At least half of all pregnant women will experience back pain at some point during their pregnancy. Pain can range from moderate and aching to excruciating and debilitating.
What can you do to alleviate back pain during pregnancy in a healthy, effective way?
What causes pregnancy back pain?
The baby shifts the center of gravity, causing the pelvis to tilt forward to accommodate the growth in the uterus. This movement in the pelvis can lead to back pain called pelvic girdle pain (PGP). This creates a strain on the lower back, hips, and pubic bone.
Women experiencing pelvic girdle pain will often unintentionally lean backward to compensate for the forward shift in the pelvis. This deepens the curve in the back, which further worsens the pain.
Pregnancy back pain is also exacerbated by weight gain, which puts more pressure on the joints and bones. Hormonal changes, especially an influx of estrogen, can also weaken and soften joints. This combo can create a lot of aches and pains, especially in the first trimester.
How do you treat lower back pain?
So what can you do to minimize back pain? What are some safe ways you can stay healthy, happy, and strong during your pregnancy?
Note: Consult a doctor or practitioner before changing your routine, especially with regards to exercises.
Movement is important to keep the muscles and joints loose. The more active you are, the sturdier your body will grow.
Swimming is a low-impact, high-resistance exercise that works well for pregnancy. You’ll burn calories and strengthen muscles without bearing any weight on bones and joints.
You should also go for a walk once a day. This will keep your muscles moving and will help your baby “settle” in the right position. It also gives you an opportunity to meditate and de-stress, which can improve your hormonal balance.
You’ll also want to focus on working out your glutes. When the pelvis shifts forward, the butt tucks under and starts to get weak. You need strong glutes to reinforce back movement. Weak glutes force surrounding muscles, like hip flexors, to do the work, worsening aches and pains.
The best exercises to strengthen glutes, back, hamstrings, and calves are squats, lunges, kickbacks, and bridges. Do squats against the wall for support and to minimize the lower back bend.
The way you sit and stand has a direct impact on your structural health. A pregnant body starts to get “lazy” when at rest. So you need to actively focus on your posture to maintain bone strength and muscle health.
When standing, you want your weight to be towards the middle or heels of your feet. You don’t want weight in the balls of your feet, which tends to happen with a shift in gravity. You always want to stand with your feet hip-width apart to keep your hips open and relaxed. Your chest should be high with shoulders back and relaxed.
When sitting, stay close to the edge of the seat. This will keep your pelvis activated while letting your belly hang, which helps get the baby in a comfortable position. Sit with your back straight and your shoulders down.
Don’t sit too much. This can lead to tightened hip flexor muscles and weak glutes, which both pull on the lower back.
When bending, squat down at the knees and hinge from the hips. Don’t curl the back over. This is especially important when picking up children.
The growing baby starts to “squish” all of your organs together. This means the rib cage isn’t moving enough, which causes a tightness in the back. Your diaphragm also isn’t able to expand as wide, so you start to take more shallow breaths.
Shallow breathing can actually make you stressed and anxious without you even being conscious of it. Also, not getting enough oxygen can create a buildup of toxins that can lead to infections and disease that aren’t healthy for you or the baby.
Deep breathing opens up the diaphragm and gets the ribs to move. This brings in more oxygen and releases tightness in the muscles.
We recommend a 1-4-2 pattern of breathing. For example, inhale (through the nose) for 4 seconds, hold for 16 seconds, and exhale (through the teeth for resistance) for 8 seconds. This will flood your brain and blood with oxygen while slowly and gently releasing soreness around the rib cage.
Chiropractors can help make adjustments to better align the pelvis and hips. They can also detect weak spots or unexpected misalignments in other parts of your body that could be impacting your lower back pain.
Most chiropractors will offer in-house sessions and massages to get you feeling back to normal. They’ll also give you exercises to do at home to keep up the therapy and continue to strengthen your structure.
Look for chiropractors that are specifically trained for pregnant or postpartum women. They’ll usually have a special table to accommodate a pregnant belly, and they’ll use gentle techniques that won’t impact the baby.
Find a salon (or chiropractic office) that offers pregnancy massages. These usually focus on the black and glutes to loosen tight muscles and relax nervous mommies. Talk to other women who have had pregnancy massages to find a masseuse with whom you’ll feel comfortable.
You should also consider getting a foam roller for your home. You can use this to massage your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, which will relieve tension pulling on the lower back.
Maternity belts can help relieve the tension of pelvic girdle pain around the lower back and hips. They achieve this by supporting and lessening the workload of your ligaments and muscles during movement. This is especially useful during strenuous activity like lifting or bending.
Be careful not to wear a maternity belt too frequently, though. This can cause your muscles to stop working, which means you’ll need to retrain your muscles postpartum. You also want to ensure you don’t wear the belt too tightly, which can lead to pelvic organ prolapse.
Talk to a chiropractic practitioner before using a maternity belt.
Pelvic floor physiotherapists can help you train your internal pelvic muscles. While pregnant, these tighten to support the baby, but they can also pull on the hips and back. Strengthening the pelvic floor can minimize joint pain and reduce the incidence of tearing during delivery.
The stronger your pelvis during pregnancy, the faster your recovery postpartum. The physiotherapist will usually use exercise and rehabilitation techniques to strengthen your core and vagina, which in turn minimizes lower back pain.
Most pregnant women have trouble sleeping because of back pain. To help reduce this, sleep on your side (as opposed to your back). Use pillows or a wedge underneath your belly and in-between your knees for support. This will help minimize strained muscles and allow for a calmer night’s rest.
You also want to support your structure throughout the day. Skip the flip-flops and ballet flats, which offer little support and can strain the back. Choose supportive sneakers and flat boots that have built-in arch support. You should also consider talking to your chiropractor about insoles or orthotics.
Enjoy yourself. Pregnancy is a wonderful thing and try to remember the many years of happiness in store for you and your family. It's not easy now but it will get better. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally are very important to you and the baby.
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