Expectant mothers have a number of bodily ailments to deal with – weight gain, swollen ankles, a newly-found craving for pickles – and nearly a third of these women can add back pain to the list.
In some cases, that pain may be a mild discomfort; however, more and more, gynecologists and obstetricians are urging mothers to seek treatment for their own health and that of the fetus. New treatments coming from Europe along with old standbys can provide easy remedies for baby-induced back pain, which can sometimes signal a slipped disc or something more problematic.
"In approximately 80% women who are pregnant, severe back pain is prevalent, and the pain can interfere with work, daily activities and sleep," said Dr. Harry Lockstadt of Bluegrass Orthopedics in Lexington, Kentucky. "Young women tend to have more intense pain compared to older women, and many describe this back pain as disabling, restricting their activity, and, sometimes, a costly handicap."
Hormonal changes seem to be the culprit when it comes to causing back pain, according to doctors - and certain activities exacerbate it. The most common include, unfortunately, regular day-to-day things like carrying a full bag of groceries, climbing stairs, turning over in bed and sexual intercourse.
These hormonal changes and activities directly cause loosening of the joints – namely the sacroiliac joint, which is the main pelvic joint – and ligaments in the pelvis that allow for normal alternating movement during walking. In this natural process, the birth canal is forcing the pelvis to get ready for the birth of the child and the back is suffering as a result.
"The increased elasticity of these ligaments is necessary for the birth canal to expand as the baby passes through it," said Dr. John J. Triano, a chiropractor with the Texas Back Institute in Plano, Texas. "However, the associated increase in motion and instability around the sacroiliac joint can also be a source of pain."
The pain naturally gets better after delivery of the baby because the pelvic ligaments regain their rigidity and are better able to support normal weight bearing and motion during normal daily activities. That doesn’t help expecting moms for nine months, however.
Alternative treatments explored at Oxford University in England as well as some old standbys can provide a remedy for back pain. In recent trials, acupuncture and water gymnastics were rated as good or better at reducing back and pelvic pain compared to traditional methods of physiotherapy. Also, researchers found the placement of a specially shaped pillow, called the Ozzlo pillow, below the lower back in late pregnancy assisted in helping women sleep better.
Besides water aerobics and acupuncture, other simple remedies can usually relieve back pain. Most doctors and chiropractors recommend bed rest or an adjustment of the spine, which tends to yield the best results, but stretching exercises or a pelvic support belt may also help. Expectant moms are also instructed to avoid excessive weight gain, maintain correct posture and to wear sensible shoes (not high heels).
"We work on posture to stabilize and strengthen the trunk and lower extremities," said Karen Reitz, a physical therapist with the Scripps Clinic in San Diego California. "I look at how she's sitting and her body mechanics while doing activities – for example, that she's using both legs when picking something up so she's keeping her center of gravity."
But one good thing could come out of having a little bit of back pain during pregnancy: that excuse to indulge in a massage.
For more information contact the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.