In addition to heartburn, swollen ankles, morning sickness, fatigue, mood swings and weight gain, another not-so-pleasant consequence of pregnancy that many women experience is back pain. Fortunately, back pain – like the other symptoms – usually goes away after delivery. But in the meantime, the mom-to-be can take steps to treat, or even prevent, back pain by following a few simple steps.
Causes of Back Pain
Back pain occurs for many reasons. Weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds is typical during pregnancy and this additional weight must be supported by the back. A woman’s center of gravity gradually shifts forward as the uterus becomes heavier resulting in changes in posture that can cause pain. Back support is affected by an increase in hormones that relax ligaments in the pelvic area and make the joints looser in preparation for delivery.
While back pain may not be prevented completely, women can reduce its severity or frequency by:
- Exercising regularly to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility. Good exercises for pregnant women, with a health care provider’s approval, include swimming, walking, or riding a stationary bicycle. Exercises also can be done to strengthen the back and abdomen.
- Wearing low-heeled (not flat) shoes with a good arch support.
- Sitting with feet slightly elevated in a chair that provides back support. Try to avoid sitting for long periods of time.
- Getting plenty of rest and sleeping on the side with one or both knees bent. Placing a pillow between the knees and under the abdomen also may help.
- Putting one foot on a stool or box when standing for a long period.
- Wearing a maternity support belt.
- Not bending from the waist to pick up something. Instead, squat down and lift with the legs. Ask for help if the object is too heavy.
- Applying heat or cold to the painful area. A massage also may be beneficial.
- Taking medications as approved by a health care provider to relieve pain, such as acetaminophen. Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen unless prescribed by your doctor.
Back pain usually starts in mid-pregnancy due to strain on back muscles caused by the growing uterus. Because of the resulting shift in the center of gravity, many women start to lean backward. This can make the back muscles work harder, resulting in general pain in the lower back and occasional shooting pain in the buttocks or upper legs. Pain can worsen when lying on the back, sitting upright in a chair, getting out of bed, or rolling over at night.
Back pain usually is not a reason to see the doctor. However, women who experience pain for more than two weeks, severe pain, rhythmic cramping or sudden pain should contact their health care provider.
For more information about back pain during pregnancy, talk with your doctor or visit the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website at www.acog.org for examples of exercises that can help lessen backache and promote good posture.