14 Remedies for Pregnancy Back Pain

Is your back starting to talk to you—but not in a nice way? Try one of these expert-approved strategies for pregnancy back pain relief.

Step into any physical therapist's office or massage studio, you're bound to see some baby bumps in the waiting room. That's because back pain during pregnancy is super common, and 50% to 75% of pregnant people experience it at one point in their pregnancy.

Pregnancy Back Pain: 4 Reasons to Call Your Doctor_still

You can blame back pain on both the growing weight of the baby as well as the increase of a hormone called relaxin, which causes the joints and ligaments to relax (hence the name) during pregnancy in preparation for labor. To make matters worse, as you get closer to your delivery date, your uterus places more weight on your pelvic ligaments and can add to your aches.

Back pain in pregnancy is especially common between the fifth and seventh months. "That's when your uterus, normally housed in the pelvis, suddenly moves into your abdomen, putting a lot of stress on your lower and mid-back," explains Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Holly Herman, D.P.T., author of How to Raise Children Without Breaking Your Back: A Body Manual for New Mothers and the Parents of Small Children. Your spine sways as a result, hampering your posture and compressing the back vertebrae like a smushed Slinky.

Here's some good news to make you sit up (straight!) and take notice: You can start building a better back now. There are plenty of remedies that doctors, doulas, and holistic health practitioners recommend to help ease pregnancy-related back pain, or even relieve it completely. Here are some you can try to relieve back pain while your body does the most important work it's ever done: growing your baby.

1. Practice Prenatal Yoga

Yoga, a movement-based strength and flexibility practice with roots in ancient India, is one of the most popular techniques for pregnancy back pain relief. Prenatal yoga is a top choice among pregnant people whose backs, muscles, joints, and nerves are hurting under the weight of pregnancy.

In fact, prenatal yoga can help improve posture and "tone the physical body in preparation for the birthing process," says Liz Owen, a Boston-area yoga teacher and the co-author of Yoga for a Healthy Lower Back: A Practical Guide to Developing Strength and Relieving Pain.

Prenatal yoga also tackles emotional stress with deep, mindful breathing exercises that can strengthen and empower. Plus, a regular yoga practice can help you sleep better and relax your mind and muscles. "In the midst of changing hormones and emotions, yoga provides a grounding and focus," says Owen.

2. Take Medication

For normal and occasional back pain, it's generally considered safe to take acetaminophen during pregnancy, but avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs (unless your OB-GYN says it's OK) as there is a risk of causing low amniotic fluid and heart issues for your baby.

3. Try Acupuncture

Studies have shown a relationship between acupuncture and pregnancy back pain relief, and many people swear by its effectiveness. However, acupuncture must be administered correctly to prevent unwanted side effects such as nausea, headaches, and overstimulation that can induce labor.

Acupuncture is an East Asian medical technique in which very fine needles are inserted into specific pressure points on the body that correspond with various systems of physical and emotional health. Acupuncture removes any blockages that are interfering with the smooth flow of the body's energy, called qi (pronounced "chee").

Stimulating these acupuncture points, either through needle insertion or acupressure (a technique in which the practitioner uses fingers instead of needles) can help improve digestion, boost your energy level, and bring relief from morning sickness, migraine headaches, and back pain.

Consult with your doctor first to make sure acupuncture is right for you, and then find a certified therapist who has experience working with pregnant people.

4. Get a Prenatal Massage

A certified prenatal massage therapist can bring quick relief when back pain is acute, especially when it's the result of muscular clenching that irritates nerves (particularly the sciatic nerve in the buttocks and legs) and sends pain signals to the brain. Research has shown that in addition to relieving pain, regular prenatal massage can help alleviate depression and anxiety in pregnancy.

Swedish massage is the most common and advisable method of prenatal massage because it is gentle and soothing, and it uses long, smooth strokes that won't aggravate the joints or push fluid through the body in an unhealthy way. Pregnant people should first consult with their doctor to make sure prenatal massage is safe for them and then make sure to work with a prenatal massage therapist who is certified. To be comfortable on the massage table, a side-lying position is usually best.

