Children's Health and Wellness

Back Pain in Pregnancy

Why is back pain so common in pregnancy?

One of the most common complaints during pregnancy is back pain. In fact, it's estimated that more than half of all women experience some degree of back discomfort. Most back pain is related to the physical changes that occur during pregnancy, including hormones, changes in the center of gravity, and posture. Unfortunately, it typically worsens as pregnancy progresses.

How does pregnancy affect back pain?

Throughout pregnancy, hormones affect a woman's muscles and joints. The hormones relaxin and progesterone relax muscles and loosen ligaments and joints, especially in the pelvic area. The extra weight and body changes in pregnancy along with these loosened joints and ligaments can cause discomfort and even lead to injury. 

As your uterus grows and becomes heavier, your center of gravity changes, which can lead to problems with balance and the potential for falls. The weight of your baby and weakening of abdominal muscles pulls your lower spine forward, adding strain to back muscles. Many women respond by leaning back in an awkward posture, which increases back strain and pain.  

What can you do?

Some back pain can be prevented: 

  • Try using proper body mechanics. For example, if you need to pick something up, squat down, bending at your knees and keeping your back straight. Avoid bending over from your waist. 

  • Use good posture when sitting or standing and do back-strengthening exercises. Ask your health care provider about back exercises that are right for you.

  • Avoid activities that strain the back, such as lifting and moving heavy objects.   

  • Wear shoes that provide good support.

  • If you are already having discomfort, talk with your doctor. Back pain relief may require rest, supportive garments, or other treatment.

Prevention and treatment of back pain are important to avoid injury and to decrease the chance for long-term or chronic back pain. Because back pain in pregnancy can be a symptom of more serious problems including preterm labor, always talk with your doctor.   

Print Source: Physical therapy for Pregnancy-related low back and pelvic pain: a systematic review. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica . Stuge, B. MSc, PT. 2003: 82: 983-90.
Online Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Online Source: Up to Date: Musculoskeletal changes and pain during pregnancy and postpartum
Author: Bowers, Nancy BSN, RN, MPH
Online Editor: Green, Chelsea
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/25/2013
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