Your journey through pregnancy is an exciting time of major changes in your life—and your body. With change comes aches and pains, particularly in your back.
Your first instinct may be to rest and wait for relief when your upper back feels strained or your lower back tightens up, but resting isn’t a long-term solution. You may find that exercises that stretch and strengthen your back relieve your pain and lessen your symptoms as your pregnancy progresses.
Does Pregnancy Always Come With Back Pain?
Pregnant women get to experience the beauty of creating new life and, yes, the back pain that comes with it. The spectrum of pain is broad. It depends on your body, your baby, and your pain tolerance.
The pregnancy back pain you encounter could range from a dull ache after over-exerting yourself to piercing pain that stops you in your tracks. While most of the common causes of back pain during pregnancy are out of your control, there are things you can do to help your body through the transitions pregnancy brings.
What Causes Pregnancy Back Pain?
Gaining weight during pregnancy is expected. Add up the weight of your growing baby, larger breasts, increased blood volume, placenta, and amniotic fluid and you’re looking at 25-35 pounds of weight gain. A healthy baby depends on the accumulating weight of these essential parts of pregnancy, but it’s also a substantial load that your body isn’t used to carrying.
Knowing why you have back pain during pregnancy can help you stretch and exercise appropriately to prevent further discomfort.
Here are the most common causes of pregnancy back pain:
Change in Posture
The result of the weight gain could include a change in your posture. The heaviness of your growing breasts and belly are all held on the front of your body. This naturally pulls the balance of your center of gravity forward and you may not even notice you’re starting to hunch over to accommodate the weight. If you��re not aware of your slumped posture while sitting or standing, you may go through your whole day wondering why your upper back feels like it’s on fire.
Changes during pregnancy also include changes to your hormones. You might think of hormonal changes affecting your emotions, causing fatigue, and priming your uterus to house your baby, but they can also have an impact on your back pain.
Relaxin is a hormone that is released during pregnancy. It loosens joints and ligaments in your low back and pelvic area so they can easily expand as your baby moves through the birth canal. Although the release of relaxin is vital to preparing your body to give birth, the slack in your joints makes you vulnerable to backache and pelvic pain.
Separation of Abdominal Muscles
Your growing belly is a clear sign of your growing baby, and the bigger it gets the more likely you are to have weaker abdominal muscles. When the core muscles across the front of your belly are stretched during pregnancy, they divide right down the middle. These muscles are weakened by the separation and then don’t provide as much support to your back as they used to.
As wonderful as pregnancy is, it’s rare to get through the entire adventure completely stress-free. Whether you’re enduring pregnancy complications or a complex life situation that’s happening simultaneously, the emotional stress that you feel may cause a physical reaction in your body. Back pain can appear as you hold tension in your back muscles during an emotionally stressful time.
An 8-Step Exercise for Reducing Back Pain During Pregnancy
You don’t have to accept backaches and pains as a normal part of pregnancy. After confirming with your doctor or women’s healthcare provider, practice these stretches and strengthening exercises on a regular basis to greatly reduce your back pain throughout your pregnancy. You can use these exercises as a complete routine or pick out the moves that work best for you.
Warm up your body with rotations through your hips and lower back.
Begin on all fours with your knees in alignment with your hips as well as your hands directly under your shoulders. Support yourself with your hands flat on the floor.
Pull your stomach in to engage your abdominal muscles.
Move your hips in a circular motion. Your range of motion may be small at first as you’re getting started.
Aim for 20 rotations, switching direction halfway through.
Continue to stretch your back in the same starting position.
While still on your hands and knees, tuck your hips slightly forward under your body toward your belly and then extend them back up toward the sky.
Repeat this small movement 10 times.
If it feels comfortable, you can exaggerate this motion into the yoga position of cat-cow.
Arch your back higher as you tilt your pelvic floor forward and release your head down.
Hold this position as long as the stretch feels good.
Drop your belly down and invert the arch of your back toward the floor. Lift your head back while looking up to help your body reach the proper position.
Repeat the cat-cow combination 5-10 times.
As a final back stretch at the end of this warmup or pregnancy workout, lean into child’s pose.
While on your knees with feet flat behind you, sit back on your heels. Spread your knees apart to allow for plenty of room between your legs for your belly.
Lean face down onto the floor with your belly descending between your legs and your arms outstretched above your head.
If this isn’t a comfortable position for you, modify it with your head on a pillow or two tall enough to keep your head above hip level.
Hold this satisfying stretch as long as necessary to ease lower back pain.
You may choose to hold a light hand weight for this strengthening exercise.
