So you’ve just found out that you’re pregnant- congratulations!!!
If you’re like many women, then for now, it’s probably only you (and maybe your partner and a handful of close friends or family) that know this exciting little secret.
The only problem with this is- early pregnancy can bring with it a whole host of (usually unwelcome) challenges- morning sickness, frequent trips to the bathroom, fatigue like you’ve never, ever felt before, and sometimes, lower back pain.
…but it’s only heavily pregnant woman that suffer from back pain, right?
Whilst we’ve all seen and felt for those about-to-pop ladies who are clearly waddling their way towards their due date whilst managing lower back pain, the truth is, lower back pain can affect women at all stages of pregnancy.
But before we get to the reasons why you’re experiencing this pain, we need to make it clear exactly what we mean by ‘lower back pain’, and explain the prevalence and risk factors for it.
So what exactly do we mean by “lower back pain”?
There are two main areas that are affected by pain in pregnancy. One is in the region known as the “lower back”, and one is in the pelvic area, and is commonly known as “Pelvic Girdle Pain” or PGP. Unfortunately, a small percentage of women will be affected by both areas of pain.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on lower back pain.
Lower back pain during pregnancy is very similar to that experienced by women who are not pregnant. This means that the pain is located on one or both sides of your spine, and generally does not go into your buttock area, but it can at times refer to the lower leg or foot (2). It can be recurrent, or it can be continuous, and some of the terms sufferers use to describe it are ‘achey’, ‘tight’, ‘sharp’, ‘stabbing’, ‘pulling’ or ‘dull’.
How common is lower back pain in pregnancy?
Back pain is reported by 50-80% of women during pregnancy (1).
So as much as you don’t want to experience it, the good news for you is that you’re not alone and there isn’t necessarily anything ‘wrong’.
The time of onset of this pain varies, with some women (like you!) experiencing pain from the very early weeks.
What are the risk factors for lower back pain in pregnancy?
- If you have had a history of back pain, or a chronic back condition, you’re twice as likely to experience lower back pain during your pregnancy than someone who doesn’t.
- Despite the fact that many people think becoming pregnant at an “older” age will make it harder on your body, it has been shown that pregnant women who are younger than 20 years old are more likely to suffer from lower back pain.
- There also seems to be a need to strike a balance between being ‘sedentary’ and being very active, especially in your work. Studies have shown that people who are less active have an increased risk of pregnancy-related lower back pain than those who have a more active lifestyle. However, if you could describe your work as ‘mostly active’ or ‘physically demanding’, then you’re all at an increased risk of developing pain during pregnancy (1).
- The other bad news is- if you experience back pain during one pregnancy, it predisposes you to have it in any future preganancy also. In fact, this increases the risk from around 50% in your first pregnancy to around 85% in any later ones.
- On a similar note- the more pregnancies you have, the more likely you are to suffer lower back pain also.
Why you can suffer from lower back pain when you’re only a few weeks pregnant:
When you’re not pregnant, and in the first trimester or so of pregnancy, the uterus is contained within the bones of the pelvis.
Many women aren’t exactly sure what this means, so we’ve included a photo of the bony pelvis for you to get an idea. Can you see the ‘hollow’ area in the middle of the ring of the pelvic bones? This is where your uterus normally resides when you are not pregnant, or in the first three months or so of pregnancy.
From the moment of implantation, your uterus will begin to expand in size, ever so slightly each day. Because everything sits quite snugly in this bony ring, this growth will cause displacement of the structures that surround the uterus, meaning that they can in turn start to put pressure on other local structures.
The two structures that are closest to the uterus are your bowel and your bladder. Pressure on these is the reason behind all of those extra trips to the toilet that you probably weren’t expecting yet, and is also the reason why some women experience lower back pain from such an early stage in their pregnancy.
But how does this pressure cause lower back pain?
Your body’s response to the increase in size of the uterus, and the resultant pressure on the intestine (bowel) and bladder, is to posteriorly rotate your pelvis. Here is one of our favourite videos for explaining exactly what this means:
In a nutshell, this means that the curve in your lower back actually decreases slightly. Due to the anatomy of the bones in this area, this flattening of the curve results in a slight stretch of the tissues in between these bones. If your body struggles to adapt to this stretch, you can develop lower back pain.
So what can you do about it?
The great news is, there are two exercises you can do right now, in the comfort of your own home, that has the potential to help you tremendously.
The first one is to simply perform the exercise demonstrated in the video above. If you’re less than 20 weeks pregnant, it’s generally safe to lay on your back (although you should speak to your GP/Midwife/Obstetrician if you have any specific concerns).
The second thing you can do, is get your Yoga on, and perform this exercise.
Another strategy that has been proven to be helpful in pregnant women is to participate in water aerobics. Studies have shown that women who take part in these classes require less sick leave due to lower back pain during their pregnancy than women who do not (1).
Finally, you can do some exercises designed to help strengthen you gluteus medium muscle (2). We’re devoting a whole post to this, which is coming soon!
But what if exercise doesn’t help?
You can read more about pain in early pregnancy here.
All the evidence around pain management highlights the importance of education and self-management strategies. Exercise can be a great self-management tool. If you’d like to learn more about the dos and don’ts of exercise in pregnancy, you can read this post.
But sometimes, we all need a little extra help.
Our Osteopaths are highly trained in the area of pregnancy-related pain. We’ll be able to address any other factors that are specific to you
If you’ve been trying these exercises for a little while, but your pain isn’t going anywhere, it may be time to reach out for help.
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.
(1) Jennifer Sabino and Grauer, Jonathan N. Pregnancy and Low Back Pain. Curries Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2008 Jun; 1(2): 137 – 141. Accessed 28/6/19.
(2) P. Katonis et al. Pregnancy-related low back pain.. Hippokratioa 2011, 15, 3: 205-210. Accessed 28/6/19.