Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy — Why It’s Common and When to See an Expert

Pregnant women, unfortunately, have to deal with a myriad of aches and pains, but perhaps none more common than lower back pain.

According to the National Institute of Health, about half of all pregnant women (although some studies estimate up to 90 percent!) will suffer from lower back pain at some point. About one-third of pregnant women will experience back pain so severe that it affects their quality of life — with 10 percent becoming unable to work entirely.

The good news is the physical therapists at OrthoCarolina are well equipped to help pregnant women learn about, treat and avoid lower back pain.

Last month, Dr. Kelli Tryon told us that pregnant women don’t have to suffer in silence.
“A common misconception is that women need to grin and bear the pain throughout their pregnancy,” she said. “Many orthopedic problems stem from weakened and overstretched muscles and ligaments, which is exactly what we treat as physical therapists. My message to all pregnant women out there is that these conditions are treatable!” If your lower back pain is starting to affect your quality of life, consider seeing a physical therapist sooner rather than later.

But why is lower back pain so common in pregnancy? Tryon said there are a few factors:

  • Rapid weight gain
  • Abnormal distribution of weight
  • Weakening and stressing of the core muscles
  • Hormones that loosen the ligaments in preparation for birth

Your SI joint could also be the cause of your back (and butt, and leg) pain while pregnant.

Located in the pelvis, the SI joint links the iliac bones (pelvis) to the sacrum (lowest part of the spine above the tailbone). Unfortunately, women, particularly pregnant and postpartum women, are more at risk for developing SI joint issues.

Pain prevention

Dr. Konrad Sekula said pregnant women’s new, altered center of gravity causes stress on the body’s lumbar and pelvic systems. Fluid retention, another lovely side effect of pregnancy, makes it worse.

A few simple changes could help prevent back pain, such as swapping your stilettos for a comfy pair of shoes with great arch support. At night, consider propping a pillow under or between your knees and laying on your left side.

Sekula said he advises patients not to spend too much time on soft surfaces like sofas or recliners because they won’t stabilize your spine the way a firmer sitting surface would.

Experts also say stress can aggravate back pain, so Tryon also suggests meditation, yoga, listening to music or whatever else helps you find your happy place.

And even though having a sore back may make you want to lay around all day, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

One of the best ways to prevent low back pain is to get moving.

“Hopefully, by now most women are well aware that exercise is healthy during pregnancy,” Sekula said. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily throughout pregnancy. Unless there are serious underlying medical conditions, there is no reason pregnant women shouldn’t exercise.”

Sekula cited a large Norwegian study that found pregnant women exercising three or more times a week during pregnancy are less likely to report pelvic girdle pain and low back pain. However, that same study concluded that few women follow current exercise prescriptions for exercise in mid-pregnancy.

Easy ways to stay active

  • Running: Of course, talk to your OB to make sure. But if you were a runner before getting pregnant, you’re probably fine to continue. Just be aware of your body temperature and heart rate, and make sure not to overdo it. If running starts to become too taxing, dial it back to a jog or walk.
  • Yoga: The focus on de-stressing and core strength are a one-two punch for back pain prevention. Find a prenatal class or follow an online tutorial to make sure the moves you’re doing are pregnancy-approved.
  • Aquatic therapy: If regular exercise is too tough, consider getting in the pool. Sekula said this is especially helpful for women who have trouble with weight-bearing exercises since being in the pool at chest level will reduce your body weight by 70 percent.
  • Light cardio: Walking, hiking, swimming and even chores like gardening all count as exercise, Sekula says. The main idea is to stay active and get the blood flowing.

Physical therapists can also help expectant patients with an appropriate exercise and stretching routine to keep lower back pain at bay.

For more info on back pain and other orthopedic issues during pregnancy, contact OrthoCarolina, where your visit can be scheduled in a way that works best for you. 

  • After-hours and Walk-in Urgent Care
  • Online Scheduling
  • Video Visits
  • Convenient Locations

Get the orthopedic care you need in a way that works best for you.

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