Thumbnail image of: Low Back Pain: Illustration

Low Back Pain during Pregnancy

What is low back pain?

Low back pain is pain, aching and stiffness in the lower back.

What is the cause?

During pregnancy back pain often happens because of:

  • A change in your body’s center of gravity as the baby and your belly get bigger
  • Poor posture (When you are pregnant, you may tend to throw your stomach forward, which can cause back muscle aches.)
  • A loosening of the muscles and ligaments caused by pregnancy hormones
  • The pressure that the growing baby puts on blood vessels and nerves in your pelvis and back

You may also have pain if any part of your back is injured, strained, or affected by illness.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain or aching in your back or legs
  • Tingling or numbness in your legs or feet
  • Stiffness, spasms, or limited motion

The pain may be constant or may happen only in certain positions. It may get worse when you cough, sneeze, bend, twist, or strain during a bowel movement. The pain may be in only one spot or it may spread to other areas, most commonly down the buttocks and into the back of your thigh.

Contact your healthcare provider if the pain in your back comes in waves, like labor, or if you have other symptoms such as:

  • Your water breaks (a clear, watery vaginal discharge).
  • You have vaginal bleeding.
  • Your baby is not moving as much.
  • You have pain in your belly.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the back and spinal cord

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you:

  • Take pain medicine or a muscle relaxant that is safe during pregnancy
  • Wear a belt or brace designed to support your back
  • Get physical therapy or do exercises at home that strengthen your back muscles and are safe and easy for you to do while you are pregnant

Some alternative treatments include acupuncture and chiropractic treatment. Check with your healthcare provider before you try any alternative treatments or natural remedies.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Put a hot water bottle or electric heating pad on your back. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad on low so you don’t burn your skin.
  • Rest in bed on a firm mattress. It’s best to try to stay active, so try not to rest in bed longer than 1 to 2 days or the time your provider recommends.
  • Get a back massage by someone trained in giving massages.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How long it will take to recover
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent low back pain?

Here are some of the things you can do so there is less strain on your back:

  • Get some exercise every day. Exercising regularly will not only help your back. It will also help keep you healthier overall.
  • Practice good posture.
    • Stand with your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward, weight balanced evenly on both feet.
    • Whenever you sit, sit in a straight-backed chair and hold your spine against the back of the chair.
    • Try not to stand for long periods of time. Use a footrest for one foot if you have to stand or sit in one spot for a long time. This keeps your back straight.
  • Protect your back.
    • Try to avoid lifting heavy objects. If you need to lift something, bend your knees and hips and keep your back straight. Do not lift heavy objects higher than your waist.
    • When you need to move a heavy object, don’t face the object and push with your arms. Turn around and use your back to push backwards so the strain is taken by your legs.
    • Carry packages close to your body, with your arms bent.
    • Lie on your side with your knees bent when you sleep or rest. It may help to put a pillow between your knees. Put a pillow under your knees when you sleep on your back. Try to keep a healthy weight during your pregnancy. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should expect to gain.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes while you are pregnant.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-22
Last reviewed: 2014-09-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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