Pregnancy has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it’s a period when you and your future baby can grow together and prepare to meet each other. On the other, it can give you back pain problems.
What is the correlation between pregnancy and back pain and why does this commonly happen? This article will try to answer these questions by delving into the concept of back pain from the perspectives of Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. Read along to learn some tips on how to relieve back pain while being pregnant.
The Relationship Between Pregnancy and Back Pain
Pregnancy and back pain problems are inseparable. Pregnancy-related back pain has been described since centuries ago by the father of modern medicine himself, Hippocrates. Approximately 50% of pregnant women suffer from back pain while carrying their babies or after childbirth.
According to Walde, pregnancy-related back pain can be divided into two kinds — Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) and Lumbar Pain (LP). In some cases, pregnant women can suffer from a combination of the two.
PGP can trigger pain in the following areas:
- Over the pubic bone, at the front and in the centre
- Across one or both sides of the lower back
- Between the vagina and anus
- The thighs
The symptoms of PGP can worsen when walking, standing on one leg (for example, while getting dressed), turning over in bed and moving the legs apart.
Meanwhile, LP in pregnancy is more or less similar to the back pain experienced by non-pregnant individuals. It’s more manageable than PGP, and may include symptoms like:
- Pain over and around the lumbar spine
- Pain that may spread to the foot
- Tenderness over paravertebral muscles (the muscles that surround the spine)
These symptoms can intensify after pregnancy and may be triggered by certain activities or body postures.
The Causes of a Pregnancy-Related Back Pain Problem
An early diagnosis of back pain can help a person handle the problem quicker.
It’s important to understand how the pain transpires. There are some possible causes of pregnancy-related backache, according to the perspectives of Western and alternative medicines.
Some explanations behind pregnancy back pain problems are:
- An enlarged uterus, which causes the abdominal muscles to stretch, prompting muscle fatigue and an extra load on the spine
- The hormone relaxin, which relaxes the ligaments and joints to prepare the body for childbirth, increasing tenfold during pregnancy and causing discomfort
- Stress on the lower back due to weight gain, an increase of the abdominal sagittal diameter and changes in the woman’s centre of gravity
- The response of the intervertebral discs in axial loading, which leads to a decrease in height and compression of the spine
- The expanded uterus putting pressure on the vena cava — a large vein that transfers blood to the heart — and causing venous congestion in the pelvis and lumbar spine
TCM and pregnancy back pain
TCM believes that pregnant women experience back pain problems because of:
- Qi Deficiency in the Liver and Kidneys
- The growing foetus absorbing calcium and phosphorus from the mother, inducing weak bones
From Ayurveda’s point of view, pregnancy-related back ache can come from:
- Existing chronic back pain
- A pre-pregnancy fall
- Constipation provoking an imbalance in the Apana Vata or the air’s movement below the navel responsible for excretion
When Back Pain Problems Are a Sign of a Health Emergency
Backache doesn’t harm the foetus most of the time, although it can be unbearable for a mother-to-be. It can significantly reduce their quality of life. In some cases, a back pain problem is caused by severe health issues. An immediate visit to the doctor is a must when the following signs appear.
Vaginal bleeding and uterine tightness
There are times when back pain results in the tightening of the uterus, which indicates pre-term labour.
Fever and painful, bloody urine
These may be the symptoms of a bladder or kidney infection.
When numbness is accompanied by a tingling or sharp pain in the buttocks, legs and feet, it may be because the nerves between the spine and pelvic area are compressed.
Pain that comes and goes
This kind of pain may stem from osteoporosis or arthritis.
How to Relieve a Pregnancy-Related Back Pain Problem
Back pain can be avoided and treated using these methods:
- Learn to sit or stand with proper posture so as not to overload the back
- Don’t lift heavy objects, or do it without stressing the back
- Learn the appropriate way to climb in and out of bed
- Use the right types of seats and cushions
- Do physiotherapy exercises
- Get more rest
- Lean on someone to decrease the weight on the back
- Massage the affected areas
Additionally, TCM herbs like teasel root (xu duan, 续断) and cuscuta seeds (tu si zi, 菟丝子) are usually prescribed to relieve backache. Teasel root is believed to improve qi and is used as an ingredient in TCM to enhance the Kidneys’ functions. Cuscuta seeds have shown that they can reduce the effects of Kidney Yang Deficiency.
TCM also recommends collagen to strengthen skeletal muscles and acupuncture to support the use of herbal remedies. However, pregnant women are heavily discouraged from getting a tuina massage because the pressure applied on the body may affect the baby or the pregnancy. Mothers-to-be should first consult a physician before undergoing any TCM treatment.
It’s normal for pregnant women to encounter a back pain problem now and then. However, the pain should never hinder their quality of life or affect their health. If the back pain problem is accompanied by bleeding or fever, it’s time to reach out for help.
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that pregnant women need to lean on someone to relieve back pain; this can be in physical and mental aspects. Mothers-to-be can rely on their doctors, physicians or their families to manage the challenges of pregnancy. They may be carrying their babies, but they should remember that they don’t have to shoulder the weight of it alone.
This is an adaptation of an article, “EXPERT VIEWS ON BACKACHES IN PREGNANCY”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang’s website.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2011. Pregnancy-related low back pain [Accessed 14 March 2022]
- National Health Service. 2020. Pelvic pain in pregnancy [Accessed 14 March 2022]
- Parents. 2014. Pregnancy Back Pain: When to Worry [Accessed 14 March 2022]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Systematic Review of Chinese Medicine for Miscarriage during Early Pregnancy [Accessed 14 March 2022]
- Hindawi. 2016. The Difference of Chemical Components and Biological Activities of the Crude Products and the Salt-Processed Product from Semen Cuscutae [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 March 2022]
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