Updated: May 30, 2020
What causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy our body goes through a huge number of changes, which require it to adapt relatively quickly to growing amounts of strain and tension. Our spine endures one of the biggest changes as it bears the load of our growing bump.
As our pregnancy continues our body naturally releases more of the hormone Relaxin. Aptly named, this hormone is responsible for relaxing ligaments in our pelvic region to prepare the body for labour.
Ligaments are responsible for linking our bones together and allowing them to move in a controlled way. Unfortunately, before such time as labour begins, the release of Relaxin can cause a lot of unwanted laxity and looseness in these ligaments which normally help to provide support around the pelvis.
When a joint is destabilised from lack of ligament control, it becomes more heavily reliant upon the surrounding muscles to pick up the slack and stabilise the joint.
As the majority of the effects of Relaxin are felt around the pelvic and lower back regions, it is the buttock, lower trunk and hamstring muscles which need to work harder.
Why We Should Take Things Slower During Pregnancy
The extra work needed by these muscles is actually harder to achieve during pregnancy due to the extra weight we are carrying, as well as an inability for our muscles to switch on and fire into action as quickly as they did before pregnancy.
This latent firing of our muscle fibres means it is harder for us to jump into action without feeling a twinge or pain in our weakest areas, which for many women will be around the pelvis and lower back, particularly so as the pregnancy progresses.
The extra strain put on these muscles to perform can result in the muscles spasming, tightening or becoming inflamed and knotted as they struggle to cope with the extra work required of them.
What Does Pregnancy Back Pain Feel Like?
Much like a puppet which has knots in its strings, our knotted muscles won’t be able to produce the smooth controlled movements we normally do for pain-free walking. Muscles also carry sensitive nerve tissue, some of which can become irritated by the poor condition of the muscle fibres, causing us nerve pain.
When the nerve tissue becomes irritated we can start to feel anything from mild to severe aches and pains, which can present in different areas of the body from the actual site of irritation – known as referred pain. This is because nerve tissue is long and extends throughout the body to provide a network of feeling and sensitivity to different areas (known as dermatomes).
Therefore damage or inflammation caused to one part of the nerve can cause symptoms in other areas of the body to which they supply feeling. For example, during pregnancy, a nerve in our pelvis may be irritated by the tightness and inflammation of a muscle in our buttock (e.g. the muscle called Piriformis). That nerve actually innervates (provides feeling) from the buttock area all the way down the outside of the leg to the ankle area (known as a dermatome). Although the site of irritation of the nerve is in the buttock, we can experience pain, aches or increased sensitivity all the way down to the ankle region.
This can make it difficult to establish where our pain is originating from and therefore the reason for the pain.
You Are Not Alone With Pregnancy Back Pain
The majority of women will experience some degree of lower back pain at some point during their pregnancy. It is most commonly felt in the later months of pregnancy as the baby grows and the weight and load on the lower spine increases.
Who Can Really Help Your Pregnancy Back Pain?
If you do experience back pain during pregnancy, my best advice would be to see a specialist women’s health physio. They have extensive knowledge and experience of pregnancy related musculoskeletal issues and can offer treatment and solutions which provide relief and comfort. They can also advise how to manage these issues throughout the rest of your pregnancy and give you realistic coping strategies for your individual situation.
In my experience, and having worked as a Physiotherapist, other healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists who do not specialise in women’s health, tend not to have to the essential specialist knowledge required to treat pregnant women with back pain and other musculoskeletal problems, so seeking to find a women’s health physio is ideal.
Pregnancy is a time of change for your body and so it is reasonable to expect some challenges and discomforts throughout the journey; just know that there is help out there to ease the pains and see you through in the best way possible.
Hang in there, you are doing a great job and remember that at the end of the shift will be your beautiful baby.
The Bamboo Baby Company xx