Start in a properly aligned hands-and-knees position with your core muscles engaged to keep your back straight.
Support yourself with one hand firmly planted on the floor and hold your weight in your other hand or, if not adding weight, your other hand in a fist.
Keeping your elbow bent, pull your arm back until your hand is at hip level.
Then bring your hand back down to the floor.
Try for 10 repetitions on each side.
Build strong glutes that support your back with this move.
Remaining on your hands and knees, brace your body with both hands open-palm on the floor, and your fingers spread out to help widen your base of support.
With your knee still bent, lift your leg up and back behind you.
Go slowly enough that you can focus on activating your stomach, glutes, and back muscles.
Set a goal of 10 reps for each leg.
Finish up on all fours with this all-around core strengthening exercise.
Start this move in the “hands under your shoulders, knees under your hips” position.
Keeping your stomach pulled in, reach your right arm forward and your left leg back lifting them up as an extension to the straight line of your back.
Focus on your balance and stability throughout your spine and hips.
Lower your arm and leg back down to the starting position and repeat this movement with your left arm and right leg.
Complete 5-10 repetitions on each side of your body.
This move is recommended for exercise in your first or second trimester when it’s still generally safe and comfortable to lie down on your back.
Come down into a side-lying position before rolling onto your back to help lessen the strain on your muscles.
Lay your arms at your sides and press your low back into the floor while your legs are hip-width apart, bent at the knees, and your feet are flat on the floor.
Keep your shoulders on the ground as you push through your heels to raise your hips and engage your pelvic floor muscles with a simultaneous kegel exercise.
Hold for a breath, then slowly lower your hips back down and find your back, once again, pressed into the floor.
Don’t rush through repeating this process 10 times.
Squatting your body weight improves core muscle strength and hip flexibility for support in your daily activities and the intense physical labor of childbirth.
Stand with your feet under your shoulders or slightly further apart, if preferred, and your toes pointed forward.
Keeping your back in a straight line and your weight over the heels of your feet, bend at the hips and knees to come down into a sitting position.
Use your leg muscles to push yourself back up to standing.
Tips: Go through the motions of practicing squats while hovering over a chair to achieve the optimal angle, or squat against a wall while leaning on an exercise ball for stability and back pain relief.
As with starting any new exercise routine, check with your doctor regarding any concerns or follow the guidance of a physical therapist. Also, remember that these movements only benefit you if you go through them at a pace suitable to your unique body. Pushing your body too hard can result in more back strain when your goal is to reduce back pain.
Alternatives for Back Pain Relief During Pregnancy
Exercise doesn’t solve all back pain. A consistent exercise routine coupled with some—or all—of these other options can get you closer to complete back pain relief.
Rest in the Right Chair
Not all chairs are created equal. When you’re dealing with pregnancy back pain you need a seat that offers you the right amount of support and comfort. Nurture& recommends a chair like The Glider Plus. The power recline, adjustable headrest, and power lumbar support are stand-out features to set you in the position that eases your low back pain.
Spending a lot of time in a chair that’s too rigid or overly plush can compromise the proper alignment of your spine and pelvis, contributing to more back pain.
Apply Heat or Cold
At the end of an exhausting day, an ice pack may feel like a welcomed relief to your overworked muscles or swollen joints. On the other hand, a heating pad or hot water compress may help loosen up stiff back muscles in the morning. A warm shower with focused water pressure is also relaxing.
Limit your cold compress to 20 minutes on, and 20 minutes off for as long as you need. If you’re using heat, do not apply it directly to your belly, even if that’s where you feel pain.
Contact a Counselor
Mental and emotional stress may be the cause of your physical pain. If you think this is true for you, seeking a professional counselor to help you work through your stressors can take the load off your mind and body.
If you’re not sure where to start, bring it up at your next visit to your gynecologist or health care provider. They may be able to recommend a counselor in the area.
Practice Prenatal Yoga
If you went through the workout mentioned above, you’ve already practiced some of the beneficial moves included in basic prenatal yoga routines. In addition to the child’s pose and the cat-cow stretch, positions like the sumo squat pose and the triangle pose can relieve your back pain during pregnancy.
Receive Chiropractic Care
Regular visits to your chiropractor while trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and into the postpartum period helps your body adjust to changes in each stage. A chiropractor can promote a properly aligned spine as your pregnancy progresses and effectively release unnecessary pressure on your nerves that may cause you to have sciatica symptoms.
Don’t let your back pain hold you back from enjoying your pregnancy. Exercise and stretch regularly, and listen to your body when it’s time to rest. Seek help from your physician if you’re not sure what will work best for you.
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