Pregnancy and backaches go hand in hand!
In fact, back pain is one of the common discomforts experienced during pregnancy and can occur at any time during your nine-month journey. However, it usually occurs later in pregnancy as the baby grows.
In 2008, a study published in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine reported an increased incidence of back pain associated with pregnancy. It said low back pain can be the normal result of a multitude of mechanical, hormonal and vascular changes associated with pregnancy (1).
A 2011 study published in Hippokratia also confirms that low back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints of pregnant women. For some women, it may be the outburst of chronic low back pain, and for others, it may be disabling pain during pregnancy and for a variable period postpartum (2).
Back pain during pregnancy is related to a number of factors. Hormonal changes in the body are the main reason.
Hormones released during pregnancy allow ligaments in the pelvic area to soften and the joints to become loose, which may affect the support your back normally experiences.
Other reasons include changes in posture as the baby grows, increasing body weight and stress on the body. Women who are overweight or had back pain prior to pregnancy are at a higher risk of having back pain during pregnancy.
Back pain can disrupt your daily routine and interfere with a good night’s sleep. The good news is there are several things you can do to help deal with pregnancy-related back pain.
Here are some of the best ways to deal with backaches during pregnancy.
To ease back pain during pregnancy, exercise is the best option. Regular exercise strengthens your muscles, which helps your body cope better with the aches and pains of pregnancy.
A 2012 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercising during mid-pregnancy can result in a lower prevalence of low back pain, pelvic girdle pain and depression in late pregnancy (3).
A 2016 study published in Physiotherapy reports that pregnancy-related low back pain can be managed with exercise (4).
Another study published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies in 2016 also reports that good posture and regular exercise can relieve back pain in pregnant women (5).
During pregnancy, walking is a great exercise. Other good choices include swimming, low-impact aerobics and cycling on a stationary bike.
2. Prenatal Massage
Getting a prenatal massage from a certified prenatal massage therapist can bring quick relief from back pain during pregnancy. Such massage is especially beneficial when the back pain is the result of muscular clenching that irritates nerves and sends pain signals to the brain.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology found that pregnant women who benefitted from massage therapy reported reduced anxiety, improved mood, better sleep and less back pain (6).
Another study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2008 found that massage leads to improvement in leg pain, back pain, depression and anxiety as well as reduced anger (7).
Consult your doctor to make sure that prenatal massage is safe for you, and only go to a certified prenatal massage therapist.
3. Prenatal Yoga
Yoga, a mental and physical practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy, is another way to get relief from back pain during pregnancy,
Prenatal yoga can help improve your posture and tone your body, which in turn can help reduce the pain. It can also help you sleep better and relax your mind and muscles. Plus, yoga helps in preparation for the birthing process.
A 2015 study published in the Japanese journal Nihon Koshu Eisei Zasshi reports that prenatal yoga may help reduce pelvic pain and back pain as well as improve mental health conditions (stress, depression, anxiety, etc.) and perinatal outcomes (obstetrical complications, delivery time, etc.) (8).
A 2012 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that an active ingredient in a yoga program may be mindfulness, which has been effective in symptom reduction and general health improvement in a variety of conditions that are relevant to pregnancy, such as anxiety, depression, back pain and stress (9).
During pregnancy, it is recommended that you join prenatal yoga classes rather than doing it on your own.
To deal with back pain during pregnancy, you need to try to maintain a good posture. First of all, you need to avoid lounging around in a chair all day, as it actually puts more strain on your spine and causes more pain in your back.
When sitting, use a good quality chair that provides good support, preferably with a straight back, arms and a firm cushion.
Also, use a footrest to elevate your feet slightly, and avoid crossing your legs. Place a rolled-up towel behind your back for support.
When sleeping, try to sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees to help take stress off your back.
Always stand up tall and straight with your shoulders back, as if you are trying to get your head to touch the ceiling.
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted into your skin at certain locations.
Acupuncture can be effective in relieving low back pain during pregnancy.
A study published in 2004 in Acupuncture in Medicine says that acupuncture seems to alleviate low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy, as well as increase the capacity for some physical activities and diminish the need for drugs, which is a great advantage during this period (10).
A 2001 study published in Pain Medicine reports that acupuncture seems to be safe and effective for pain relief in lower back pain, pelvic pain or both during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy (11).
Another study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in 2017 found that acupuncture demonstrated advantages in treating pregnancy-related low back pain and pelvic pain through quantified experimental data (12).
Always get acupuncture done by an expert who specializes in this technique.
6. Ice Packs
Cold compresses made with ice are effective in reducing pain in the back during pregnancy. The cold temperature reduces inflammation, which helps relieve pain.
- Fill a plastic bag with crushed ice and wrap it in a towel.
- Put the compress on the back area for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Do this repeatedly, waiting 30 minutes between each application.
If ice is not available, you can also use a bag of frozen vegetables.
7. Moist Heat
Like ice packs, applying moist heat on your back may help. Heat increases blood circulation to the area and warms the muscles to ease pain and inflammation.
- Soak a towel in warm water and squeeze out the excess. Put the warm, moist towel over your back for 10 minutes at a time. Repeat several times a day for 2 to 3 days.
- You can also turn the showerhead to pulsating for a free back massage.
Caution: Be careful not to apply heat to your abdomen during pregnancy.
- Avoid wearing high heels. Wear flat shoes instead.
- Do not lift heavy objects. If you need to pick up something, bend your knees and keep your back straight.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Use a firm mattress for sleeping to prevent and relieve backaches.
- Practice meditation to increase your pain tolerance level, which can come in handy both when managing back pain and during labor.
- Wear a maternity belt to help hold up your belly and take the pressure away from your back.
- Pregnancy and low back pain. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684210/. Published June 2008.
- Pregnancy-related low back pain. Hippokratia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3306025/. Published 2011.
- Do pregnant women follow exercise guidelines? Prevalence data among 3482 women, and prediction of low-back pain, pelvic girdle pain and depression. British Journal of Sports Medicine. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2012/08/16/bjsports-2012-091344.short. Published August 01, 2012.
- Current management of pregnancy-related low back pain: a national cross-sectional survey of UK physiotherapists. Physiotherapy. https://www.physiotherapyjournal.com/article/S0031-9406(15)03771-2/abstract.
- Effectiveness of physical therapy for pregnant low back pain- A literature review. International Journal of Nursing and Midwifery. http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/IJNM/article-full-text-pdf/40B78E759992.
- Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. Taylor & Francis. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/01674829909075574.
- Massage therapy reduces pain in pregnant women, alleviates prenatal depression in both parents and improves their relationships. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. https://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/bitstream/1822/41554/1/2008%20Massage%20therapy%20reduce%20pain%20in%20pregnant%20women.pdf
- Effects of prenatal yoga: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Advances in pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26118705.
- Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3424788/. Published 2012.
- Acupuncture for low back pain in pregnancy. Acupuncture in Medicine. http://aim.bmj.com/content/acupmed/22/2/60.full.pdf.
- Acupuncture for Lower Back and Pelvic Pain in Late Pregnancy: A Retrospective Report on 167 Consecutive Cases | Pain Medicine | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/2/3/204/1931662. Published July 07, 2008.
- Effect of acupuncture on pregnancy related low back pain and pelvic pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of clinical and experimental medicine. http://www.ijcem.com/files/ijcem0040302.pdf.