Oh, your aching back! What causes the stiffness and back pain during pregnancy, and how a pregnant woman can manage.
If pregnancy is becoming a pain in your back, you’re not alone — backaches are one of the most common symptoms among the expecting set.
And, unfortunately, backache often starts early on in your pregnancy — sometime around week 18 — and persists (or worsens) until you give birth (when it’s replaced by postpartum back pain).
WHAT CAUSES BACKACHE DURING PREGNANCY
As your belly gets bigger throughout your pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin causes the otherwise stable joints in your pelvis to loosen up in order to allow easier passage of your baby during delivery. Add to that the weight of your growing uterus, and your balance gets thrown as your center of gravity shifts forward. In turn, your lower back curves more than usual to accommodate the load – resulting in strained muscles and, you guessed it, soreness, stiffness and pain.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
If you’re feeling sharp, shooting pain that starts in your back or buttocks and radiates down your legs, you may be experiencing sciatica. The good news about any kind of back pain during pregnancy is that it’s as curable as it is common. There are many ways to relieve it – so if one solution doesn’t work, another probably will.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Watch your posture when you’re sitting. Lounging around in a chair all day actually puts more strain on your spine than anything else. At home and at work, make sure the chairs you use most provide good support, preferably with a straight back, arms, and a firm cushion. Use a footrest to elevate your feet slightly, and don’t cross your legs. That can cause your pelvis to tilt forward, exacerbating those strained back muscles.
- Take breaks. Walk or stand and stretch at least once an hour. Sitting too long can make your back hurt even more. Try not to stand too long, either. If you work on your feet, try to place one foot on a low stool to take some pressure off your lower back.
- Avoid lifting heavy loads. If you must, do it slowly. Stabilize yourself by assuming a wide stance; bend at the knees, not at the waist; and lift with your arms and legs, not your back.
- Watch your weight. Keep your weight gain where it should be (extra weight is extra hard on any back).
- Wear the right shoes. Extremely high heels are out — as are completely flat ones. Experts recommend a 2-inch heel to keep your body in proper alignment. You might also consider orthotics, special shoe inserts designed for muscle support.
- Get a firm mattress. If yours isn’t, place a board underneath for the duration of your pregnancy. A body pillow (at least 5 feet long) can also help you find stress-minimizing sleeping positions.
- Consider a crisscross support sling. Designed specifically for a pregnant figure, it will help take the burden of your belly’s weight off your lower back.
- No reaching for the stars. Or the cookies on the top shelf, for that matter. Use a low, stable, step stool to get items from high places and you’ll avoid additional strain. (Better still, leave the cookies where they are.)
- Think happy thoughts. A calm mind leads to a looser back. You can also try some prenatal yoga, which will relax both your mind and your back.
- Strengthen your stomach. Do pelvic tilts to strengthen your abs, which in turn support your back. Or sit on an exercise ball and rock bath and forth.
- Go hot and cold. Soothe sore muscles by applying cold compresses, then warm compresses in 15-minute intervals.
- Take a warm bath. Or turn the showerhead to pulsating for a free back massage.
- Get a massage. Talking about massages, go get one (after the first trimester and with a masseuse who knows you’re pregnant and is trained in the art of prenatal massage).
- Talk to your doctor. If your back pain is significant, ask your practitioner about physical therapists, alternative medicine specialists (such as acupuncturists), or chiropractors who might be able to help.