The changes that occur in your body during pregnancy are dramatic. Your hormones fluctuate, your organs shift, and your body grows to accommodate a new life. These changes are miraculous—and painful. Almost all pregnant women will experience lower back pain at some point, but sometimes upper back pain emerges as well. Thankfully, we have a practical list of tips for preventing and relieving pregnancy back pain.
Reasons Why Upper Back Pain May Occur in Pregnancy
The position of the baby is enough to expect lower back pain during your pregnancy, but why is your upper back hurting too? Here are a few possible reasons:
On average, women will gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. Adding that amount of weight in just a few months puts a strain on your body that it’s not used to. The muscles throughout your upper and lower back have to work harder than they did pre-pregnancy to support your weight. This can lead to back aches and muscle spasms as your body adjusts.
A shift in your center of gravity
As your baby grows and your uterus expands, your body’s center of gravity shifts forward. This change causes you to carry yourself differently as you move throughout the day. Your upper back muscles strain to compensate for the transfer of weight, which makes them as sore as if you went to the gym and did a new upper body workout for the first time.
Enlarged breast tissue
During pregnancy, your breasts will become fuller and heavier as milk ducts develop and your body retains more fluid. This is an important part of the process as your body prepares for lactation, but the weight of your growing breasts can cause poor posture and, in return, neck and upper back pain.
So much of pregnancy depends on changes to your hormone levels—including back pain. The hormone called relaxin is responsible for loosening your joints and ligaments allowing your body to stretch properly during pregnancy. This is necessary for preparing your body for childbirth but weakens the stability that your pelvic and back muscles are used to.
6 Tips to Relieve Pregnancy Back Pain
Upper back pain may seem hard to escape, especially as your pregnancy progresses into the third trimester. Consider some of these options when you’re looking for back pain relief at all stages of your pregnancy.
Wear Comfortable Clothing and Footwear
Comfort is a top priority for pregnant women. Maternity clothes are designed with this in mind. Loose-fitting tops and bottoms with stretchy waistbands make it possible to maintain proper posture all day long, reducing unnecessary stress on your back. In general, avoid stiff belts, tight tops, and ill-fitting bras that may cause you to sit or stand in a hunched-over position.
Flat and flexible footwear with a thin layer of arch support is the best choice during pregnancy. Shoes with thick, rigid soles or high heels can cause misalignment in your hips, adding to your backache. Wedges and pumps are less safe to walk around in while you’re pregnant since your balance is slightly altered as your belly grows and your center of gravity shifts.
Practice Good Posture
Standing and sitting in a position of good posture may take some intentional effort if you’re not used to doing it. Whether you’re sitting down to relax in your favorite chair, standing at the sink to wash the dishes, or walking around the neighborhood in the evening, it’s important to always maintain proper posture. Keep your chest high, drop your shoulders, and pinch your shoulder blades back to alleviate neck pain and upper back discomfort.
Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Try to distribute your body weight evenly. If you have a tendency to stand with one hip out and all of your weight on that side of your body, setting yourself in a wide stance and gently swaying side to side may help you stay centered.
Sit down with your legs apart; not crossed. A chair like the Nurture& Glider Plus helps you stay in a comfortable position with lumbar support to ease low back pain and an adjustable headrest to cradle your neck and upper back. Put your feet flat on the floor while sitting or rest your feet up on an ottoman out in front of you.
When picking up a heavy object, posture your back straight and upright as you squat to bend and lift with your legs. Curling your body forward to lift with your arms and back can leave you with more backache than you had before.
Sleep in a Side-Lying Position
You may have been able to lay comfortably on your back or belly when you first found out you were pregnant, but that becomes more difficult as you get into your second and third trimesters. Resting and sleeping on your left side allows for proper blood flow throughout your body. It gives your back muscles relief from carrying the weight of pregnancy, making it the most effective position for restful sleep.
A pregnancy support pillow is recommended for holding your body in the optimal neutral spine placement while you sleep. A quality pillow to keep your head and cervical spine in alignment with the rest of your body grants your back the reset it needs from a good night’s sleep.
From early pregnancy to the postpartum period, stretching every day provides an all-over well-being as your body changes. Stretching the muscles and joints you use on a daily basis promotes good blood circulation and increases your range of motion. Together these benefits reduce stress and provide pain relief in your back and other parts of your body.
Perform stretching exercises after long periods of time in the same position. This might be when you first wake up in the morning, and then again after sitting at your desk at work for a few hours. Your healthcare provider can recommend pregnancy-safe stretches that target your most painful areas.
Consider Prenatal Yoga or Prenatal Massage
Yoga classes specifically tailored to the needs of pregnant women can strengthen and stretch the parts of your body that are hard at work during your pregnancy. Prenatal yoga is typically slow paced and the positions are modified so that even beginners can benefit from this exercise. The deep-breathing techniques practiced in yoga aid in destressing mentally and emotionally while you move your body.
To further relax your body and mind, a prenatal massage will loosen tight muscles while you lay down to rest. A massage therapist who specializes in prenatal massage will safely perform low-intensity physical therapy that aims at the back pain you’re experiencing during pregnancy. A physiotherapist can provide massage therapy when pregnancy back pain is specifically caused by pressure on your sciatic nerves.
Learn More About Acupuncture
While it’s not the mainstream go-to for pain relief, acupuncture has been shown to provide benefits during pregnancy. Stimulating pressure points by placing tiny needles into the skin is considered a relatively safe course of pain management for most pregnant women.
Discuss this option with your ob-gyn, and they can tell you if there’s any reason why you shouldn’t go this route. Your doctor may be able to recommend a practitioner in your area that is specifically trained in pregnancy-related acupuncture.
When Does Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy Require a Visit to Your Doctor?
Upper back pain on its own isn’t usually worrisome. If the pain becomes unbearable and you can’t find relief, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.
Call your doctor if your upper back pain is accompanied by:
Contractions or other signs of labor
Painful or persistent urination
Tingling or numbness in your arms, hands, legs, or feet.
You should be seen by a medical professional immediately if you suffer from upper right side shoulder pain and you have a sudden change in vision or swelling. These could be symptoms of preeclampsia or other serious pregnancy complications, especially if you have a history of high blood pressure.
Many pregnancy symptoms can make a mom-to-be feel like she’s lost control of her own body. These tips for pregnancy back pain relief can help you regain some of that control. If you feel like the options you have to practice on your own aren’t enough, don’t hesitate to reach out for more help and advice from your physician or midwife.
Check out the Nurture& blog for more pregnancy and motherhood tips.