Who wouldn't love to unlock the magic formula to stop pain before it even starts? If you're newly pregnant and noticing your more rotund peers wincing and clutching their lower backs as they get up from a chair or walk through the grocery store, you're probably more eager than ever for that secret. Unfortunately, the likelihood that you will experience some form of back pain during pregnancy is high. The American Pregnancy Association estimates that between 50 percent and 70 percent of women will struggle with it at some point during their pregnancies. Thankfully, there are some techniques that can help minimize the effect back pain will have on your well being, if not prevent the pain altogether.
The biggest favor you can do to keep pregnancy back pain at bay actually begins before your baby is even a twinkle in your eye (or your uterus). When you're even considering pregnancy, begin to strengthen your body -- especially your legs, abdominal core, and back -- through moderate exercise, advises Mary Rosser, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York.
Dr. Rosser recommends pre-conception care that includes consulting with your doctor to form a plan and discussing different exercise techniques to prepare your body for carrying the pregnancy weight. Walking for 20 to 30 minutes or riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes a day builds leg strength, as do simple exercises that strengthen abdominal muscles to support the belly and protect the back when your pregnancy eventually progresses. Starting off strong will help you maintain enough core strength to maintain alignment and balance as your belly begins to grow and pull the lower back forward.
Once you are pregnant, the back pain risk really starts. "Most of it is due to the compression of nerves and blood vessels," Dr. Rosser says. So adopt healthy habits that will keep your body as open and supported as possible. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees to reduce the strain on your pelvis and lower back, wear low-heeled shoes with arch supports to help your back maintain its healthy, natural curvature, and drink plenty of fluids to keep your blood vessels open and hydrated. Avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds -- if you need to do so, bend your knees and use your legs (not your back) to lift.
Again, exercise is an important preventative measure for back pain. "I love prenatal yoga," Dr. Rosser says. "I think it gives you a sense of balance that really does help with posture -- and that helps relieve the back pain." Swimming is another recommended activity because it takes the pressure of gravity off your whole spine while allowing the muscles to stretch and work.
The workplace can be a back pain danger zone, whether you spend days sitting in a chair or standing on your feet. If you're a desk-sitter, protect yourself from collapsing into a slumped posture that will round your upper back while misaligning your lower back. Get up from your chair at least once an hour, or once every 30 minutes if you're feeling any pain. If you're on your feet all day, make it a priority to sit down at least every couple of hours to release your spine, and try to prop one foot up to take some of the pressure out of your lower back.
Watch your weight gain, work with your OB and care team, and try to remain within the 25 to 35 pounds of recommended weight gain for a healthy pregnancy. Robert Kum, D.C., a chiropractor in Arlington, Massachusetts, who has treated hundreds of pregnant women, says that every pound gained is equivalent to 5 to 10 extra pounds of pressure on your spine and hips. Keeping your weight gain slow and steady will give you less pain to carry around with you.
Being mindful of your everyday movements and being patient with your body as it adjusts to a new center of gravity are among the best and simplest ways to prevent back pain caused by nerves, muscles, or joints. "You do a lot of little things throughout the day. All of those have massive cumulative effects," says Rick Olderman, a Denver-based physical therapist and the author of Fixing You: Back Pain During Pregnancy. "Developing good habits even before your body starts to change," he says, "will really help you offset the changes" that cause pain.
Holly Lebowitz Rossi writes the Parents News Now blog for Parents.com, and she is the co-author, with yoga teacher Liz Owen, of Yoga for a Healthy Lower Back: A Practical Guide to Developing Strength and Relieving Pain.
Copyright © 2014 Meredith Corporation.