Easing Low Back Strain in Pregnancy

There are so many physical changes occurring in pregnancy. Your belly is growing, your ligaments throughout your body are loosening, and you may not have been able to maintain your usual exercise routine. All of this can result in one of the most common experiences in pregnancy: an aching back! This may be especially pronounced as you go through your third trimester, when baby starts packing on the pounds and you become even more front-heavy. All that extra weight in front can mean more pull and strain to your low back and sacrum, especially as the ligaments that help hold things in place loosen in preparation for birth. So what can you do? 

Postural Changes 

All that weight in front can pull you into a more arched position in your low back, which adds to compression of the joints and overactivity of the lower back muscles. To help counterbalance this, try tucking your tailbone underneath you periodically to unload your back and let it stretch. Perform the below exercise to work on your posture. 

Posterior Pelvic Tilt 

In standing or sitting, feel your tailbone tuck underneath you, as if you were a dog putting their tail between their legs. Hold this position for a few seconds and then release, repeating 10 times. Putting your hands on your hips can help you feel the movement of your pelvis. 

Gentle Movement 

One reason your low back can get achey is stiffness. Giving your back some gentle, rhythmic movement can help ease stiffness and move more comfortably. Perform the below exercise to practice some gentle back and pelvic movement. 

Pelvic Circles 

If you have a birth ball, sit on it with legs wide. If not, you can sit in a regular chair or stand. With your hands on your hips, slowly begin making small circles with your pelvis. Make them larger as you get more comfortable. Perform about 10 circles in one direction, and then 10 circles in the other direction. 

Unload and Stretch 

Sometimes you just need to give your back more of a break to allow the muscles to fully relax and take some pressure off of your spine. Sitting can still create some compression in your back, but using a supported stretching pose can help stretch and unload it. Perform the below exercise to give your back a break. 

Supported Child’s Pose 

Begin in a kneeling position, placing a pillow between your bottom and your heels if needed. Place a bolster or stack of pillows in front of you, with knees wide. Straddling the pillows, lay your chest down onto the bolster or stack of pillows. Leave room for your belly, placing a supportive pillow underneath it if needed. Let yourself relax into the pillows while your back elongates and stretches. 

Strengthen and Support 

The best way to alleviate back pain is preventing or minimizing it ahead of time. The more you can use the right support muscles, the less excessive strain will go into your back during pregnancy. Your abdominals will certainly stretch in pregnancy, but they can still be helpful support muscles, along with the deep muscular stabilizers in your back and your butt muscles. Keeping these muscles strong and active in pregnancy can help reduce back pain overall because you will be giving yourself better support. Perform the below exercise to work on strength and support for your back. 

Bird Dog 

Start on your hands and knees. Feel your lower belly tighten to support the weight of your belly. Slowly lift one leg and the opposite arm so that they are in line with your torso, and imagine reaching the arm and leg long. Make sure nothing moves but the arm and leg, no back arching or hips twisting. Come back to the start position and switch to the other side. If this feels too difficult, try only moving the legs, alternating between sides. This can be modified further by sliding each leg out straight behind you without lifting it. 

If persistent back pain continues in pregnancy, seek out a Women’s Health physical therapist to get an assessment and personalized plan! 

– Dr. Lindsay Brunner, PT, DPT, OCS

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