When a woman imagines what it is like to be pregnant, joyful and wondrous thoughts usually fill her mind. She may also imagine what her body will look and feel like as she progresses through her pregnancy. One of the things she will probably not think about initially is back pain. Yes, back pain. Studies show that between 50 to 80 percent of pregnant women will experience back pain at some point during their pregnancies.
From the very early stages of pregnancy, hormonal changes begin to occur in the female body leading to the softening of muscles, tendons, and ligaments as the body prepares for the growth of the fetus and ultimately delivery. As the fetus grows inside the mother's uterus, her abdomen enlarges and changes the center of mass or gravity in her body, drawing it forward, tightening the lower spine and its supporting musculature. A pregnant woman's feet can become pronated or flattened and enlarged due to her increasing weight and the laxity in ligaments, rendering decreased shock absorption to the spinal column. As the baby enlarges, it may put pressure on the nerves of the mother's lower spine and pelvis. These phenomena can all contribute to back pain, in particular low back pain.
Enlarging breasts and a change in the shape of the ribcage to accommodate baby can also contribute to upper back and neck pain.
Some say this discomfort is just a part of your prenatal experience. Well, expectant moms need not suffer in silence. There are some simple solutions that may help minimize and prevent back pain during pregnancy.
- Exercises that target strengthening of the feet, legs and spine as well as posture exercises will assist in providing support for the back and abdomen.
- Gentle yoga-like stretches to the spine may also provide relief for tension and soreness in the back.
- It is generally considered safe to exercise in the same way that you have been exercising prior to pregnancy.It is NOT recommended to begin a vigorous workout if you have not regularly exercised in this way prior to pregnancy.If you have any doubts, consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner before beginning any new exercise regimen when pregnant.
- Wear shoes with adequate arch support, shock absorptive soles and enough room for your toes to wiggle.
- Use special low back supports that are designed for pregnancy by providing a lift to the abdomen.
- Wear a supportive bra designed for pregnancy to help lift the breasts and reduce strain on the neck and upper back.
- Physical therapy to relieve pressure to the pelvis and spine, as well guidance for a safe exercise program can also be beneficial.
When a mother-to-be can take her mind off back pain, she can better focus on the miracle of life within her.
Luba Starostiak has been practicing physical therapy for nearly two decades. She is a board-certified orthopedic specialist and has served on staff at several New York teaching hospitals including Hospital for Special Surgery, Hospital for Joint Diseases, and Helen Hayes Hospital.