Smart Ways to Ease Your Pregnancy Back Pain at Home

Because pregnancy isn't taxing enough with morning sickness, mood swings and continuous fatigue.

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Although having a baby can be wonderful, being pregnant is rarely a piece of cake. From morning sickness to fatigue to urinary troubles, pregnancy can cause uncomfortable symptoms and take a real toll on your body. And one of the most pervasive issues? Lower back pain.

Back pain in pregnancyBack pain is one of the most pervasive complaints during pregnancy.

“Back pain in pregnancy is so common as to be the norm,” says Marjorie Meyer, MD, an OBGYN and the Division Chief of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine in Burlington. Experts estimate at least 50 percent of pregnant women—and perhaps up to 80 percent—will experience it at some point.

Fortunately, back pain during pregnancy is rarely severe. “It is uncommon for back emergencies that need surgery or intervention to happen in pregnancy,” Dr. Meyer explains. And, the discomfort usually disappears once you have the baby.

Since that’s not exactly helpful while you’re pregnant and your back is screaming, check out these proven ways to find relief at home. Here’s why you might develop pregnancy back pain, along with steps you can take to feel better.

Reasons for Back Pain in Pregnancy

Back pain can occur during any trimester, though it frequently arises in later months as the baby—and your belly—grows. The pain can be mild or severe, and it often occurs in the lower back. Some women have greater odds going into pregnancy, such as women who are overweight and those who already have back problems.

You don’t have to have pre-existing back problems, however. Pregnancy itself changes your body in ways that can lead to back pain. For example, as your uterus becomes heavier, extra strain is placed on your back muscles, which can alter your posture and cause discomfort.

“Pregnancy changes your center of gravity and accentuates the curve in the lower back,” Dr. Meyer explains. “Weak abdominal muscles and core strength will make the back curvature changes worse, since these muscles stabilize your back.” This, in turn, can cause pain.

But that’s not all. When you’re pregnant, your body releases a hormone called relaxin that loosens ligaments—the tissue that connects bones to each other—in your pelvis. This loosening can affect back support and contribute to pain.

Other reasons women experience back pain during pregnancy include—but are not limited to—stress, poor posture, too much standing, injury and trauma.

Tips for Back Pain Relief at Home

There are plenty of ways you may be able to ease your pregnancy back pain without medical intervention. Here’s where to start:

Pay attention to your posture. When you stand up, make sure you stand straight with your shoulders held back. If you have to remain standing for an extended period, elevate one foot on a box or stool to relieve the pressure on your back. Try to avoid standing for too long, however, and remember to take regular breaks to get off your feet.

Speaking of—maintain good posture when you’re sitting down, too. Find ergonomic chairs both at home and at work that will support your back. You may want to purchase a small cushion or pillow to place behind your lower back, along with a stool or footrest for elevating your feet.

Don’t lift anything too heavy, either, and avoid bending at the waist to hoist items up off the floor. Instead, you should squat, bend your knees, and lift with your legs—and never with your back.

Exercise. Regular physical activity may help prevent and ease back pain, in addition to all its other benefits. The best time to start is prior to conception. “Simple exercises before you get pregnant to improve core strength will help a lot, as will being as close to a healthy weight as possible before pregnancy, which has the additional benefit of reducing pregnancy risks and cesarean delivery risk,” Dr. Meyer says.

Back pain pregnancy exerciseYoga can be a safe, helpful form of exercise when you're pregnant.

Once you’re pregnant, mild or moderate exercise can help you get a handle on back pain and prep your body for childbirth. Focus on gentle workouts that will strengthen your back, core and quad (leg) muscles. Walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, and stretches are often recommended for pregnant women, but always ask your healthcare provider which regimens are best for you.

“Movement is actually better than rest,” Dr. Meyer says. “Working with a physical therapist or other person experienced in back strengthening will help.”

Consider your wardrobe. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes. Skip high heels altogether and beware of flats, which often lack arch support. Sometimes, shoe inserts can help.

You may want to buy a maternity support belt for back pain relief, too. While there isn’t much scientific proof they work, many pregnant women swear by them.

Adjust your sleep. Try dozing on one side with your knees bent, perhaps with a pillow between your knees or placed under your abdomen. You might also want to sleep on a firmer mattress, which can support your back better than a softer, squishier mattress. If this isn’t doable, consider placing a stiff piece of board under your mattress for added firmness.

Take naps and make sure you get the sleep you need, too, especially as you approach the later weeks of your pregnancy. Easier said than done, we know; warm baths may help relax you.

Think about complementary practices. Some women find non-mainstream approaches such as acupuncture and prenatal massage helpful for easing back pain. Before you try one, talk to your OBGYN. Together, you can decide whether it’s the best choice for you. If you go ahead, make sure your masseuse or other practitioner has experience working with pregnant women.

What About Pain Medication?

Some over-the-counter medications may help ease lower back pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been linked in studies to pregnancy complications, and Dr. Meyer recommends against using them. Instead, she says, “acetaminophen is just as effective and safe in pregnancy.” Other drugstore purchases like hot and cold compresses or pain relief ointments may also be useful.

Regarding medication, one critical issue is the potential for opioid abuse. “It is important to know [that] back pain is a leading cause of opioid prescribing during pregnancy,” Dr. Meyer cautions. “Do not expect opioid pain medications and, even if offered, if you think you can get by without them, it is best for your health.”

In general, pregnant women should always speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new medication.

When to Get Medical Help for Pregnancy Back Pain 

Though some back pain is normal during pregnancy, severe pain, sudden pain, or pain that goes longer than two weeks may be a sign of a more serious health problem. It could indicate preterm labor, for example, or perhaps a urinary tract infection or kidney stone. Call you doctor if you experience these symptoms, or any of the following:

  • Back pain that doesn’t improve
  • Back pain on one side of the body
  • Back pain with weakness in one or both legs
  • Rhythmic back pains
  • Back pain accompanied by vaginal bleeding, fever, urinary burning or a change in vaginal discharge
     

Another symptom to watch for: “If you suddenly cannot walk due to pain or weakness, call your provider,” Dr. Meyer advises. You should also reach out if you lose feeling in your back, legs, bottom or pelvis. Numbness could indicate a compressed nerve.

The Bottom Line

Though pregnancy back pain usually fades once you’ve given birth, you can take steps in the meantime to ease your discomfort. Ask your OBGYN for recommendations, and remember: They want your pregnancy to be as safe and comfortable as you do.

Updated on: 05/15/20
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4 Tips to Help Reduce Back Pain During Pregnancy
Benjamin T. Bjerke, MD, MS
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4 Tips to Help Reduce Back Pain During Pregnancy

Yoga instructor shares 4 important ways she personally found to help alleviate back pain during pregnancy.
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