Are you one of the 50% of women who suffer from low back pain (LBP) in pregnancy? Well, as that percentage demonstrates, you’re not alone! Many expectant mothers suffer significant discomfort throughout their pregnancy because of back pain or lower pelvic pain.
What is Low Back Pain in Pregnancy?
For most women pregnancy related back pain can feel like a dull ache, but for others it feels like a sharp burning pain.
It’s most commonly felt right across your lower back, however don’t be surprised if you feel pain on one side only, or even higher up in your mid-back.
Sometimes the pain can spread into your upper thighs and replicate symptoms of sciatica, or even result in a condition known as foot drop where you cannot lift the front part of your foot whilst walking.
Because back and pelvic pain are so common in pregnancy, many women actually consider it inevitable.
This doesn’t mean you need to suffer in silence though! Only about 50% of pregnant women experiencing low back pain during pregnancy visit a health professional, but you’ll be pleased to know that 70% of them will receive treatments for the pain.
You should be starting to feel hopeful by now, as there's so much that you can try to relieve your low back pain.
Why do you get back pain during pregnancy?
Very low back pain in pregnancy often begins during the fifth and seventh months.
During pregnancy the ligaments in your body start to prepare for birth by becoming softer and more stretchy - this is great news for labour, however it can put a strain on your joints and result in pain in your back and pelvis.
Sometimes back pain in pregnancy can be caused by postural changes to the lumbar spine as it increases in its curvature to accommodate the pregnancy. Other times the psoas muscle in the hip, which stabilises the spine, becomes shortened which can also worsen back pain symptoms for pregnant women.
If you’re experiencing a pain that resembles sciatica then it’s likely that your pregnancy related back pain is caused by a lower lumbar, or upper sacral nerve root, that’s being impacted by your lower spine.
Unfortunately, you are more likely to suffer from low back pain during your pregnancy if you've had a history of back pain before, or if you are in an older or younger age group.
For some pregnant women back pain strikes whilst lying down to sleep, this is likely due to your rapidly expanding uterus and the pressure it’s putting on a major blood vessel (the vena cava) which runs past the pelvis and lumbar spine.
For others the pain centres in the pelvis as it makes space for your baby and prepares you for labour.
How to avoid back pain in pregnancy?
We've put together a few tips to keep in mind during your pregnancy, these will help you avoid experiencing lower back pain where possible.
- if you are lifting anything from the floor, use your knees and keep your back up straight.
- don’t lift anything heavy – leave that to friends and family for the next few months.
- when turning around, turn with your feet and whole body, not by twisting your spine or neck.
- wear flat or low-heeled shoes that promote even weight distribution.
- if carrying shopping bags try to distribute the weight evenly between two bags and carry one on each side. And make sure you don’t carry too much at one time.
- when sitting think about your posture, use maternity support cushions and sit up straight and support your back.
- continue to watch your posture at all times - a supported posture throughout the day will take a lot of stress off your lower spine.
- enjoy pampering sessions that relax your muscles such as baths, massage or meditation. Or why not try a warm compress.
- make sure your mattress is firm enough to support your back.
- with the easing of lockdown, try to find a socially distanced care class to attend with a friend or partner!
- find a side-sleeping posture with a supportive pillow between your knees and ankles, this will keep your hips on the same level and reduce lower back strain. Try to lie on your side too.
- lumbar roles can be used to soften up tight muscles (inflatable lumbar roles are best for pregnancy to accommodate body changes!)
- If sitting for a long time take a break every hour to stand up and do a little stretching. However you should also try to limit long periods of time spent standing or walking.
- if taking a minute to move around and relieve pregnancy back pain it can help to bend the hips and keep both legs elevated to reduce the curve of the spine.
- be sure to get enough rest and avoid over-exerting yourself!
- you can also use a heat pack at a tolerable temperature for 15-20 minutes at a time.
- try pregnancy safe alternative therapies. such as acupuncture, aquatic therapy, physical therapy. Yoga is particularly good – we recommend the “cat and cow” positions for back pain relief.
Keeping yourself fit is key to easing low back pain in pregnancy
Regular exercise can ward off future low back pain and help alleviate any pain you already have.
Our very own fitness expert Tash Brown has recorded a whole range of trimester specific exercises which will really help you keep on top of your fitness.
Look our for: Posture saviours, Secret Cats and Cows, Secret 4 Point Kneel, Downward Saviours and Chair Bridge in the trimester 3 folder.
It’s also important to build up your glute strength. Look out for Wall Squats, Bridges and Overhead Squats in the trimester 2 folder.
And why not read another recent blog that gives top tips on other ways to keep yourself fit throughout your pregnancy.
Secret Saviours Bump Band and Full-Briefs for back support
If you haven’t got one already, our stretch mark prevention underwear, not only fights off those pesky permanent scars, it also offers great back and under bump support, which can make a real difference to niggling back pain. Don’t just take our word for it – look at these recent reviews from our customers
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If your back pain is mild and you have tried out many of the tips above, then paracetamol may help. Medical advice is that it’s safe to take paracetamol during pregnancy, but it’s best to check with your midwife or doctor first. If you do go down this route, make sure you:
- follow the instructions on the box about how much, and how often, you can take it
- try to take the lowest dose that works and for the shortest amount of time.
When to worry about low back pain during pregnancy?
So, we’ve already said that generally low back pain, although inconvenient, isn’t anything to worry about. But if you’ve tried our self-help recommendations above and nothing has helped, or if your pain level is unbearable, then we suggest you speak to your GP or midwife.
Here are symptoms to look out for that may mean you need to seek a professional medical opinion:
- severe pain in the hip & sudden pain made worse by bearing weight and walking. This could be a rare condition called transient osteoporosis so it’s worth checking it out.
- deep pain in the groin that radiates to the lower back, thighs and knees. This could be avascular necrosis of the femoral head.
- sudden severe pain in the abdomen, accompanied by cramping. This could be a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
Call a doctor urgently if:
- you are in your second or third trimester – this could be a sign of early labour
- you have a fever, bleeding from your vagina or pain when you pee
- have pain in one or more of your sides (under your ribs)
Call 999 if:
- you lose feeling in one or both of your legs, your bum or your genitals
Overcoming Low Back Pain in Pregnancy
Hopefully what you’ll be taking away from this blog is the reassurance that low back pain during pregnancy is very common and usually nothing to worry about. Whether your pain is due to postural changes, muscle tension or weight gain there are many things you can do to help yourself live with (or better still, overcome) this pain. So don’t just ‘put up’ with your pregnancy back pain – try out some of our tips above and if nothing works speak to your doctor or midwife.
Remember how much amazing hard work your body is doing right now; give it the rest and attention it deserves!