A woman’s body goes through some incredible changes during pregnancy. Major structures in her body will have to stretch and shift to support her growing child. These changes can be awe-inspiring but many of them can also be rather uncomfortable. Many of these discomforts begin in the first few weeks of pregnancy. But what causes these common pregnancy complaints? The easy answer is hormones and the extra stress and strain supporting a growing baby puts on Mom’s body. In this article we will explore the causes of back pain in pregnancy as well as some safe and effective ways to manage the discomfort and achieve back pain relief during pregnancy.
Back pain is such a common complaint that most women just accept it as a normal part of pregnancy. While some discomfort is normal, much of what women experience is complicated by hormones and changes in posture. When a developing embryo attaches to the uterine wall it signals mom’s body to start producing extra hormones. One of these hormones is appropriately named relaxin because it softens connective tissue. This softening is what allows the uterus to stretch up to 500 times its pre-pregnancy size. It also allows her internal organs to shift upward as baby grows, and her hips to widen in preparation for labor.
Unfortunately, all this stretching and weight gain can have some unpleasant side effects. Relaxin allows the abdominal muscles to stretch, making it harder for the core muscles to properly support the lower back. This also results in changes in mom’s posture as her center of gravity shifts forward. The back muscles have to work harder to compensate for this shift. When the muscles of the lower back have to work extra hard it causes muscle fatigue, spinal compression, and pain.
The sciatic nerves are the two longest nerves in the body. The nerve root passes through holes in the sacrum, then down through the pelvis and the back of both legs. With sciatica one or both nerve roots become pinched and irritated. The primary symptom of sciatica is mild to intense pain that radiates down the back of one or both legs. Patients with sciatica may also experience tingling and numbness in the lower extremities. While this nerve can become pinched at any time, it is a common complaint in pregnancy. Why does this occur? The uterus normally weighs only a few ounces, but during pregnancy it can weigh as much as 40 pounds. The extra weight puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the sciatic nerve, pinching it against the sacrum. This discomfort is also compounded baby’s position in the womb.
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction
Discomfort in the pelvis is a common pregnancy complaint. However, for some the pain becomes debilitating. The same hormone that allows the uterus to stretch with a growing baby also allows the pelvis to spread before delivery. In some cases the pelvis spreads too quickly or unevenly. When this happens, mom may experience a sharp, shooting pain in the pelvic region. This pain can radiate to the upper thighs and perineum as well. The discomfort may worsen when walking or performing weight-bearing activities. Patients commonly complain of increased discomfort when lifting one leg. For example, when getting dressed, climbing stairs, or getting in or out of the car. In rare cases the pelvic joint can separate, causing symptoms to worsen.
Finding Back Pain Relief During Pregnancy
Finding back pain relief during pregnancy can be challenging. Many of the medications and treatments doctors prescribe for back pain are not safe for use in pregnancy. Additionally, medications doctors consider safe for use in pregnancy may not be effective at reducing your symptoms. Depending on your circumstances, the following may be safe and effective options:
Heat and Cold –
When approved by your doctor, apply cold compresses on the affected area. Doctors recommend leaving the cold compress in place for up to 20 minutes, several times a day, for 2 – 3 days. Cold therapy reduces swelling and irritation that contribute to pain and further injury. After 2-3 days of cold, apply a warm water bottle or heating pad to the affected area to relax the muscle. Heat also helps increase blood flow to the affected area. Applying heat for up to 20 minutes stimulates increased blood flow. This increase in blood flow supports the body’s ability to heal itself. Applying heat to the abdomen during pregnancy is not recommended.
Maintaining a strong core during pregnancy helps prevent or relieve lower back pain. Pregnancy safe activities may include walking, swimming, and using an exercise bike. While these activities may help, they alone may not be enough to ease your back pain. Additionally, pregnancy may limit what types of exercise you are safely able to do. You may tire more easily and your joints are less stable during pregnancy. You will need to take it slow and listen to your body if you plan to begin a new regimen. Working with a licensed physical therapist who specializes in prenatal care greatly reduces this risk. There are also specific exercises which your provider can recommend to help with SPD.
Correct Posture –
Maintaining correct posture throughout your pregnancy can be very challenging. Poor posture often begins before pregnancy and only gets worse as as baby gets bigger. Poor posture and spinal misalignment are a ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario. It is often unclear which came first. However, we do know that poor posture causes misalignment in the spine and misalignment in the spine causes poor posture. Correcting poor posture necessitates that physicians also address these misalignments. Either way, these two factors contribute to imbalances in muscle strength and function. They also contribute to pinched nerves, ie sciatica.
Physical therapy and massage restores balance to muscle strength and function. Chiropractic adjustments help improve posture by correcting spinal misalignments. These three therapies often go hand in hand. Your doctor may also recommend ergonomic supports. Supports that encourage better posture when sitting or sleeping are especially helpful. For SPD doctors often recommend the use of a pregnancy support belt. This may also help correct posture but is best known for reducing pressure on the pubic bone. Reducing pressure on the pubic bone helps relieve discomfort associated with SPD.
Is Chiropractic Care Safe During Pregnancy
Chiropractors focus on tapping into the body’s natural ability to heal itself. They do this through a combination of spinal manipulation, physical therapy, and regenerative medicine. This multi-discipline approach allows the body to restore normal function. However, due to the hormone relaxin, connective tissues are more flexible in pregnancy. This means that physicians must be specially trained in how to assist patients who are expecting. Here at Freedom Health Center we believe in providing the best care possible to our patients. We take the health and safety of every patient very seriously. Specializing in prenatal adjustments, our staff are prepared to develop a care plan that safely addresses your needs and those of your growing baby.