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Pregnancy and Low Back Pain

Once you are pregnant changes start to happen in your body, which are caused by hormones. One of the biggest players in this change is the hormone relaxin. This hormone affects the joints in the body during pregnancy by helping ligaments stretch in order for your belly to grow with the fetus. These changes then, of course, affect multiple areas of the pregnant body: back, stomach, shoulders, feet, etc. There is not one joint that is not affected by pregnancy. This can cause pain in many of your joints, including the very common problem of low back pain. Most of these issues go away on their own, however if not addressed they can continue after the pregnancy or even longer.

Let's address what is happening in the back and why there is pain. When the belly starts to grow forward your back starts to have a bigger curve. The muscles that once held your back in a nice small curve are being stretched past their capacity in order to hold the growing baby. This causes your back pain. Some ways to help counteract this forward weight are, of course, exercise.

The first exercise is to get on your hands and knees on the floor, just like a crawling position. Once this position is attained the baby is moved out of the pelvis and your back is relieved of pressure from the baby. The back can be stretched multiple ways in this position. Cat and camel is one way to stretch where the back is arched upwards toward the ceiling and then downwards towards the floor, all while keeping your elbows straight. Another exercise in this position is a prayer stretch where the upper body is lowered to the ground with the arms straight out in front of the head. You can move your arms from side to side which will stretch the sides of your back. Don't push your body to a painful stretch. Everything should be very comfortable while holding for thirty seconds for each stretch.

The second position is side lying hip abduction. Lie on one side and place body in a straight line then lift the top leg towards the ceiling, trying not lean forward or backward. The other exercise is clamshells. Stay on one side, bend the knees, and then lift the top knee towards the ceiling. These two exercises help strengthen hips and low back.

Another general exercise that helps relieve pressure on the back is to go for a walk. This may sound counterintuitive but walking is one of the best ways to relieve stress both mentally and physically. A walk for 10-30 minutes most days of the week is considered sufficient. Remember to pay attention to your breathing and heart rate. Your doctor may choose a heart rate target for you that is safe for pregnancy. If any cramping or pain is noticed, stop immediately and rest.

Body position ideas during sleep are to place a pillow between the knees when lying on your side and place a small pillow under your belly to help support your abdomen and pelvis. Remember to think about posture as well. Try to sit and stand up tall in order to place less stress on your back and legs. The more weight gain there is, the harder the muscles have to work to hold the body.

Exercising during pregnancy has been proven to be safe. It helps with lower birth weight, which helps ease labor on the mother, and also helps with recovery from birth. If you have any questions about back pain during your pregnancy, talk with your physician who may refer you to a physical therapist. There is always help out there, don't be afraid to ask.

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