Back Pain While Pregnant
Nearly 80 percent of Americans experience back pain at some time in their lifetime. Back pain is a common complaint among pregnant women, particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy and in the first few months after delivery and childbirth. Scientific research shows in half of all pregnant women who experience back pain, the discomfort is enough to cause sleep disturbance and affect daily activities. In one third of cases, women report severe problems.
The mechanics of the body change during pregnancy - hormones are rushing around, extra weight is gained, and ligaments become softer and slightly swollen. All this can cause pressure on various parts of the body, resulting in pain or aches as well as other pregnancy symptoms. Additionally, a change in posture can also be a cause. The joints of the usually stable pelvis start to loosen, to allow easier passage of the baby at birth. This, in addition to an oversized abdomen, can result in a change of posture. As a consequence, women tend to compensate by bringing the shoulders back and arching the neck. This results in a curved lower back, which can cause muscle strain and pain.
Sitting is the one activity that puts most pressure on the spine, so it is worth doing it right! Make sure your chairs at home and at work have proper support, with a straight back, arm rests and firm cushion. Tuck your bottom into the back of the chair and avoid slouching forward. If you are using a computer or keyboard, adjust the distance so that you can reach both comfortably, without having to bend forward. If you are sitting for long periods of time, do get up and stretch frequently. Avoid crossing your legs as this can cause you to lean forward.
Avoid standing too long. If you work on your feet, keep one foot on a low stool, this will take some pressure off your lower back. Take a break by pressing your back flat against a wall, this will cause some relief and check your posture. If you are standing for long periods, rock back and forth on your feet. Avoid standing on one foot and then changing to the other, this stresses the joints. Consider wearing a maternity support belt (see maternity wear) to give your back extra support. Women are also advised not to stand too long if they suffer from morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum as it can act as a trigger.
It can be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position while pregnant and you will need to continually experiment with different positions as your baby grows. Try sleeping on your side with your knees slightly drawn up, and separated with a pillow. When getting out of bed swing your legs over the side of the bed rather than twisting to get up. See pregnancy tips for more advice on the do's and don'ts when expecting.
Bend your knees and not your back when you lift something. This will switch pressure from the lower back to your thigh muscles. Avoid stretching for items on top shelves; this will help avoid additional back strain.
The hot cold method is excellent for relieving pain. Use an ice pack on the affected area for 15 minutes, followed by 15 minutes with a heat pack. Ideally follow this up with a warm bath. This can also help with pregnancy cramps.
If you are experiencing considerable back pain during pregnancy, ask your OB/GYN about alternative therapies. Preliminary studies have found benefits in osteopathic treatments for back pain, particularly during the third trimester. As there are possible risks using conventional pain medications, many prenatal care providers recommend complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. These range from osteopathy, acupuncture, homeopathy, massage and spinal manipulation. In an exploratory trial, researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center investigated the effects of osteopathic manipulative treatment on back pain in 144 women in weeks 28–30 of pregnancy. The women received a weekly 30 minute session for 7 weeks. The level of back pain was significantly decreased in the treatment group, compared to the group who did not receive treatment. Another alternative therapy which is growing in popularity, is a procedure called biofeedback. This technique uses an electromyograph (EMG), to alert the therapist to electrical activity from tense muscles. A monitor displays the results and the therapist will show you relaxation techniques to decrease activity.
Pregnancy yoga and pilate's classes are very popular, so do check if there is a program running in your area. Many birthing centers run courses. Alternatively there are some simple exercises you can do at home to strengthen the lower back and abdominal muscles:
Also known as the cat curl. Go down on your hands and knees. Relax your back, keeping your head straight and ensuring your neck is in line with your spine. Arch your back, letting your head gently droop down. Slowly return to the original position. Repeat 10 times, 3 times a day.
This exercise will help improve your posture, strengthen your abdominal muscles and help prepare you for labor. Stand with your back and heels flat against the wall. Inhale and exhale slowly several times. Try rocking your pelvis back and forth, keeping the small of your back against the wall. It is also excellent for helping to prevent pelvic pain during pregnancy.
Great for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Kegels exercise can be carried out anywhere, sitting, lying or even while walking. Basically it involves tightening the vaginal wall muscles like you might do if you wanted to stop urinating mid-flow. To 'kegel', tense the muscles around your vagina and anus for 10 seconds and release. Aim for 3 sets of 20 daily. You can even try kegels during sex with your partner. (See sexual intercourse while pregnant).
If you continue to have persistent back pain, ask your doctor to refer you to an obstetric physiotherapist. This specialist may help you with a specific regimen of posture and exercise. If your pain suddenly becomes worse, extends up the right side of your back and is accompanied by chills or a fever, immediately see your doctor. This could be an indication of a kidney infection, which is common in pregnancy, and if untreated can cause premature labor and other pregnancy complications.
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For more issues associated with the three trimesters, see the following:
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