Ask any pregnant woman and she can tell you: pregnancy is hard on your back. In fact, approximately 80% of women report having back pain while pregnant, and many of those women have not reported having had a pre-existing spinal disorder. Posture changes, weight gain, and loss of abdominal strength all directly affect the health of your back. So even though you may have pre-existing back conditions that go unnoticed or one that hasn’t produced any symptoms, becoming pregnant often exacerbates an unknown previous condition. What’s more, hormonal changes in pregnancy loosen your joints and the ligaments that attach your pelvic bones to your spine. This can make you feel less stable and cause pain when you walk, stand, sit for long periods, roll over in bed, get out of a low chair or the tub, bend, or lift things.
There are two common patterns of low back pain in pregnancy: Lumbar pain occurs in the area of the lumbar vertebrae in your lower back, and posterior pelvic pain is felt in the back of your pelvis. Some women have symptoms of both types of low back pain.
Lumbar pain is like the low back pain you may have experienced before you were pregnant. You feel it over and around your spine approximately at the level of your waist. You might also have pain that radiates to your legs. Even more pregnant women have posterior pelvic pain, which is felt lower on your body than lumbar pain. You may feel it deep inside the buttocks, on one or both sides or the back of your thighs.
So what can you do? One common piece of medical advice is to focus on your health before getting pregnant. Often times, as your OBGYN may tell you, exercise is a great place to start. Check with your pregnancy caregiver before beginning an exercise program though, because there are some situations in which you may have to limit exercise or forgo it altogether.
So if you can exercise, these are some possible things to keep in mind:
Focus on exercises that engage your core muscles. Pelvic tilts are great for working your abdominal muscles. Focusing on your abdominal strength before getting pregnant is important, even though it may seem like a waste of time because pregnancy causes your abdominal muscles naturally relax and lose tone.
Abdominal strength is connected to spine strength because your abdominal muscles support your back muscles. If you have a weak midsection, your back muscles will have to work harder to compensate. Building a strong core before you get pregnant will stave off the muscle relaxation process. As a result, you’ll experience less pain throughout your pregnancy and your body will recover faster after you give birth. Also, strong muscles will help prevent weight gain. Weight gain puts more pressure on the back and will likely worsen any pre-existing problems with your back.
Stretching exercises to help the muscles that support the back and legs become more flexible. Be careful to stretch gently, because stretching too quickly or too much can put further strain on your joints, which have been made looser by pregnancy.
Prenatal yoga is one good way to stay limber, and it can help improve your balance, too.
Swimming is a great exercise option for pregnant women because it strengthens your abdominal and lower back muscles, and the buoyancy of the water takes the strain off your joints and ligaments. Consider signing up for a prenatal water exercise class. There is clinical research suggesting that water exercise may decrease the intensity of back pain during pregnancy.
Walking is another option to consider. It’s low impact and easy to make part of your daily routine.
You should discuss all these options with your primary care provider or your OB/GYN to make sure that you are cleared for exercise and to help tailor a program for you if you are. Keep in mind that those pre-existing back conditions (which you may not even know you have) will tend to be brought to the forefront during a pregnancy. But a good rule of advice is that it is important to be proactive about your health, especially if a baby is in your future.