5. Seek Chiropractic Care

You may associate chiropractors with joint-"cracking" adjustments, but they actually use a range of techniques to relieve back pain, and many pregnant people find relief under the care of an experienced chiropractor. Chiropractors routinely use joint manipulation (which can cause that popping sound), soft tissue work, and prescribed exercises to prevent pregnant people from feeling muscular tightness, nerve compression, and joint misalignment.

"Chiropractors are good at detecting imbalances and helping to correct them," says Robert Kum, D.C., co-owner of ChiroCare Associates in Arlington, Massachusetts. Dr. Kum, who has treated hundreds of pregnant people, advises looking for a chiropractor who works with expectant parents. "Experience is key," he says, as is a positive outlook. "Most of the back pain pregnant women experience is manageable," Dr. Kum says, so you "don't have to suffer through it." And keep in mind: if you're uncomfortable with any adjustments your chiropractor recommends, you can take things slow or ask them to only adjust what you're comfortable with. For instance, if you don't want your neck adjusted, just let them know.

6. Book a Physical Therapy Appointment

Physical therapists, in addition to treating acute injuries, can help pregnant people work through back pain by manipulating joints, muscles, and nerve pressure points and providing exercises that expectant parents can continue at home. Rick Olderman, M.S.P.T., a Denver-based physical therapist and the author of Fixing You: Back Pain During Pregnancy, says that one of his goals is to educate patients by "teaching them how to walk, sit, stand, bend forward, lie down, and exercise" in a healthy, back-supporting way.

One thing Olderman does is place tape on the backs of pregnant people's knees to "remind them to unlock their knees," a habit that can put pressure on the large muscles of the legs and hip joints and the back, he says. Because pregnant people's joints become lax as a result of hormonal changes, Olderman also helps show them the importance of limiting their joints' ranges of motion to about 75%. "It may feel good to stretch, but the tissue stress becomes greater," he says, and can actually exacerbate pain. Some health insurance plans cover physical therapy, which is not always the case with other complementary therapies.

7. Relax With Meditation

By meditating regularly, you can increase your pain tolerance level, which can come in handy both when managing pregnancy back pain and in coping with labor and delivery pain.

Unlike yoga or massage, meditation is a technique that you can access at any time, in any place, no appointment necessary. There are numerous ways to practice meditation. One is to simply sit or lie down in a quiet place and focus on breathing mindfully, inhaling and exhaling deeply. You can meditate in silence or listen to calming music or a guided audio program, which can be generic ("imagine a beautiful beach") or pregnancy-specific ("feel waves of love enveloping your growing baby").

Meditation has been shown to elicit a biological "relaxation response," which stimulates the brain to control its release of stress hormones. When stress is kept in check, its toxic effects (such as high blood pressure and muscle tension) are reduced.

8. Go Swimming

Swimming is one of the most highly recommended forms of exercise for pregnant people because it "takes the pressure off the spine," says Mary Rosser, M.D., Ph.D., an OB-GYN at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. That makes swimming great for relieving back pain during pregnancy.

When you're suspended in the water, gravity has no effect on your body, and "you're weightless in the water," Dr. Rosser says. Merely paddling up and down the pool lanes will help decompress your spine and tone your legs, arms, and back and core muscles.

As you experience full-body movement in a safe space, breathe deeply and fully to stay afloat—deep breathing will help you relax emotionally as well as physically. And as you move further into your pregnancy, swimming the breaststroke can strengthen the chest and back muscles. Always stay well hydrated while swimming and stop if you feel dizzy or lightheaded at any point. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, talk with your doctor before you head to the pool.

9. Support Your Body During Sleep

To support your back and relieve back pain during pregnancy while sleeping, fold a thick towel lengthwise and place it perpendicular to your body at the point on your waist where your spine is most "droopy." The towel's length will ensure support without requiring readjustment, even if you roll over during the night. Or try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees to reduce the strain on your pelvis and lower back.

Sleep can be elusive during pregnancy, especially if your back is hurting. Most pregnant people sleep on their sides. Olderman likens the spine in this position to a telephone wire that's hanging between the two poles of your shoulders and your pelvis. "The spine drops down to the bed just like a telephone wire would drop between two poles," he says.

