Why do so many pregnant women have back pain? A lot happens in nine months! Some changes are obvious, some are not. The obvious change is in the size of your belly. Some women carry small, some women, not so much. Whatever the size, you will feel a change, as your core's muscular corset is offset. Your muscles and ligaments that once stabilized your spine are now being altered by the new tenant taking over your uterus. The bigger the baby grows, the less protec- tion there is for your back as your abdominals stretch and your pos- ture shifts forward. Your center of gravity is shifting forward with your growing breasts and abdomen and your muscles need to counter- act to keep you upright. They work pretty hard in the end and you'll feel them! Keeping your core strong and stretching your muscles is important.
Lower Back Pain
Deb complained of low back pain when she was 25-weeks pregnant. She woke up during her sleep when she moved, often felt and heard popping with quick motions, had pain every evening, and was unable to hold her two-year-old daughter who forgot how to walk after learning about her new brother in utero. She complained of spasms on the right side of her low back and she often rolled on a tennis ball to relieve the pain.
What you can do:
Strengthen your butt muscles. Your gluteus maximus should be the biggest and strongest skeletal muscle in your body. If it isn't doing its job, your smaller back muscles may get overtaxed as they compensate. To safely strengthen your butt muscles, try the following exercise.
- Bend both of your knees. Feet are flat and hip width apart.
- Tighten your butt.
- Lift your butt off your bed or floor.
- Hold the position for three seconds.
- Slowly lower and repeat 15 times. Add a second set when this gets too easy.
Stretch your back and hip muscles
Tight muscles don't work efficiently. When they're not used properly, they get weak. When you eventually recruit them, they're deconditioned and painful to use. The snowball effect leaves you with tight, weak, and painful muscles. So here are some stretches to do to avoid this.
Core stretch (child's pose):
- Start off on your hands and knees. (We said earlier that it's not OK to be in this position. However, you're only spending a little bit of time in this position. You are moving quickly into the next pose where your belly will be supported on your thighs. So it's OK for now. And you are going to love this stretch so it's worth it to be on your hands and knees for a brief amount of time).
- Sit back onto your heels and then reach forward until you feel a stretch in your back.
- You can modify this stretch by either separating your knees to allow a space for your belly and/or putting a pillow between your butt and ankles for comfort. You can also lean to either side to empha- size a painful side. For example, if your right side is more pain- ful, reach your arms overhead to your left side while in the child's pose.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat several times. Also, don't forget to breathe.
You can stretch your mid-back muscles and the muscles in between your ribs by rotating your trunk.
- Sit in a chair and sit up straight.
- Give yourself a hug.
- Keep your hips facing forward and turn your trunk toward the left.
- Hold that position for 30 seconds.
- Now turn your trunk to the right. Keep breathing and repeat.
Seated piriformis stretch:
- Sit with your feet hip width apart.
- Rest your foot on your opposite thigh and lean forward, as much as your belly allows.
- You should feel this in your butt on the side of your crossed leg.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Stretch each side twice.
This excerpt has been reprinted with the permission of Demos Health Publishers from Jill Hoefs' and Denise Jagroo's new book, Your Best Pregnancy: The Ultimate Guide to Easing the Aches, Pains, and Uncomfortable Side Effects During Each Stage of Your Pregnancy (Demos Health, November 2014).
Jill Hoefs, MPT, is a certified physical therapist and owner of Body Align Physical Therapy with locations in New York City and Summit, NJ. She is a licensed instructor in the Tupler Technique and specializes in treating diastasis recti. In addition to treating patients, Hoefs teaches classes on child birth preparation and postpartum recovery.
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