It is no secret that pregnancy, labour and parenthood put a huge strain on you and your body.
From general tiredness to aching backs and limbs and even debilitating conditions such as pubic symphysis dysfunction, there are a myriad of potential problems facing mums and mums to be.
One of the most common complaints is low back pain, which is experienced by up to 80% of expectant mothers, and may be accompanied by pelvic, groin and leg pain. It may also persist for several months after giving birth – the very time you could do without it!
By understanding the common causes of back pain, you can find ways to prevent and reduce it.
One major factor is the weight and size of your baby. At up to 6kg, this places extra strain on the joints of your lumbar spine and pelvis, and on the muscles of your back and tummy.
There is a natural arch in your low back which is designed to act as a shock absorber. You can see it if you look at someone side on. Carrying the weight of a baby causes this arch to become exaggerated, which may reduce its shock absorbing ability and lead to pinching of the small joints in your spine. This is turn makes it harder for your back muscles to keep you upright. They may go in to spasm, resulting in tiredness, aching and stiffness in your low back.
During pregnancy your abdominal muscles become stretched. They may also separate (this is called diastasis recti). This means your abdominal muscles can’t contract to support your low back quite as easily as pre-pregnancy. This can further increase the pressure going through your low back.
Your pelvis also takes a lot of the strain of carrying a baby. It begins to tilt forward, further increasing the curve in your low back. Pressure is placed upon the three joints in the pelvis; the pubic symphysis at the front, and two sacro-iliac joints at the back. The pubic symphysis may widen by up to 9mm.
This may cause the pelvic bones to move slightly out of their normal positions, which in turn causes you to feel pain in your low back and legs. To make matters worse, the baby sometimes come to rest on a bundle of nerves in the abdomen, which can cause shooting pains and numbness in the leg.
Our joints are usually supported by ligaments, which bind bone to bone. During pregnancy these ligaments become a looser than normal thanks to a hormone called relaxin. While this is necessary for childbirth, it has the unfortunate side effect of reducing the stability of your joints and thus aggravating the problems discussed above.
Thankfully, there are many simple but effective techniques for managing back pain.
- Prevention is better than cure.
If you are generally active and healthy, have good muscle tone and core strength and don’t usually suffer from back pain you are more likely to have a pain free pregnancy.
- Take care of your posture.
Try to stand and sit up right rather than slouching. Avoid crossing your legs. Use a small cushion to support the small of your back when sitting down. This helps reduce the pressure to your low back and pelvis.
- Support your back and your bump.
Try to sleep on your side, with your knees bent up and a cushion under your tummy. You can also try placing a pillow or folded towel between your knees. When you are standing, ‘tuck in’ your bottom to flatten the curve in your low back. If you are suffering from back pain, a support belt may help.
- Seek help.
If back pain has set in and the above steps aren’t shifting it, get professional help. Speak to your GP and midwife as there may be other causes of back pain such as urinary tract infection. Consider having ‘hands on’ treatment such as osteopathy. Ring 020 8520 5268 to book an appointment or free 15 minute chat with me.