Lower Back Pain in Pregnancy
Experts identify two common patterns of low back pain in pregnancy, namely, lumbar pain, and posterior pelvic pain. Some women may experience symptoms of both types of low back pain.
Lumbar pain, which is very common during pregnancy, occurs in the low back, at the level of, or slightly higher than, the waist. Around 50 to 70 percent of pregnant women experience such type of pain at any point between conception and childbirth, but can be more troublesome in the late pregnancy. This pain usually radiates to the legs and tends to be more intense at the end of the day. It can be triggered by sitting, standing for long periods, or by repetitive lifting.
Meanwhile, posterior pelvic pain is experienced deep inside the buttocks, on one or both sides, in the back of the thighs, below the waist, and/or across the tailbone or sacrum. Posterior pelvic pain occurs four times more often than lumbar pain during pregnancy. It can be aggravated by bending, twisting, rolling over in bed, climbing stairs, and prolonged leaning forward similar to what occurs when one sits at a desk for long periods. Women who have posterior pelvic pain are also prone to develop pain over their pubic bone. Posterior pelvic pain is oftentimes mistaken as sciatica, which refers to the sharp, shooting pain experienced in the back, buttocks and, more severely in the legs when the sciatic nerve is pinched. This pain is usually accompanied by numbness that radiates all the way to the groin, genital areas, and the toes. True sciatica, however, affects only about one percent of pregnant women. But then, if she thinks she has sciatica, a pregnant woman must see her doctor immediately, especially if she loses sensation or weakness in one or both legs, groin, bladder, or anus.
Back Pain in Pregnancy
Normally, pain in the lower back is a common occurrence in as many as 80 percent of pregnant women. Its causes include implantation, hormonal and posture changes, weight gain, and stress.
During the implantation, many women experience aching pain and cramping in their low back during the early stage of pregnancy when the newly formed embryo implants itself into their uterus. When a woman is expecting a baby, her body normally produces a variety of hormones, one of which is called relaxin, which relaxes and loosens the ligaments and discs in a woman’s back that support her upper body. Studies estimate that about 20 percent of all pregnant women suffer from back pain caused by hormonal changes to their sacroiliac joints. Because of this, they feel wobbly and find it painful to stand, walk, sit for pro-long period of time, rolling in bed, bend, get out from bath tub or low chair, and also lifting things. Besides, a woman’s expanding uterus shifts her centre of gravity and stretches out and weakens her abdominal muscles, thus altering her posture and putting strain on her back. Compression of her nerves due to the baby’s position, particularly towards the end of pregnancy, may also cause her pain. This pain is sometimes accompanied by muscle spasms or cramps in the lower back. Moreover, as the fetus grows, the woman’s weight also increases, and her back gets strained from supporting the extra weight.
However, a pregnant woman may not have to put up with lower back pain as there are several steps that she can do to reduce or eliminate it. One of the best treatments for lower back pain especially during the early stage of pregnancy is exercise. Pelvic rocking, mini-crunches, and walking are generally excellent exercises that help relieve back pain. She should also practice safe lifting techniques. However, since each pregnancy differs from one woman to another, and from pregnancy to pregnancy, it is advisable that she consults with her doctor prior to doing exercises.
Maintaining good posture plays an important role in avoiding back pain during pregnancy, especially in the later stage, as the woman’s centre of gravity changes. To keep proper posture, she should keep her shoulders slightly up and back, chin up, head should be centred over her shoulders, concentrate on using her abdominal muscles to slightly flatten the arch in her back, and keep her knees lightly bent. In addition, she should avoid slouching wherever possible. When sitting, she should make sure to place a rolled up towel or a lumbar cushion behind her lower back; and if her lounge chair causes her to slouch, she must prop herself up with cushion or pillows. Moreover, a pregnant woman must refrain from using high-heeled shoes.
As her pregnancy progresses, the woman’s need to rest also increases to lessen the possibility of getting frequent lower back pain. Although it may be difficult for some pregnant women to sleep, she should try to sleep on her side with a pillow in between her knees to keep her back relaxed.
However, if her lower back pain persists, the pregnant woman must seek help from her health care provider to determine the exact cause of her pain, so that she may get proper treatment.