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How to Relieve Back Pain During Pregnancy

Lower back pain during pregnancy is very common. The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent or relieve pregnancy-related low back pain. Get-Fit Guy, Dr. Jonathan Su, shows you simple things you can do to get immediate relief. 

By
Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT
5-minute read
Episode #554
The Quick And Dirty

5 tips to relieve back pain:

  1. Wear a maternity support belt
  2. Improve your posture
  3. Sleep on your side
  4. Exercise most days of the week
  5. Perform progressive muscle relaxation

Lower back pain during pregnancy is very common, affecting more than one-half of pregnant women. The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent or relieve pregnancy related low back pain.

Having recently helped my partner work through low back pain during two pregnancies, this is a familiar topic and one I care about deeply. 

Causes of low back pain during pregnancy

Pain in the lower back usually occurs between the 5th and 7th months of pregnancy, although in some cases it begins as early as 8 to 12 weeks. The pain is usually located in the lumbar area in the center of the back between the ribs and the waist. Pain is also common in the back of the pelvis between the waist and the tailbone.

Although back pain is common during pregnancy, there are simple things you can do to ease or avoid it.

There are several causes of lower back pain in pregnant women and here are some of the more common ones:

Hormone changes

Your body makes a hormone called relaxin that allows ligaments in the pelvic area to loosen in preparation for childbirth. The same hormone causes ligaments that support the spine to loosen, leading to instability and pain in the back.

Weight gain

You typically gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Your back must support this additional weight all day long, which may cause strain. 

Posture change

Your center of gravity gradually shifts forward as your baby grows. This results in a shift in your posture and the way you move that may result in back pain. 

Stress

There can be a lot of stress during pregnancy, which may cause your muscles to tense. You may experience this tension in your back during periods of increased stress. 

5 tips to relieve back pain during pregnancy 

Although back pain is common during pregnancy, there are simple things you can do to ease or avoid it. Here are 5 things you can do (with your doctor’s approval, of course): 

Wear a maternity support belt

A maternity support belt is designed for those suffering from lower back pain during pregnancy. It wraps around your belly and waist to lessen the burden of pregnancy weight, support your lower back, and help you get relief from pelvic or sacroiliac pain. A maternity support belt is especially helpful when you’re going to be on your feet for a prolonged period of time.

Improve your posture

Hanging your head forward, rounding your shoulders, or slouching your torso are the hallmarks of poor posture that places increased strain on your lower back. Standing tall with your head over your shoulders, your shoulders over your torso, and your torso over your hips in standing or sitting will reduce back strain.

Sleep on your side

Sleeping on your side using a pillow between your knees to keep your spine and hips straight will take stress off your back and help give you a good night's sleep.

Exercise most days of the week

Research shows that compared with not exercising, prenatal exercise decreases the severity of low back pain during and following pregnancy. A review that included 135 studies concluded that prenatal exercise is safe and beneficial for the fetus. Try to spend 20 to 45 minutes on most days of the week walking, swimming, or cycling on a stationary bike at a mild to moderate intensity level.

Perform progressive muscle relaxation

With the amount of stress that can accompany pregnancy, it’s no wonder mind-body techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation have been shown in studies to be effective for reducing low back pain during pregnancy. Start by laying in a comfortable position with relaxing music playing in the background. Tense the muscles in your feet for a few seconds and then release, simultaneously relaxing all other muscle groups in your body. Continue in the same manner for about 15 to 20 minutes in the calf, thigh, gluteal muscles, abdomen, chest, hands, forearms, shoulders, neck, face, and finally the forehead.

4 simple core exercise to relieve back pain

A strong core can also relieve pressure on your back and support proper posture during pregnancy. What a lot of people don’t know is that the core muscles are more than just the abdominals. They also include the muscles of your hips and pelvis. It's safe to exercise your abs throughout your entire pregnancy with the proper modifications and your practitioner’s approval. Try performing the following 4 exercises every other day. Listen to your body and back off if you feel too much strain. Be sure to check out my YouTube videos for instructions on how to perform these exercises. 

Side plank

Lie on one side with your legs straight, feet stacked on top of each other, and bottom elbow is on the floor directly under your shoulder. Brace your core by lifting the pelvic floor and tightening the abdomen. Lift your torso, hips, and knees off the floor so that your body forms a straight line. Hold for up to 60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side. Perform up to 3 sets on each side. 

Side-lying leg lift

Lie on one side with your legs straight, feet stacked on top of each other, and your head resting on your bottom arm. Lift your top leg up 2 to 3 feet while keeping your knee straight and your toes pointed forward. Bring your leg back to the starting position. Work up to 20 repetitions and repeat on the opposite side. Perform up to 3 sets on each side.

Hip adductor squeeze

Lie on your back with your upper back and head propped up above your heart with your forearms or a wedge. Your knees are bent and your feet are on the floor slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Place a yoga block or thick bolster between your knees. Begin the exercise by squeezing your knees tightly together and holding for 5 seconds. You may feel a pulling in the back of your pelvis. From my experience, this is usually associated with a reduction in pelvic or sacroiliac pain immediately after this exercise. Work up to 15 repetitions and perform up to 3 sets.

Supported stationary lunges

Stand with your feet hip-width apart with one foot forward and one foot a giant step backward. Hold on to a table or counter for support. Lower your body until your back knee lightly touches the floor and then return to the starting position while keeping your feet fixed in place. Work up to 20 repetitions and repeat on the opposite side. Perform up to 3 sets on each side. ​

5-day pregnancy back pain challenge

Let’s put this knowledge to use with a 5-day pregnancy back pain challenge! Over the next five days, your challenge is to follow the tips and exercises (with your practitioner’s approval). Give it a try and let me know how you feel by emailing me at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leaving me a voicemail at 510-353-3104. 

 
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT

Dr. Jonathan Su is the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. He is a physical therapist and fitness expert whose mission is to make fitness accessible for everyone. Dr. Su is a former U.S. Army officer responsible for injury prevention, rehabilitation, and performance optimization for soldiers in the field. He is also the author of the bestseller Six-Minute Fitness at 60+.

Got a question for Dr. Su? You can email him at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leave him a message at the Get-Fit Guy voicemail line at (510) 353-3104.