Back Pain During Early Pregnancy

Back Pain During Early Pregnancy

Posted on Wed Dec 9, 2020

Back pain during early pregnancy is, unfortunately, extremely common. The joy of carrying a baby can often be marred by it, even during the first trimester before the baby bump starts to show. Why is this, and what can be done to alleviate the pain?

Mr Bob Chatterjee, an expert Consultant Spinal Surgeon, tells us that “the typical back pain during pregnancy comes in later months, when the baby bump shifts your posture a bit further forward. As you might expect, this would put pressure on the muscles of your back. However, many women do unfortunately experience back pain in early pregnancy as well, before any visible sign of a bump appears.”

“Unfortunately we’ve also noticed that avoiding chocolate may help to avoid back pain during early pregnancy.”

Back pain often accompanies pregnancy and, as Bob says “this isn’t always easy to treat. It’s fair to say that you should expect some degree of back pain during pregnancy, and one saving grace is the body’s natural painkillers – the endorphins – will kick in and help to relieve it to a degree.”

Causes of back pain during early pregnancy

One of the major culprits of back pain during pregnancy is the action of hormones. The function of these hormones in pregnancy is to prepare the ligaments and joints in your pelvis for childbirth, but they can act on any joint in your body too. Bob explains “back pain during early pregnancy is really due to hormonal changes particularly with progesterone and relaxin. Their job is to prepare the pelvic cavity for pregnancy. These hormones help to relax the pelvic muscles and loosen the ligaments and soft tissues, which can lead to the back being overburdened.”

For some newly expectant mothers, back pain is an early sign of pregnancy. Early pregnancy back pain can be exacerbated by worries about the baby and the pregnancy and related stress which can increase muscle tension and cause discomfort. Other stresses such as family, work or other issues, coupled with the release of progesterone and relaxin which are helping your joints and ligaments get ready for the process of giving birth, are bound to contribute to an aching back.

How to help prevent or alleviate back pain

It is estimated that a half to two thirds of all women suffer back pain at some stage during their pregnancy. Bob knows that “Back pain during the early stages of pregnancy is more common than you’d think. The back muscles and joints are overloaded as the pelvic muscles and ligaments are loosened.”

“You are very limited in what medication you can take whilst pregnant. However, exercising regularly has been shown to help reduce symptoms of back pain during pregnancy.”

Many women will find one particular scientific discovery that helps prevent back pain during pregnancy exceptionally challenging – the link between back pain and chocolate! Bob smiles ruefully: “unfortunately we’ve also noticed that avoiding chocolate may help to avoid back pain during early pregnancy.”

Bob suggests that “maintaining good posture also helps, as well as using heat packs on the painful area.”

  • Standing and walking posture – There is no doubt that slouching puts a strain on your spine. Try to keep your back straight when walking or standing. Keep your chin held in and your head up straight. Don’t lock your knees.
  • Sleeping posture – Try sleeping on your side on a firm mattress. If you don’t have a firm mattress, then place a board underneath it to give added support. Place a pillow in between your knees or underneath your bump to take any strain off your back. Ensure you sleep with your head, not your shoulders, on your pillow
  • Sitting posture – Try to sit with your back straight and your shoulders back. When sitting, put a small pillow or rolled up towel behind you to encourage you to sit up straight. Keep your feet flat on the floor and ensure you hips and knees are at a 90 degree angle.
  • Footwear – wear flat, comfortable shoes with good arch support.
  • Heat packs, electric pads, microwavable packs or hot water bottles – placing on the painful areas can assist in reducing any back pain during early pregnancy and pregnancy in general. Avoid having the heat pack too hot and don’t leave it on the affected area of the back for longer than ten minutes. Heat packs encourage the body to release endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer.
  • Relaxation exercises – exercises such as deep breathing, mindfulness and other relaxation techniques can help relieve back pain caused by stress related muscle tension in the back.
  • Exercise – physical activity such as walking, swimming, pregnancy yoga and stretching classes are all ways to reduce back pain during early pregnancy and pregnancy in general. Exercise helps prevent muscle stiffness which is one of the causes of back pain. Bob encourages exercise and points out that “you’re very limited in what medication you can take whilst pregnant. However, exercising regularly has been shown to help reduce symptoms of back pain during pregnancy.”
  • Standing for hours – if you have a job which requires you to stand, keep changing your position. Perhaps put one foot on a low stool or box and change feet every five or so minutes. Also ensure that your workstation is at a comfortable height which prevents you from slouching.

A final word from Bob on pregnancy and associated back pain, “It’s all part of the journey I’m afraid! It’s something you have to go through for the joys that you get later.”

About Bob Chatterjee

Mr Bob Chatterjee MBBS MRCS MSc(Dist) FRCS(Tr&Orth) is an Expert Consultant Spinal Surgeon practising in Central London.

Bob is a speaker at Oryon Develop, who put on healthcare CPD courses, and also an Oryon Connect Partner. Oryon Connect is a free service that connects patients with trusted specialists in London, who are available for remote or face-to-face consultations. Booking through Oryon Connect ensures an appointment with Bob for just £300, so give us a call today on 020 7042 1881 to discuss your healthcare concerns and the options open to you.

Bob is both the Director of Harley Street Spine and the Director of the Spinal Unit at St John and Elizabeth Hospital. He also practices at The London Clinic.

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