Your pregnant body is downright magical. You're shapeshifting week-to-week and steadily growing an entire human, not to mention a brand new organ (aka your placenta). Alas, it’s bound to ache a bit, and sometimes those aches turn into full-blown pain. Research shows that about half of women suffer from lower back pain during pregnancy. Of that half, 80% report that their lower back pain disrupts their daily life.
Origin Clinical Director Sarah Clampett, DPT puts it best when she says: “It’s very common to have back pain during pregnancy, but just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to endure it.” PTs are here to help fill your toolbox with tips and techniques to minimize pain or avoid it altogether.
Why does your back hurt during pregnancy?
Throughout pregnancy, your body makes constant adjustments. Your pelvis tilts forward as your baby grows, increasing the curve in your low back. Your hips widen and your joints loosen, leading to balance and coordination challenges. As your breasts grow and your pelvis shifts, your upper back may round forward as it takes on the load. These changes perfectly prepare you for birth and beyond.
While your body is designed for this transformation, the reduced stability in your joints and muscles causes them to move differently or more than they’re used to. The muscles in your abdomen, back, pelvic floor and hips have to compensate, which can lead them to become overstretched and overworked. All of these changes can add up to back pain. But it doesn’t have to keep hurting.
What do I do if I’m suffering from back pain?
Working with a physical therapist is one of the best options if you’re experiencing back pain because you’ll get a personalized plan that considers your specific symptoms, fitness level, schedule, and preferences.
That said, the following exercises and adjustments are safe for any pregnant person experiencing back pain to try.
1. Support your back while you sleep.
All those throw pillows scattered around your place? Go collect them! Using various pillows and supports while you sleep will keep your spine and pelvis in a neutral position, helping to alleviate and prevent pain. To promote circulation, aim to sleep on your left side with a pillow between your legs from knee to ankle. Wedge more pillows behind your hips and back for the ultimate supportive pillow hug. But don’t stop there — add a rolled up towel under the curve of your waistline, which can also make an amazing difference.
2. Log-roll in and out of bed.
As the baby grows and your stomach muscles get harder to use, getting in and out of bed is no small feat. Especially if you have low back pain. Simple adjustments such as using the log roll method to get out of bed will reduce discomfort. When you’re ready to get up, roll over onto your side with your head still on your pillow, then use your arms to push your body up into a seated position.
3. Support your back when you sit.
Soft, deep couches or chairs may be lovely to sink into, but they put your spine in a curved position that switches off your core muscles. When that happens, you’re relying on ligaments and tendons for support — and they’re not made to carry weight. Given that your ligaments and tendons are looser during pregnancy, it’s a recipe for injury. Try to sit in chairs that support your back in a more upright position. If you have to sit in a marshmallow-like couch or chair, roll a blanket behind your low back for support and don’t forget to use the following tips when you stand.
4. Use your glutes to stand up.
Getting up from a chair can seem like a pretty automatic, natural movement — one we take for granted until we are in pain. Slowing down, getting your body in a good position, and using the proper muscle groups can really help to avoid unnecessary strain on your back. To easily and efficiently get up from a seated position, scoot to the edge of the chair, bring your feet behind your knees, lean forward so that your nose is over your toes, and use your legs and glutes to move your body up.
5. Strengthen your built-in back brace with belly lifts.
Strengthening your transversus abdominis (TA), your body’s natural back brace, will better support your back to reduce pain. To do a belly lift, get on all fours. Keep your spine neutral as you take a deep breath in and let your belly drop toward the floor. Exhale and engage your abdominals to lift your belly up hugging around your baby. Repeat for 10 breaths, a few times a day.
6. Relieve tension in your hips with this kneeling stretch.
A deepened curve in your low back due to pregnancy can lead to tightness in the hip flexors as well as your back. Doing a tall kneeling stretch every day will help to lengthen the hip flexors. With this stretch, you want to avoid a big forward movement since this will strain your back. Instead, shift your weight forward gently, just until you feel stretch across the front of the hip on the bottom leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds on each side. (Note: Skip this stretch if you have pubic symphysis pain.)
7. Stretch and strengthen your side muscles with this wall move.
The side muscles play a key role in maintaining good posture, and the wall side bend is a great way to safely stretch and strengthen them. Stand with one hand against the wall. Raise your other arm up and over your head toward the wall. Repeat on the other side.
8. Apply ice or heat, whichever you like best.
Both heat and ice can be helpful ways to reduce pain. Ice can calm the nerves which cause pain, while heat will bring blood flow to the area, easing muscle tension. Choose what works best for you. Just avoid applying heat to your abdomen or raising your core body temperature too high (like by getting in a hot tub, for example). Apply heat for 5-7 minutes at a time and ice for 15-20 minutes, max.
9. Try using a belly band.
If you’re walking around with significant low back pain, belly bands can be great for support. Find more information from us on belly bands here.
If your pain is impacting your day-to-day life, we recommend seeing a physical therapist who can work with you one-on-one. Not only will they be able to help you manage your back pain, they’re also experts at helping you prepare your body for the extreme sport known as childbirth.