Side sleeping is important as the pregnancy develops past the first trimester—it optimizes blood flow to the baby, says Dr. Rosser. Sleeping flat on your back isn't good for you or the baby, she adds. Body pillows can be helpful for supporting your chest, hips, and lower back in side-lying positions.

Experts also advise sleeping on a firm mattress (Dr. Rosser suggests placing a wooden board under your mattress if you have a soft one) and following smart sleep habits such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and relaxing bedtime routine, using your bed only for sleep and sex, avoiding bright screens just before bed, keeping the space cool and dark, and not eating for at least two to three hours before bedtime.

10. Wear a Pregnancy Support Belt

Doctors generally advise pregnant people to try support belts and use them if they work, but the belts should be seen as a complement to other remedies rather than the only pregnancy back pain relief strategy you use.

Pregnancy support belts, sometimes referred to as belly bands or maternity belts, are supportive undergarments that help hold up the belly so the pelvic girdle and lower back aren't overly strained. If your belly is protruding forward in a pronounced way, rather than with your weight diffused across your midsection, the belt can act as a substitute for your abdominal core muscles, which can struggle to prevent your lower spine from painfully exaggerating its curvature.

11. Find the Proper Shoes

To get the best support—and to relieve the most pregnancy-related back pain and pressure—Dr. Rosser advises a low-heeled shoe that is comfortable with either built-in arch support or an orthotic insert. The slight rise of the low heel will help distribute the weight that's on your legs in a more stable and back-supportive way.

If you're regularly wearing high-heeled shoes, you're not doing your back any favors. "High heels increase the curvature of your back and create pressure" that drives the weight of your growing uterus directly into your lower spine and hip joints, says Dr. Rosser. You may also lose your balance (your weight shifts as the pregnancy advances and the center of gravity changes), and heels may cause you to be less stable.

But walking in flats isn't the answer either, as they can leave your feet, which tend to spread during pregnancy because of hormonal changes, unsupported. Poor foot position can manifest itself as imbalance and pain all the way up your legs and back.

12. Experiment With Temperature

Feel fast back pain relief with these easy tips from physical therapist Alison Sadowy:

  • Ice: For acute back pain (in the first 48 to 72 hours), apply a towel-wrapped ice pack to your back for 15 minutes to ease swelling and slow pain signals to the brain (a bag of frozen vegetables works, too.).
  • Heat: To promote healing after the acute phase, use heat to enhance circulation and lessen lingering aches. Place 2 cups of uncooked rice in a cotton sock. Knot the open end and microwave for 60 seconds. Apply to the painful area for 15 minutes.

13. Focus on Your Posture

As your uterus expands, the way you stand and walk may change. This shift can result in pregnancy back pain that you may feel most when you lie down to sleep. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs can help relieve the excess pressure on your spine.

Your body is naturally accommodating to the shift in your center of gravity and the laxity of your ligaments. Also, your lower back might curve more inward while your pelvis tips forward. So, to straighten up, work on regularly strengthening your pelvic floor and core muscles.

14. Lighten Your Load

When lifting heavy objects—from heavy groceries to a toddler—lift with your knees and hips rather than your back to avoid back pain. It's also generally best to limit the weight you lift and carry. Your prenatal care provider can help you figure out what your new weight limit might be. Just don't forget to give yourself—and your back—a break every once in a while.

When to Worry About Pregnancy Back Pain

Low back pain that's worse when you're standing but eases once you sit or lie down is considered normal during pregnancy. But talk to your doctor if the pain starts to radiate down your legs into your calves or feet; interferes with daily activities; or is associated with other symptoms such as fever, chills, weight loss, weakness, or sensory issues. Some people may also experience back pain with a urinary tract infection, so be on the lookout for other symptoms such as pain when you urinate.

Additionally, for some people, regular or rhythmic back pain could be a sign of labor, so be sure to let your doctor know if you're having back pain if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant.

The Bottom Line

Mild to moderate back pain often goes hand-in-hand with pregnancy, especially once your bump really starts to get big. But just because it's common doesn't mean you need to suffer through it. Try out our suggestions for easing your discomfort, and stay in touch with your prenatal care provider about your symptoms.

Additional reporting by Emily Elveru
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