Back pain and particularly lower back pain is extremely common in pregnancy with up to three out of every four pregnant women being affected at some point. It occurs more commonly as the pregnancy develops and can take many different forms – from simple back ache to severe back pain and sciatica.
It is important to see a doctor about the back pain as soon as you can to ensure you get early treatment but it is rare for the back pain to affect the pregnancy or your labour directly.
Causes of back pain in pregnancy
There are many factors that can lead to back pain developing when you are pregnant and they include direct physical factors and even hormonal changes.
- Posture: Poor posture can put a strain on the muscles and ligaments of the back, leading them to become damaged and painful. Often pregnancy makes it increasingly difficult to maintain a good posture but it is important to focus on this as much as possible, especially early in the pregnancy, to avoid the pain starting. Once back pain starts to develop it can be more difficult to fix.
- Fluid retention: All pregnant women develop a small amount of swelling of the soft tissues in the body. This not only adds to the weight being carried by the back but can also lead to pressure on nerves in the back that were not affected before the pregnancy. This can be the cause of sciatica and this will generally get better after your delivery but developing these symptoms may suggest you are prone to developing sciatica back pain later in life.
- Hormones: As you will almost certainly know, pregnancy is associated with significant hormonal changes. Some of these lead to changes in the flexibility of the joints and ligaments of the pelvis, particularly towards the end of your pregnancy and before delivery. As a result of these changes, pain may develop from the new stresses being placed on the structures of the pelvis, causing pelvic pain or a condition called symphysis pubis dysfunction.
What can I do to prevent and treat back pain in pregnancy?
The suggestions below should be considered by all pregnant women whether they have developed back pain in pregnancy or not. A good routine for exercising and stretching the back and pelvic muscles can only be of benefit to your pregnancy and labour.
- Pelvic floor exercises: There are many pelvic floor exercises available on the internet and no doubt you will be familiar with some of them. A similar exercise of squeezing your pelvic floor muscles for up to 10 seconds and repeating this several times is a good starter exercise that can be done anywhere.
- Improve your posture: Try sitting up more straight and also consider buying either a foot rest or maternity brace.
- Exercise: Try some simple back exercises or other activities such as swimming – which is ideal in both pregnancy and all those suffering back pain. A good way to exercise and also to improve your posture is to use an exercise ball – even as a replacement for an office chair!
- Sleeping: Ensure you have a good supportive mattress or mattress cover and consider buying a good quality maternity pillow to help you sleep.
- Warmth and massage: A warm bath followed by some stretching or a massage can work wonders for back pain in pregnancy.
Try the above measures but in any case you should be seeking a review from your doctor so they are aware of the situation and can advise you further if things do not seem to be improving.