recommended. The more pounds you put on, the bigger the pressure on your lower back and as a result you experience more pain. Go to the checkups regularly, monitor your weight, and follow doctor’s recommendations

  • Medications

    – Intake of anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications is probably the most common way to relieving lower back pain for all patients, including pregnant women. That being said, before you pop the pill you should consult your doctor to see whether it’s safe for you to take the medications, particularly if you also take drugs for some underlying health condition. Your doctor will tell you if it’s okay to take some particular medication or he/she can recommend other effective pills you can take during this special time of your life

Feel free to consult your doctor about the lower back pain and ask for pain relief* advice. While most expectant mothers feel lower back pain in pregnancy only 50% will seek advice from a health care professional and 70% of those receive some type of treatment.

Scientists agree that early identification and treatment provide the best possible outcome for women who experience pain and discomfort in the lower back area.

One reason why women opt not to see a physician for lower back pain is that they assume the pain will just go away on its own. Don’t wait for that to happen, seek advice from your doctor in order to improve* your quality of life and make pregnancy more enjoyable. Your doctor won’t mind if you ask him/her about lower back pain and will happily help you out.

Remedies for Pregnancy Back Pain

Besides treatment approaches for relief* of lower back pain during pregnancy, you should try the following remedies and tips:

  • Acupuncture

    – As you already know, acupuncture is a practice where thin needles are inserted into specific pressure points on the body to help you relax and alleviate* the pain. The practice has been around for centuries and it is still popular today due to its efficacy. The purpose of acupuncture is to remove* blockages that are interfering with the smooth flow of the body’s energy to improve* your digestion, boost* energy levels, bring relief* from morning sickness, decrease* back pain, among other things. Of course, make sure acupuncture practitioner is certified

  • Chiropractic care

    Chiropractors use a wide array of techniques that alleviate* the pain to relieve muscular tightness, nerve compression, and joint misalignment. These professionals do a great job in detecting imbalances and correcting them. Chiropractic care fits perfectly into a holistic approach to good health and wellbeing

  • Hot and cold

    – one of the most common treatments for low back pain. Hot compresses relieve stiffness, usually in the morning or after a long sedentary period, while ice packs numb the pain. To most people with lower back pain, a combination or alternating between the two is the best strategy

  • Maternity belt

    – You can easily find and purchase maternity belt online or in maternity clothing stores. This belt helps hold up your baby bump to avoid putting too much pressure on pelvic girdle and lower back. As a result, you’ll feel less* pain than you normally would

  • Prenatal massage

    – A certified prenatal massage therapist can help you alleviate* the pain due to soothing and smooth strokes that don’t form too much pressure on your back, but improve* circulation and help your spine and other joints relax. Just like yoga and acupuncture, massage is yet another stress management technique, meaning it’s a win-win situation for you

  • Prenatal yoga

    – The ancient practice of yoga is a great way to stay active and do exercises that don’t cause too much pressure on your lower back area. Nowadays, you can sign up for prenatal yoga classes to improve* posture and range of motion, prepare the body for childbirth, and decrease* the pressure on the spine. Plus, prenatal yoga is effective for stress management and concentration

  • Reconsider your shoes

    – When you open your Facebook or Instagram apps, you usually come across photos of pregnant celebrities and fashion bloggers who look so stylish and wear high heels. While these photos make you want to do the same, it’s not a good strategy for your lower back pain. In fact, inadequate shoes like high heels can only worsen your pain because they increase* the curvature of the back and create more pressure. This pressure drives the pregnancy weight directly onto the lower area of the spine and hip joints, thus contributing to the pain. That being said, walking in flats isn’t an answer either because they don’t support* your feet enough. Ideally, you should wear low-heeled shoes that are comfortable and provide much-needed support* to your tired feet. Plus, these shoes help distribute weight and alleviate* the pressure

  • Swimming

    – This is one of the most beneficial forms of physical activity for pregnant women. Swimming is a great way to stay active without stressing your body including the spine. When you’re in the water, gravity doesn’t affect your body. Basically, you’re weightless in the pool which is why this activity can decompress your spine, bones, legs, arms, back and core muscles. Another reason why swimming is good for you is that it’s a whole-body exercise

Other things to relieve lower back pain in pregnancy include:

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects
  • Avoid sleeping on your back
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Enjoy a relaxing bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil
  • Learn relaxation techniques that will help you cope with discomfort
  • Wear the right size of maternity bra
  • When picking up something from the ground, use legs to squat rather than bending over

Is Lower Back Pain normal during Pregnancy?

As seen throughout this post, it is normal to experience lower back pain when you’re pregnant. Increasing* weight, loosened ligaments, more pressure on the spine and many other causes lead to lower back pain in females who are expecting the arrival of their bundle of joy. That being said, not every kind of pain is okay. If the pain you experience is severe, beings abruptly, or you feel rhythmic cramping pain and have difficulties urinating, you should see your doctor without making excuses. Rhythmic pain may be a sign of preterm labor.

If you’re experiencing any of these issues, it’s useful to have a doctor perform an exam to see what’s the problem.

In most cases, lower back pain serious only when it is:

  • Accompanied by fever and vaginal bleeding
  • Severe
  • You experience loss of sensation in buttocks area
  • You feel uncoordinated or weak, or you lost feeling in one or both legs

Conclusion

Women are more prone to lower back pain than men. That’s why it comes as no surprise why expectant mothers experience this kind of pain as well. Lower back pain during pregnancy is a result of numerous causes including loosened ligaments, bigger pressure on the spine, emotional stress, and being overweight before conception. While it is difficult to prevent lower back pain, getting educated about the problem and seeking doctor’s help result in the best outcome.