Written by:

Dr Aynsley Cresswell

BA (Oxon), BMBCh, DRCOG, DFSRH, MRCGP

Dr Cresswell is a general practitioner in the North East having recently moved to Yorkshire from Oxford. Aynsley has a special interest in women's and sexual health, and she has gained diplomas in both of these specialist areas. She has a keen interest in teaching and also enjoys caring for patients with long-term health conditions in her day-today practice.

Back Pain in Pregnancy

In this article:

  • Exercises to ease backache in pregnancy (taken from NHS Choices)
  • MAIN POINTS
  • References

Back Pain in Pregnancy

In the middle to late stages of pregnancy backache is common. The majority of backache is due to numerous factors, but in most cases is largely due to strain on the ligaments and muscles of your back. Indeed, the extra weight of the baby in your womb, the changes in the way you stand and walk and in your posture, and the fact that pregnancy hormones make the ligaments around your back soften in preparation for labour and delivery (thus affecting their movement) all contribute.

Much like pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy, there are a few tips that may help relieve the pain. However, until you have delivered your baby, there is very little that can be done to relieve the pain completely. That said, the following may help:

  • Keep active by walking quickly and doing light exercises such as yoga
  • Avoid sitting in the same position for prolonged periods
  • Avoid lifting heavy loads (including toddlers)
  • When sitting, use a cushion or a rolled up towel to support your lower back
  • Take warm baths
  • Wear flat shoes as these allow your weight to be evenly distributed
  • Work at a surface high enough to prevent you stooping
  • Use a firm mattress as this can help prevent or relieve backache

If your backache continues and is severe, seek advice from your midwife or GP. They may discuss taking simple painkillers with you (e.g. paracetamol) and may also refer you to a physiotherapist for assessment.

NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) advises that exercising in water, massage therapy, and group or individual back care classes might help with symptoms of backache.

Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes with qualified instructors. You could enquire at your local swimming pool. Exercising in the water will support your weight, thus allowing you to move more freely.

Exercises to ease backache in pregnancy (taken from NHS Choices)

The gentle exercise below helps to strengthen abdominal muscles and this can ease backache in pregnancy:

  • Start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forwards and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight
  • Pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling your trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward – don’t let your elbows lock
  • Hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
  • Take care not to hollow your back – it should always return to a straight, neutral position
  • Do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
  • Only move your back as far as you can comfortably

MAIN POINTS

  • Backache in pregnancy is very common.
  • Pregnancy backache has many causes but is largely caused by the extra weight of the baby together with softening of your tendons and ligaments caused by pregnancy hormones.
  • Backache is likely to persist throughout pregnancy no matter what you do. However, some steps can be taken to lessen the severity of pain.
  • Keep active, don’t lift heavy loads, wear sensible shoes and sleep on a firm mattress to potentially reduce the severity of backache.
  • See your GP or midwife for cases of severe or persistent backache.
  • NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) advises aqua exercise, massage therapy, and group or individual back care classes to help ease the symptoms of backache.
  • Strengthen abdominal muscles to reduce the scope for backache.

References

Liddle SD, Pennick V; Interventions for preventing and treating low-back and pelvic pain during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 30 9:CD001139. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001139.pub4.
WHO recommendations on antenatal care for a positive pregnancy experience; World Health Organization, 2016