One of the common questions I hear from women who may only be a few weeks into their pregnancy, but who are already suffering from lower back pain is- “how can I already have back pain? I’ve only just found out! “
Naturally, these women are concerned that if they’re suffering at such an early stage, their pain will get worse throughout their pregnancy.
If you’re in your first few months of pregnancy and suffering back pain, this post is for you.
If you’re a little further along and still suffering, keep your eyes out for next week’s post where we discuss back pain in the second and third trimesters.
We’ve all heard stories of that ‘friend-of-a-friend’ who ended up on crutches for the last weeks/months of her pregnancy. And whilst this is an unfortunate result for some women, these cases and thankfully relatively rare, when compared to the number of women who experience mild to moderate discomfort.
The good news is though, that back pain, i.e., pain in and around the spine, as opposed to PGP or pelvic girdle pain (which you can read about here and here), is unlikely to lead to this type of an outcome.
Even better news is that in our experience, when women begin a course of treatment for back pain early in their pregnancy, they can often complete their gestation in significantly less pain.
In order for you to understand why you can experience lower back pain when you’re so early on in your journey, we need to explain some anatomy, and postural changes that occur in your body throughout pregnancy.
The pelvis can perform two main movements, which are called anterior and posterior rotation. These are best explained with the aid of this short video:
Now imagine that the posterior rotation is what’s happening in your spine now. In fact, there’s no need to imagine it, because that’s exactly what’s happening! It is the goal of this post to explain why this is, and what you can do about it.
Very early on in the pregnancy, your uterus begins to increase in size. This allows room for the developing placenta, increased fluids etc.
This growth means that other organs, such as your intestines and bladder, are also displaced. This is also the reason why you need to pee so often! It is the pressure of this displacement that causes your pelvis to become posteriorly rotated.
In this position, your Lumbar Spine (lower back) is relatively stretched.
If your back is unable to adapt to this stretch, it can become painful.
Early pregnancy back pain tip #1:
One strategy you can try at home is to perform the movement shown in the above video as an exercise. If you are less than 20 weeks pregnant, it is usually considered safe to lay on your back*. (*Speak to your midwife/GP/Obstetrician if you have any specific concerns about this.)
If you cannot lay on your back for any reason, you can try doing this exercise instead.
Perform either exercise 10-15 times in each direction. Try to get into the habit of doing this when you first wake up, and when you get into bed of an evening. This encourages free movement between the joints in your lower back.
Early Pregnancy Back Pain tip #2:
Have you also noticed that your breasts have gotten bigger?
A common event that occurs early on in the pregnancy is an increase in breast size. This adds weight at the front of your chest, which can round your shoulders and increase the curves in your upper back and neck.
This is compounded by the fact that as your pelvis posteriorly rotates, the rest of your spine has to accommodate this change, which often causes an increase in the curve in your upper back and neck.
If you’re in your first trimester and suffering from tension or pain in your upper back, shoulders, neck, or even headaches, this is very likely to be a contributing factor.
So, what can you do about all of these postural changes?
Many women find that their pre-pregnancy bras quickly become too small or uncomfortable in the early weeks/months of pregnancy. Often, they switch to more comfortable, but less supportive crop top type bras instead.
Having a supportive maternity bra fitted by someone who is well-trained in this process can help. This can help support the weight of your breasts, which can in turn allow your shoulders to sit further back.
In the ideal posture, if someone was to look at you from the side while you stood up, they would see that your shoulders were in line with your ears, which were in turn in line with your hips.
Supporting the weight of increasingly heavy breasts makes this more easily achievable.
Can’t get to the shops today to get this done? No worries- we’ve got one more tip for you…
Early Pregnancy Back Pain tip #3:
Another complication of heavier breasts and the postural changes that occur in the early weeks of pregnancy, is that your chest muscles can become tight. This can accentuate the rounding of your shoulders, and contribute to your lower back pain, or even upper back or neck pain, and headaches.
Performing stretches, such as the one shown here, is a simple and effective way to help take strain off this area.
Aim to hold the stretch for around 30 seconds, and repeat around 3 times a day.
These three strategies combined help address some key areas that can contribute to first trimester back pain. Give them a try and see how they work for you. We’d love to hear how you go! (Feel free to send us an email).
If you’ve tried these out, but you’re still in pain, our expert Osteopaths are well trained in managing pregnancy related pain. Give us a call on (03) 9372 7714, or book online today for personalised management strategies.