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Pregnancy and back pain

Back pain during pregnancy is very common but few women receive adequate treatment or know what to do. Low back pain affects between 45 and 75% of women at some stage during pregnancy and about 34% of pregnant women suffer from back pain at one time. Up to 1 in 5 women take sick leave because of their pain.

Normal changes during pregnancy cause increased curvature of the lower spine (lordosis) and laxity of the ligaments and sacroiliac joints at the back of the pelvis (this is natural to enable delivery). This can create weakness and instability which may lead to pain.

There is a list of things that women can do to self-manage and also some therapies that are recommended, although that depends on where one lives.

Woman are often encouraged to self manage their pain by the following practices:
  • Adjusting posture (Reducing curvature, engaging abdominals, this also depends on stage of pregnancy)
  • Adapt lifting techniques (do not lift heavy weights, bend from the knees, keep the weight close to the body)
  • Doing simple exercises (strengthening muscles of arms, core, glutes and legs)
  • Rest and relaxation (meditation or mindfulness for calmness, pregnancy yoga can also help)
  • Apply heat or cold (whichever feels better)
  • Try supportive belts and pillows (they can support the pelvis and sacroiliac joints)
  • Optimise sleeping technique (sleep on side, with pillows between legs)
  • Massage (can help with relaxation of overworking muscles)

Some of the therapies that can help women with pregnancy-related back pain include:
  • Physiotherapy (use of manual techniques as well as exercise)
  • Acupuncture (inserting fine needles into meridian points or tense muscles)
  • Exercise (specific exercises recommended by physiotherapist/osteopath/chiropractor)
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS machine which may be purchased from some drug stores)
  • Mobility aids to help offload spine and pelvis

Bishop A1, Holden MA2, Ogollah RO2, Foster NE2; EASE Back Study Team. (2016) Current management of pregnancy-related low back pain: a national cross-sectional survey of U.K. physiotherapists. Physiotherapy. 02(1):78-85. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2015 Apr 19.

Alaeldin A. Darwich, Sudhir A. Diwan (2009) Management of back pain in pregnancy. Techniques in Regional Anesthesia and Pain Management. 13(4):251-254.

The Patient Line website offers information for patients with spinal conditions:
Sciatica, back pain, spinal stenosis, disc herniation, scoliosis and many other spine conditions explained in a clear reliable, and trustworthy way. Not for profit EUROSPINE experts are here to help patients and their families understand what may be worrying them.

EUROSPINE is a society of spine specialists of various disciplines with a large knowledge of spine pathologies. All well-known and accepted treatment modalities for spine pathologies are represented by the members of the society. However, the Society cannot accept any responsibility for the use of the information provided; the user and their health care professionals must retain responsibility for their health care management.

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page last updated on 21.08.2019