Back Pain During Pregnancy

If you have a baby on the way and have back pain, you are not alone. About 50%-70% of women experience pain in the lower back at some time during pregnancy. 

Why is back pain so common during pregnancy? There are a few factors at play. Gaining weight during pregnancy is a key reason. Along with weight gain, the center of gravity changes. There are also major hormonal changes that affect the joints and ligaments of the pelvis. Most cases of back pain occur during the sixth and ninth months of pregnancy. Some risk factors that increase the risk of low back pain include smoking, strenuous work, and medical history of conditions affecting the low back. 

In most cases, the back pain improves with simple home remedies. However, there are some warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored. 

Let’s review in this article red flag symptoms and useful tips to manage low back pain. 

When should you worry about back pain in pregnancy?

It is best to avoid stress and getting worried during the pregnancy.  Just be aware that there are some signs and symptoms that may suggest an underlying condition. Consider talking to your doctor if you experience the following : 

  • Severe back pain, and back pain getting worse or starting all of a sudden require immediate evaluation from a doctor. Osteoporosis, arthritis, or septic (infectious) arthritis can be the cause. 
  • Rhythmic pains, cramps should be assessed to rule out a preterm labor
  • Frequent urination and one sided low back pain. These can be signs of a bladder or kidney infection. Left untreated, these infections can lead to preterm labor .
  • Back pain is associated with other warning signs. For example, vaginal bleeding after the first 12 weeks of gestation should be evaluated due to increased risk of preterm birth or misscarriage. Abnormal contractions or decreased fetal movements require doctor’s evaluation right away. Leg swelling and pain in the leg (calf) may be due to deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.  Leg swelling associated with severe headache, blurred vision or spots in the eyes, as well as pain in the abdomen can be a sign of preeclampsia. 
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Tips for back pain relief 

  1. Pay attention to your posture. As the baby grows, your  center of gravity changes, moving forward. To compensate for this change, you will tend to lean back. This means more strain on the lower back and more likely to experience back pain. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to the posture, making sure you stand up straight and tall, with the chest high and the shoulders back and relaxed. 
  • Avoid locking your knees. 
  • Use low step stools to rest your feet, chairs with good back support, pillow behind the lower back and maternity belt  as needed. 
  • When you need to lift an object, make sure you squat and lift that object with your legs rather than your back. Avoid bending at the waist. 
  • Wear low heeled shoes for proper arch support. Neither high heels or flat shoes help maintain good posture or prevent back pain. 
  • Try to sleep on the left side, and use a pillow under the knees. 
  • Home remedies such as ice or heat packs, antiinflammatory medicine (check with the doctor which one is safe for you). 
  • 2.Stay well hydrated. According to spine specialists, many people do not drink enough water. Furthermore, spine specialists warn that dehydration can cause back pain. The disks between vertebrae which works as a shock absorber also lose water when dehydrated, starting to put pressure on the nerves and cause pain in the low back and throughout the body. 
  • 3.Work with a physiotherapist and get a custom exercise program that supports back health during the pregnancy.  Use it regularly, as recommended. Massage therapy or acupuncture can help alleviate the pain. A 2000 study from Sweden found that acupuncture can reduce low back pain and disability in just a few simple treatments. Furthemore, acupuncture was also found to be a more effective  traditional treatment involving massage, heat, and exercise. Some osteopaths and chiropractors are specialized in managing symptoms during pregnancy and they can also offer home exercises. 
  • 4.Practice stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing or yoga. Pain in different parts of the body- including lower back, neck pain and  headaches are often associated with stress and anxiety. Mental health specialists believe that anxiety does not directly cause pain, but rather causes behaviors that lead to back pain- including muscle tension and poor posture. On the other hand, mindfulness meditation has been found in research studies to reduce pain severity and improve mental and physical well being. 

Keep in mind that home remedies and therapies like massage work best for mild symptoms. If the low back pain is getting worse or other red flag symptoms develop, seek medical advice as soon as possible to rule out any serious condition. 

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