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Managing Pregnancy Low Back Pain

Low Back Pain (LBP) is the #1 most common discomfort women feel during pregnancy (in fact about 50% of pregnant women experience it).  It is so ubiquitous that it may seem inevitable that you will develop it during pregnancy. However, by understanding its causes, you will be better positioned to adjust certain habits in order to minimize its effects (or perhaps avoid it altogether).

Why is LBP so common during pregnancy?

There are several factors that can lead to various degrees of LBP during pregnancy. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Alignment Changes: One of the biggest causes of LBP is the alignment shift created from your growing belly tipping your pelvis downward, pulling your lower back into an excessive arch (as in the image below). This position compresses the tissues in the lower back, making them tight and uncomfortable.

  • Shift in Center of Gravity:  The other “fun” side effect of your growing belly is that it actually shifts your center of gravity (which is normally about 2″ below your navel) up and out. When this happens, the muscles in the back of your body have to work harder to prevent you from falling forward. So, they are in constant tension. In addition, many women compensate for this shift by leaning backward to better balance themselves (like the image below), which can further accentuate the pressure on your lower back.

  • Hormonal ChangesRelaxin is a hormone that increases throughout pregnancy.  As its name indicates, it’s responsible for a softening of all the soft tissues in the body. The purpose is to allow the pelvis to widen to adapt to the growing baby and to facilitate an easier labor. However, the down side of this pelvic loosening is that it decreases stability in the pelvic region, making it more difficult to resist the shift in center of gravity.
  • Fatigue/Exhaustion: This can lead to longer periods of sitting — and slouching — which places added pressure on the low back.

How to Manage Lower Back Pain

Despite seeming inevitable, there are many proactive steps you can take to minimize your chances of experiencing with LBP, or perhaps prevent it altogether.

  • Find Neutral Alignment: First, focus on getting your body into “neutral alignment.” Watch this video to learn how to find neutral alignment on your own body, and how to move in better alignment throughout your day.
  • Strengthen Your Deep Core Muscles: The deep core muscles and glutes help to stabilize the spine and pelvis. Strong core and glute muscles can help resist the alignment shifts that pull the lower back into the excessive arch, and therefore can help alleviate a great deal of tension from the lower back. Begin by mastering what we call the #1 most effective core exercise: 360° Breathing.
  • Mobilize “Stuck” Tissues: Gentle mobility work can be very helpful in alleviating tension in the lower back. One common way to mobilize tissues is with the “Cat-Cow” exercise.  However, most people do this movement in a way that does not maximize the stretch to the lower back.  Watch this Cat-Cow Video to see how most people perform the movement and learn a slight variation to maximize the stretch to the lower back (thereby alleviating more tension). Try doing 6-8 reps, inhaling on the Cow and exhaling on the Cat.
  • Avoid Provocative Positions: This one is obvious but worth mentioning. If something hurts, don’t do it. Even if you think you should fight through discomfort for the long-term benefit of doing certain activities, don’t.  Bent over Rows and Reverse Flyes are good examples of movements you may need to modify during pregnancy. Both are highly beneficial in counteracting the rounded shoulders posture so common in expecting and new moms, but the bent over position can place too much pressure on the lower back as the belly grows.  Watch this Bent Over Row Modification Video and this Reverse Flye Modification Video to learn how to modify the movements to get all the benefits without the stress to the lower back.
  • Change Your Loads: Lowering the amount of weight you are using during strength training is one great strategy to make your back do less work. Another way is to lower the position of the load. One example would be to hold the weights down by your sides when squatting, as opposed to holding them in a rack position (in front of your chest). As a rule of thumb, the higher you lift a weight above you, the more your core (read: low back) has to work. So keep the weight down for a happier back.
  • Consider acupuncture or massage: If pain is severe, these can provide temporary relief. Just ensure the professional you go to is certified to work with pregnant clients.

Want More Help?

For effective prenatal workouts that will help you build strength and alleviate common pregnancy pains like LBP, explore our prenatal training programs. Looking for more personalized support? Schedule a consultation with one of our PROnatal Personal Trainers

If you are a health and fitness professional looking to earn your specialization to work with the pre and postnatal population, explore our Pre/Postnatal Professional Education.