Looking after your joints and back for a pain-free third trimester
A lot of changes happen inside your body during the run-up to labour, changes that can put you at increased risk of injury if you don’t the know the right way to look after your back, joints, and ligaments.
However, while pregnancy back pain is fairly common, there are some simple things you can do to help prevent it or, if you’re already suffering, relieve it.
Just why are back and joint injuries so common in pregnancy?
During pregnancy the ligaments in your body become softer and stretch to prepare for childbirth. Your body achieves this through the release of the hormone relaxin.
Relaxin, as you may have already know, is produced by the placenta and softens the tissue between your bones, allowing your body to accommodate the growing baby. The hormone also loosens the joints and ligaments, giving them greater flexibility and therefore allowing them to shift as your body expands and making it easier for your baby to pass through the pelvis during labour. The downside to all this is that your joints and ligaments become far more susceptible to injury.
The ligaments supporting your spine also loosen. Carrying the extra weight of your baby around all day can eventually lead to lower back pain. The position of your baby in the third trimester can also compress the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back all the way down to the feet. Pressure on this nerve can cause sharp pain in your back and, typically, down one leg.
Preventing injuries before they happen
- Always listen to your body when active. If you start to notice pain while exercising, stop right away.
- Make sure every activity is low-impact.
- When stretching, only ever go as far as comfortable. Be very cautious of overstretching, and definitely don’t ‘bounce’ the stretch when holding it.
- Keep all movements during exercise slow and controlled, as rapid movements and sudden twists of the body are sure to result in pain.
Alleviating back pain
A massage is a great way of reducing stress on weight-bearing joints. According to the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE), the best options for easing back pain in pregnancy include exercising in water, massage therapy, and attending group or individual back care classes.
A moderately warm heat pack applied for 15-20 minutes to the painful area can bring relief because it will improve the blood flow to aching muscles, but make sure they are not too hot because you don’t want to raise your core temperature (this can be potentially harmful to your baby).
Maintaining good posture will help take the pressure off your back. While sitting, you can use a lumbar pillow to help you sit up straight while maintaining the natural curvature of your spine.
If you do need to bend down to pick something up, make sure you squat, keeping your back straight, instead of bending over (heavily pregnant women are prone to toppling over, it’s a physics thing).
Back pain can be eased by keeping your abdominal muscles strong, so make sure you keep up with your light exercise regime. Keep doing the pelvic tilts and continue to get some regular aerobic activity. A short daily walk could be enough to help improve back pain.
Coping with symphysis pubis dysfunction
Some women may develop pelvic pain in pregnancy, which is also known as symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).
The symphysis pubis is the joint at the front of your pelvis where the two sides of the pubic bone meet. The pain is due to inflammation around the joint, causing it to become unstable and move unevenly. The pain is often most noticeable when walking or going up stairs.
If you have SPD, there are a few ways you can help prevent further pain. To diagnose the condition, it’s likely you’ll be referred to a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist can recommend exercises to help relieve pain and improve pelvic joint position. They’ll also advise you on ways of making sure you don’t worsen the condition when carrying out everyday activities.
The third trimester is often the most challenging, both physically and emotionally. But by doing simple, low-impact exercise and making sure you follow any safety advice given to you by your healthcare team, you will be able to alleviate a lot of the pain associated with this final stage.
Most importantly, remember that if you become concerned you’re experiencing too much pain, contact your doctor or midwife. Every pregnancy is different, and they’ll be able to provide you with guidance based on your individual circumstances.