Back Pain During Pregnancy

Lower back pain is actually one of the potential early symptoms of pregnancy.  Most women report some level of back pain during pregnancy. For some it is mild discomfort and for others it is more severe. Back pain during pregnancy may occur in the early weeks following conception or at any point during the pregnancy. The most common occurrence of back pain is during the later stages of pregnancy when the weight of the baby has increased. Back pain may just be an annoyance or it can interfere with normal daily activities. You may find it leads to other complications like headaches or trouble with sleep. If you are experiencing back, you will be relieved to know there are things you can do to help manage your back pain or reduce the extent that it interfered with your daily routine.

How common is back pain during pregnancy?

The majority of women report some level of back pain or discomfort during pregnancy. If you are experiencing back pain during your pregnancy, you are amongst friends.  The specific percentages vary depending on the report, but they range from 50 to 70% of all pregnant women.

What causes back pain during pregnancy?

Although back pain during pregnancy is considered normal or a symptom of pregnancy, most women want to know what causes it. Back pain during pregnancy is affected by a variety of reasons. Some women have reported back pain as part of their early symptoms of pregnancy. Some women are more at risk for back pain during pregnancy because or current weight issues, inappropriate body postures, or current back issues. Outside of these factors, here is a list of potential causes of back pain or discomfort during pregnancy:

  • Increased hormone levels – hormones released during pregnancy allow ligaments in the pelvic area to soften and the joints to become looser in preparation for the birthing process of your baby; this shift in joints and loosening of ligaments may affect the support your back normally experiences
  • Center of gravity – your center of gravity will gradually move forward as your uterus and baby grow, which causes your posture to change
  • Additional weight – your developing pregnancy and baby create additional weight that your back must support
  • Posture or position – poor posture, excessive standing, and bending over can trigger or escalate the pain you experience in your back
  • Stress – stress usually finds the weak spot in the body, and because of the changes in your pelvic area, you may experience an increase in back pain during stressful periods of your pregnancy

How can you prevent or minimize back pain during pregnancy?

Back pain may not be prevented completely, but there are things that you can do to reduce the severity or frequency. Here are a few steps you can take to help reduce the back pain you are experiencing:

  • Use exercises approved by your health care provider that support and help strengthen the back and abdomen
  • Squat to pick up something versus bending over
  • Avoid high heels and other shoes that do not provide adequate support
  • Avoid sleeping on your back
  • Wear a support belt under your lower abdomen
  • Make sure your back is aligned using a chiropractor
  • Get plenty of rest. Elevating your feet is also good for your back

How can you treat back pain during pregnancy?

There are a number of things you can do to treat back pain during pregnancy. Some of the steps you take to avoid back pain may also be used to treat current back pain. Here are some other common interventions:

  • Ice or heat
  • Braces or support devices
  • Sleep on your left side and use a support pillow under your knees
  • Medications used to treat inflammation
  • Use a licensed health care professional such as a chiropractor or massage therapist

When to contact your health care provider?

Experiencing back pain itself is usually not a reason to contact your health care provider, but there are situations where contacting your provider is necessary. You want to contact your health care provider if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Severe back pain
  • Increasingly severe or abrupt-onset of back pain
  • Rhythmic cramping pains; this could be a sign of preterm labor

Severe back pain may be related to pregnancy-associated osteoporosis, vertebral osteoarthritis, or septic arthritis. These are not common, but it is something your health care provider will examine if you are experiencing severe back pain.

Your Next Steps:

  • Begin an approved exercise program to support your back and abdomen
  • Set aside a couple of times a day where you can take a nap or get off your feet
  • Purchase a support belt
  • Purchase a sleep aid pillow

Last Updated: 09/2008


Compiled using information from the following sources:

Danforth Obstetrics and Gynecology Ninth Ed. Scott, James. Gibbs, et al, Ch. 1

Williams’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 8

Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com

American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, http://www.aapmr.org

American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

Leave a Reply