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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan on July 29, 2022

Back Pain During Pregnancy: Causes And Treatments

Back pain during pregnancy is so common that it's often joked about. But if you're one of the sufferers, then you know it's no laughing matter. Find out how to get some relief here.

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Back pain during pregnancy can severely impact a woman’s quality of life during a time when she should be bonding with her developing baby.

It may affect her mobility, sleep, and mental health. In some cases, the pain may spread to other areas of the body.

In this guide, we’ll explain why you might be experiencing back pain during pregnancy and tips for easing the discomfort.

Understanding Back Pain During Pregnancy

Back pain can sometimes trigger pain in other parts of the body, such as the pelvic area.

Pregnancy and back pain problems are inseparable. Approximately 50% of pregnant women suffer from back pain while carrying their babies or after childbirth.

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 worsen when walking, going up or down stairs, standing on one leg (for example, while getting dressed), turning over in bed, and moving the legs apart.

Meanwhile, LP in pregnancy is similar to the back pain experienced by non-pregnant individuals. It’s more manageable than PGP.

What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?

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. An early diagnosis can help a person handle the problem quicker.

Western Medicine  

Some explanations behind pregnancy back pain problems are: 

  • An enlarged uterus 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, increases tenfold during pregnancy and causes discomfort 
  • Stress on the lower back due to weight gain, an increase in the abdominal sagittal diameter, and changes in the woman’s center of gravity 
  • The response of the intervertebral discs in axial loading leads to a decrease in height and compression of the spine 
  • The expanded uterus puts pressure on the vena cava — a large vein that transfers blood to the heart — causes venous congestion in the pelvis and lumbar spine 

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that pregnant women experience back pain problems because of: 

  1. Qi Deficiency in the Liver and Kidneys 
  2. The growing fetus absorbs calcium and phosphorus from the mother, inducing weak bones

Treatment For Back Pain During Pregnancy

Backache doesn’t harm the fetus 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 labor. 

Fever and painful, bloody urine 

These may be the symptoms of a bladder or kidney infection. 

Numbness 

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 Manage Back Pain During Pregnancy

Stretching can help alleviate back pain during pregnancy.

Back pain can be avoided and treated using these methods

  • Sit or stand with proper posture so as not to overload the back 
  • Stretch regularly for strengthening the back and pelvic muscles
  • Don’t lift heavy objects, or do it without stressing the back 
  • Climb in and out of bed cautiously
  • Use supportive seats and cushions 
  • Work with your doctor or a physical therapist to learn about back exercises you can do while pregnant 
  • Get more rest 
  • Lean on someone to decrease the weight on the back 
  • Massage the affected areas with a pain-relieving herbal massage oil

Additionally, TCM herbs like teasel root (Xu Duan) and Cuscuta seeds (Tu Si Zi) are usually prescribed to relieve backache. Teasel root is believed to improve qi and enhances the Kidney’s functions. Cuscuta seeds may help reduce the effects of Kidney Yang Deficiency. 

Pregnant women with backache should not take herbs indiscriminately as they may affect the baby. Those who feel that they have backache to first consult a physician for a more accurate diagnosis and prescription of treatment.

One of the most versatile herbal teas for pregnancy is Codonopsis and red dates tea. It is easy to drink and can be taken throughout pregnancy. It helps strengthen the body, regulates qi (vital life energy) and blood. You may also wish to take collagen to strengthen skeletal muscles and acupuncture to support the use of herbal remedies.

Diet therapy

Be sure to eat plenty of fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats throughout your pregnancy. As the color associated with the Liver is green, you can try increasing your intake of green vegetables to help the Liver qi flow smoothly.

Acupuncture and massage

Herbal remedies are the mainstay of TCM treatment for backache and can be complemented with acupuncture. However, acupuncture should only be prescribed selectively to pregnant women, and special care should be administered to their acupoints, especially around the lower abdomen and lumbosacral areas.

Pregnant women are heavily discouraged from getting a tuina massage because the pressure applied on certain acupoints may affect the baby or the pregnancy. Mothers-to-be should first consult a physician before undergoing any TCM treatment. 

Seek Help For Back Pain During Pregnancy

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.

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.  

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2011. Pregnancy-related low back pain   
  2. National Health Service. 2020. Pelvic pain in pregnancy
  3. Parents. 2014. Pregnancy Back Pain: When to Worry
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Systematic Review of Chinese Medicine for Miscarriage during Early Pregnancy
  5. Hindawi. 2016. The Difference of Chemical Components and Biological Activities of the Crude Products and the Salt-Processed Product from Semen Cuscutae 

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