Back Pain During Pregnancy: Causes & Cures

Surprise, surprise: Carrying a bowling ball on your waist for nine months can strain your back -- which is why pregnancy and back pain go together like Jägermeister and a hangover. Worst yet, many of the painkillers you might consider popping aren't an option because, hey, you're pregnant. The good news? You don't have to just grit your teeth and bear it until you give birth; the secret to alleviating your pain comes from understanding the biomechanics of how it happens. 


Tips for relieving pregnancy back pain

In a nutshell, pregnancy back pain happens due to shifts in your center of gravity. "The expanding uterus shifts your center of gravity forward, putting more strain on your back to keep you upright," explains Kenneth Hansraj, MD, a New York-based spine surgeon and author of Keys to an Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine. It also stretches out and weakens your abdominal muscles, so they can't pitch in with your posture as much as normal.

The solution, then, is to compensate for these weak links in your posture with the following strategies:

1. Exercise. While moving more might strike you as pure masochism, it will actually alleviate your achy back. "Even just a short walk can help," says Dr. Hansraj. The reason: "Walking helps to tighten stomach muscles for a few seconds and then allows them to relax. This tightening and relaxation process helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles, which, in turn, helps provide stability of the lower back. Additionally, walking works the spinal nerves and spinal facet joints." Aquatic/water-based exercises are also a great option for pregnant women, since gravity won't be much of an issue. The result: less pressure on your spine and less pain. 

2. Pay attention to your posture. We know this is hard to do as your baby bump grows, but try to stand as straight up as possible without leaning too far back or slouching. "Doing so can apply more pressure to the spine and make the pain worse," warns Dr. Hansraj. If pregnant women are having trouble with this, they should ask their physicians about a "sacroiliac belt," which is a supportive device used to stabilize the back and pelvis and reduce pain in these areas.

3. Avoid high heels. Sure, countless pregnant celebs wear their Jimmy Choos and make the rest of humanity feel like frumps ... but even a kitten heel isn't worth the risk. That's because heels tilt your already precarious posture to an even crazier angle. Plus, who wants to risk tripping and falling with that precious parcel you're carrying upfront?

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4. Stretch. Many of the postures in a prenatal yoga class can do wonders for back pain during pregnancy. "Cat/cows are a great yet simple exercise that can help expecting moms get release from a tight back," says Erica Ziel, a prenetal yoga instructor and author of The Knocked-Up Fitness Guide to Pregnancy. "Kneeling on all fours, exhale as you round your spine toward the sky and inhale as you arch, allowing your low back to stretch."

5. Sleep the right way. Pregnant women should always try to sleep on their sides, since this is the least pressure-inducing position for the spine, says Dr. Hansraj. "Additionally, women should look into special pregnancy pillows to place between the knees to eliminate additional pressure on the spine while sleeping," he adds.

6. Try acupuncture. Since you can't pop painkillers, acupuncture may be the next best thing. "Many women have found relief with this modality," says Jessica Valant, a physical therapist and Pilates instructor at Pilates Happy Hour. "Just make sure to find an acupuncturist who is experienced with pregnancy."

7. Get a massage. "Massage not only helps the muscles in the back relax, but promotes good circulation and optimum blood flow to the lower back, which will aid in healing," says Vivian Eisenstadt Anne, an orthopedic physical therapist in Los Angeles. And besides, she adds, "you're carrying a new life into this world! Don't you think you deserve a good massage?"

How did you cope with back pain while pregnant?


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