Expectant mothers commonly complain of back pain. In fact, the incidence of a backache during pregnancy is more now than earlier. This is due to changes in lifestyle, with more women leading a sedentary life and because the average age of expectant women is more than it was a few decades ago.
During pregnancy, a woman’s posture changes and the backwards curve of the spine increases to allow her to balance herself, adjusting to the change in the centre of gravity because of the weight of the foetus. The overall weight gain and loosening of the pelvic joints due to the hormones released during pregnancy add to the problem.
Women can experience two types of backache in pregnancy:
- Pregnancy Induced Low Back Pain (PILBP): This involves pain along the back, starting from the last rib and moving lower. Almost two-thirds of pregnant mothers suffer from PILBP. (Liddle S, Pennick V. Interventions for preventing and treating low-back and pelvic pain during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2015; 30:9)
- Pregnancy Induced Pelvic Girdle pain (PIPGP): This occurs in the pelvic area and about 20 per cent of pregnant women experience it. (Vleeming A, Albert H, Ostgaard H, et al. European guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of pelvic girdle pain. Eur Spine J 2008; 17:794–819)
Some women fear that backaches indicate that something is wrong with their unborn child. Most obstetricians will reassure their patients that a backache is not a complication of pregnancy. They also do not encourage pregnant women to take painkillers, since it could affect the growth of the foetus, and long-term use of analgesics is not good for health.
Therefore, it makes sense to use Complementary and Alternative therapies (CAM) to relieve a pregnancy-related backache. These are natural ways of alleviating the pain and are free from the side-effects normally associated with the medication. Here are ten things you can do:
- Calcium intake: The baby in the womb derives calcium for bone development from the mother. If the pregnant woman does not take enough calcium to account for the increased need, what is required for the foetus is drawn from her bones. As a result, her bones are weakened, and she will suffer from backaches. So, it is practical to take supplementary calcium.
- Hot fomentation: Backache, including muscle spasms, can be relieved by hot fomentation. Place a hot water bag against your back when you go to bed, or even when you relax in a chair reading a book. The blood supply to the region will increase, soothing the ache. Wrap the hot water bag in a towel, to prevent your sensitive skin from being burnt.
- Swimming: This is a great way to relax back muscles, which helps reduce pain. While it is safe to swim during pregnancy, get out of the pool immediately if you feel giddy or light-headed.
- Support while sitting: Using a firm cushion while sitting at your workplace is a good way of partially preventing backache.
- Yoga: Yoga is an extremely effective way to take care of your back. There are various exercises that will help ease a pregnancy-related backache. Here are a few:
a. Butterfly exercise: This can be done either lying down or sitting up. Put the soles of your feet together and gently push your knee joints down as far as possible. Do this for 10-15 minutes, once or twice a day during your pregnancy.
b. Duck walk: Stand firmly with your feet hip-wide; keep your back straight and lower your body into a squat. Stretch your arms out and walk forward in this position. Do this for 5-10 minutes, once every day.
c. Rolling: Make your hands into fists and press them against your lower back, slowing moving upwards while curving your back. Do this once or twice a day.
- Posture: As a pregnant mother, you might tend to compensate for the additional weight that you carry by leaning back, which will put a strain on your back muscles. A good posture will reduce the incidence of a backache. Make sure that you stand up straight and tall and hold your chest high. Make sure to not lock your knees; keep your shoulders back and relaxed.
- A good night’s sleep: Lack of sleep can increase pain and discomfort. It is essential to invest in a good mattress, which is not too soft and supports your body. During pregnancy, the best position to sleep is on your side. Use extra pillows at your back and in front to ensure proper spine curvature.
- Massage therapy (Craniospinal therapy): This is a traditional way of relieving the back-muscle spasm. Studies show that it is highly effective. Husbands or other caregivers can be taught it by physiotherapists.
- Chiropractic neuro-emotional techniques (NET): This is a mind-body approach used by some chiropractors as a stress-reduction technique.*
- Osteopathic manipulative treatment: This refers to the manipulation of joints and the application of pressure on the skin through what is known as the “thrust” technique. *
*NOTE: The last two methods are to be provided only by specifically trained professionals.
What is common to all these remedies is the focus on supporting the spine, strengthening it and improving blood supply to the back and pelvic areas. If followed systematically, they will definitely reduce a backache and make your pregnancy go smooth.
Caution: These are only suggestions. Make sure that you try them out only after checking with your gynaecologist whether they are suitable for you.
The author holds an M.D (Ob/Gyn) and a Diploma in Foetal Medicines and Prenatal Genetics (U.K). She is a Consultant in Foetal Medicine and Senior Consultant at Motherhood Hospital, Pune.
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