There are (broadly speaking) two types of lower back pain you can get when pregnant –
- pregnancy-related back pain
- non-pregnancy-related back pain – you can get back pain when pregnant that has nothing to do with being pregnant 😉
The usual guidelines for recent onset (“acute”) lower back pain apply. There are some things you should be aware of though…
- If you feel severe back pain – especially early in your pregnancy – give the doc (or us) a ring, and get checked out.
- If your back pain is accompanied by other symptoms like spotting (or heavier bleeding), pain in your lower belly or pelvis area, or feeling unwell (feverish or nauseous), then also get checked out by the doc.
Pregnancy-related back pain
Pregnancy-related lower back pain is much more common in the second and third trimesters – as you get bigger and as your ligaments loosen to prepare for birth. The ligaments may loosen earlier than you would like, often resulting in the pelvic joints (sacro-iliacs and pubic symphysis) becoming painful with walking, turning over in bed, getting in and out of a car. The pain is often quite sharp on these kind of movements; the pain at the front is often very central and low down, but can be to either side. In some women it’s just the odd pain later in pregnancy but at the other end of the spectrum, full-blown Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) can be very disabling for the last few weeks of pregnancy (and beyond, which is even worse!), necessitating crutches and often a lot of rest. SPD can cause pain to spread down into the inner thighs, and can be accompanied by a grinding or clicking feeling in your pubic area.
Some lower back pain is totally related to the position the baby gets into; babies have been known to rest on one of the big spinal nerves towards the bottom of your back (causing pain down the front of your thigh) or deep in the pelvis (pain down the back of the thigh and leg “sciatica”).
The increased abdominal weight (baby and fluid) can increase the strain on a pre-existing lower back problem (including problems you didn’t know you had). I’ve seen quite a few women develop disc problems in the second half of pregnancy; chances are that the disc was already less-than-perfect and the extra weight was the “last straw on the camel’s back” 🙁
Your body goes through a lot of postural alignment changes in the second half of pregnancy, causing a change in the stresses on different parts of your body (especially your spine). Any resulting pains are often transitory, but if any pain persists for more than 4-5 days, it’s best to get some advice.
How to avoid pregnancy-related lower back pain and SPD
- Get fit before becoming pregnant
- Stay fit and well
- Don’t overdo it (especially if you’re experiencing pain already)
- Try to stick to the weight gain recommended by your midwife
- Be wary of lifting/carrying heavy weights
- Don’t twist when turning – move your feet
- Best to exercise in water (careful of breaststroke) and go to specialist pregnancy exercise classes
- If you’re super-fit, don’t expect to carry on the same level of exercise right through your pregnancy – make allowances! If you’re an exercise fanatic you can definitely overdo it.
- If you sit a lot, then make sure you’re following best-practice (which should be tailor-made to your anatomy – ask us for advice)