Back pain and pregnancy
I thought I should at least apologise in advance for being a male before offering pregnant women ‘advice’ but I also spent nearly 9 months listening to my wife complaining about the effects of her pregnancy and feeling as useful as a screwdriver in a box of nails.
Suffice to say, my wife didn’t share the idyllic pregnancy many woman hope for and the back pain she suffered affects up to three-quarters of pregnant women, so I hope these tips prove useful.
Lower back pain and pelvic girdle pain towards the end of the first trimester can suddenly make lifting and reaching forward a whole new challenge. With all those well-intentioned but slightly over-helpful people insisting you don’t carry anything heavy, and your own common sense, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll have strained a muscle or burst (herniated) a disc. However the symptoms can be similar, whether confined to the lower back or spreading down into the pelvis and thighs, as in sciatica.
That's right, blame the hormones!
Way before your baby is big enough to cause discomfort, a hormone called relaxin gets to work to, er, relax the ligaments of the pelvis, creating space for the growing baby and the birth itself. The moving bones pull the muscles attached to them and they end up longer and less supportive, between weeks 10 – 14, as this is when relaxin peaks. Many women begin to experience backache around this time.
Thinking ahead: can I avoid back pain during pregnancy?
Oh yes, and thank you for being so organised! A combination of exercises that tone all the lower back and abdominal muscles will mean more support for the baby as it grows and less strain on you.
Sit-ups, side planks and the ‘superman’ cover the key areas and can be practised both before you become pregnant and up to 3 months into your pregnancy. If you’ve had a previous lower back injury or are unfit, you’re more likely to suffer back pain in pregnancy so try to find 10 minutes a day to begin these exercises.
Too late, I'm suffering now!
Thought you might be. Getting up from sitting or standing for long periods or even the most simple things like turning over can make you feel rotten. Maybe you have leg cramps too? Keeping moving is key to avoid stiffening up.
Aqua natal exercise classes at your local pool are some of the best exercises you can choose. Not only are they given by a qualified instructor, and are therefore safe, but the water helps support your baby, giving your poor back an hour off. Walking and swimming are helpful and safe too.
At home, you can safely stretch out your back by standing about 1.0m from a table and bending forward so that your outstretched forearms and head rest on the table top. Use the friction of your skin to gently pull you forward, while at the same time using your legs to resist this. A few stretches of 20 seconds each should help.
Leg cramps are often centred on the calf muscles. Never stretch while a cramp is in progress because you risk straining the contracted muscles. Instead try to draw some circles with your toes whilst standing on the opposite foot. When the cramp has subsided, and to help prevent future ones, stand at arms-length from a wall and lean into it so that your elbows are on the wall. Push your heels into the floor and hold for 20 seconds.
Don’t forget the simple things. A rolled-up towel inserted behind the lower back can make sitting at a desk or car seat a lot more comfortable, as can placing a pillow between your knees if you like to sleep on your side.
There aren’t too many muscle rubs that are safe in pregnancy because of the active ingredients and various fragrances they often contain, but having someone gently massage your lower back using some olive oil to relax tired muscles and applying Atrogel for when you’re in pain are safe and effective treats for those days when you’re not feeling the ‘blossom’.