Lower back pain during pregnancy is quite common. Pregnant women may experience local lower back pain that radiates to the buttocks and legs.
It can mimic sciatica – pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve that extends from the lower back across the hips and buttocks to the leg. Sciatic nerve pain usually affects only one side of the body.
Lower back pain during pregnancy can be constant or worsen with activity. It can disrupt sleep and affect a pregnant person’s quality of life. For most people, symptoms go away after their child is born. Unfortunately, some may have chronic pain that may persist after giving birth.
This pain usually starts in the second trimester, but it is possible to experience it earlier. Learn about lower back pain during pregnancy, including signs and symptoms, causes, and treatment.
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Frequency and when it is presented
Research shows that around 50% of pregnant women suffer from back pain during pregnancy or after giving birth. Lower back pain during pregnancy can be mild or related to certain activities. In some people, it can be chronic, meaning the pain is persistent and lasts for more than three months.
A third of pregnant women suffer from severe lower back pain, which affects their quality of life, while 10% report that lower back pain affects their daily routine and their ability to work. Most people start lower back pain between the fifth and seventh months of pregnancy, but some may experience lower back pain earlier.
You can suffer from back pain at any time during your pregnancy. Symptoms can be:
- A dull or sharp pain, or a burning pain in the lower back.
- Pain on one side of the lower back.
- Foot lifter: This is the inability to lift the front part of the foot while walking.
- Pain similar to that of the sciatic nerve radiating to the thigh and leg: These symptoms are more common when there is impingement of the lower lumbar nerve from a number of conditions, including a herniated disc, pulled muscles, or spasms.
- Lower back pain when lying down and sleeping: Lower back pain that worsens at night is related to an expanding uterus that puts pressure on the vena cava – a large blood vessel – and blockages of the blood vessels in the pelvis and lower back.
The causes of back pain during pregnancy are considered to be multifactorial. This means that different things affect different body structures in the lower part of the body, resulting in lower back pain.
Many of the causes are recognized and naturally occurring changes during pregnancy, including those related to posture, blood flow, anatomy, and hormones. Lower back pain during pregnancy is rarely severe or life-threatening.
One theory about lower back pain during pregnancy relates to the mechanical instability of the lower back in the lumbar spine and pelvis. During pregnancy, the lumbar spine goes through a compensatory process called lordosis, in which the spine adjusts to the center of gravity as the pregnancy weight increases and the abdomen increases.
This process leads to excessive stress on the lumbar joints, intervertebral discs, ligaments and muscles. The psoas muscle of the hip is shortened by the compensatory lordosis, which further increases the pain in the lower back.
The psoas muscle connects the upper body with the lower body. It is responsible for flexing the hip joint and lifting the thigh towards the body. One of his most common movements is walking.
People with a history of low back pain or other pre-existing back problems seem to be at a higher risk of developing low back pain during pregnancy.
In addition to changes in body and risk history, some daily activities during pregnancy can cause unbalanced movements of the spine, pelvis, and hips due to naturally occurring changes in pregnancy.
These can include:
- Walking or running
- Turn over in bed
- Flexing and twisting the spine
- To lift
- climb stairs
Although rare, some obstetric conditions, such as miscarriages, ovarian cysts, or uterine fibroids, can cause lower back pain during pregnancy. Lower back pain is also a symptom of a urinary tract infection or premature labor.
Treatment for lower back pain during pregnancy depends on the stage of pregnancy, the cause of the back pain, aggravating factors, underlying conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and the severity of symptoms and the effect on quality of life.
When determining treatment options, your doctor may evaluate your posture, range of motion, gait patterns (walking patterns), joint pain, tendon reflexes, and the degree of curvature of the lower spine.
Treatment goals include maintaining functional levels and reducing discomfort during pregnancy. Treatment often includes physical therapy and exercise, heat and cold therapy, posture correction, adjustments to make sleep more comfortable, regular stretching, chiropractic, acupuncture, and stress relief through meditation.
Physiotherapy and exercise
Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend exercises to strengthen your lower back and relieve pain. Regular exercise can strengthen the muscles of the lower back, increase flexibility, and reduce stress on the spine.
Safe exercises during pregnancy include walking, swimming, cycling, and gentle aerobic exercise (e.g., elliptical or stationary cycling).
Heat and cold therapy
Applying heat and cold to your back can help reduce pain and stiffness in your back. Use cold compresses (ex.
You can switch between hot and cold. Use a heating pad on the painful area. Always ask your doctor; They will tell you whether it is safe for you to use heat and cold therapy during pregnancy.
Avoid leaning to take the strain off your spine and use proper posture when walking, sitting, and sleeping. Wearing a pregnancy belt can help improve posture during pregnancy.
The best sleeping position during pregnancy is on the left as it provides the best possible blood flow to the mother and the growing fetus. Lying on your back can lead to all sorts of problems, including back pain.
It is also helpful to sleep with one or both knees bent and use pregnancy pillows between your knees, behind your back, and under your growing belly.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about safe stretching exercises that can help strengthen your back and pelvic muscles.
Done correctly, chiropractic spine adjustment can be safe during pregnancy. You should discuss with your doctor whether it is safe for you to get chiropractic treatment.
Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective in relieving back pain during pregnancy. Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted into the skin at specific points on the body. Check with your doctor before using acupuncture during pregnancy.
Meditation is a stress reduction technique that can be used anytime, anywhere. There are many ways to practice meditation. One of the easiest ways to meditate is to sit or lie in a quiet place and focus on your breathing. You can meditate in silence or use an audio program.
Meditation has been shown to promote a biological relaxation response that stimulates the brain to reduce the release of stress hormones, which in turn reduces muscle tension and pain.
Choosing Safe Pain Relief Drugs
All drugs should be used with caution during pregnancy to reduce the risk of harm to the growing fetus. Fortunately, there are some medications that are safe to use during pregnancy.
For back pain during pregnancy, acetaminophen is considered safe and is often given as the drug of choice for treating all types of pain during pregnancy.
You should always consult your doctor before starting any medication, including supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, while pregnant.
When to call your doctor
While some back pain and discomfort during pregnancy are normal, there are cases when you should seek help from your obstetrician or other doctor.
See your doctor if you have any of the following lower back symptoms:
- For severe back pain
- Low back pain that lasts for more than two weeks
- Lower back pain accompanied by abdominal cramps that gradually worsen
- Pain or other difficulty urinating
- Numbness or tingling in the legs
- Vaginal bleeding
- Any abnormal vaginal discharge
- Fever and / chills
These symptoms are worrying and require immediate medical attention. Back pain during pregnancy can be a sign of premature labor or a urinary tract infection. If back pain is accompanied by vaginal bleeding, fever, or burning sensation when urinating, you should see your doctor immediately.
A word from Verywell
Back pain during pregnancy can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but most of the time it goes away after giving birth. Remember to always listen to your body and stop activities that make back pain worse.
Ask your doctor before you start exercising. If you experience symptoms such as bleeding or severe pain, stop exercising and get medical help right away.