By Dr Richard Parkinson
Back pain during pregnancy is an issue for many women. It's actually quite common. Up to three quarters of women will experience some kind of back pain at some stage in their pregnancy. The pain can be caused by a whole range of factors and is generally worse at the end of the day. But it's more likely to be a problem if you had back pain before you were pregnant or if you are overweight.
Don't ignore the signs
Pregnancy can be really uncomfortable for some women. They may feel sick or in pain at various times all the way through. So it could be that a woman comes to see pain in pregnancy as natural, that it will automatically go away after childbirth.
However, if there's a new symptom that's really out of the ordinary, women should seek advice from a medical professional.
Staying fit does help to minimise back pain during pregnancy. It doesn't mean going to the gym every day or jog or get a personal trainer or anything like that. Swimming is a popular form of exercise during pregnancy, and can help prevent back pain after childbirth too. It's a good way of making sure the lower back muscles are exercised without strain, it keeps the leg muscles moving, improves circulation and overall health. Swimming is especially good in mid to late pregnancy when women are quite uncomfortable. When other forms of exercise become a struggle, swimming offers a great alternative. Even if you don't experience back pain in pregnancy, swimming is just a really good exercise for staying active and keeping fit.
Top tips to help prevent back pain
While most people only seek treatment once their back already has them in agony, there are some very simple and effective ways you can minimise or prevent back pain. These are things you can think about even before you conceive to ensure your body – and your spine – are in tip top shape before you get pregnant.
1. Be careful how you lift: The age-old warnings about being careful while lifting still ring true. Nothing will injure a back faster than lifting too much weight too far in front of your body. Try to keep the weight as close to your centre of gravity as you can, rather than reaching out
2. No twisting: Turning your body at the waist while lifting is also a huge no-no – especially when pregnant. Avoid forcible bending, twisting or pulling as much as you can while carrying heavy weights; which include children!
3. Look after yourself: It's a no-brainer, but maintaining your health, weight and lifestyle is probably the simplest healthy back tip to follow. Although weight gain is a normal part of pregnancy, excess weight and body fat puts unnecessary pressure on the back and increases the risk of injury. So it's important to keep looking after yourself by eating healthily and staying active when pregnant, for your own health as well as the health of your baby
4. Quit smoking: This one might surprise you, but smoking can be a silent killer for backs. If being pregnant or planning to conceive wasn't already enough of a motivator to quit, here's another reason; it's terrible for the lumbar disc. Smoking increases the risk of degeneration in the disc and it increases the risk that you will herniate the disc again if you have a disc herniation
Help for back pain during pregnancy
It's very important to seek medical assistance if you do experience any sudden change in symptoms, including back pain. So if you notice anything that isn't normal for you, make an appointment with your GP. In most cases, when a GP is confronted with a woman who is pregnant, and is complaining of a new symptom, they will probably refer her straight to their obstetrician. That would be the appropriate and sensible thing to do.
Pregnancy can be a strain on your body and it's normal to experience aches and pains throughout. But if your back pain becomes excessive – especially if you've experienced back problems pre-pregnancy – make sure you seek medical advice. In most cases, taking it easy and adding some light exercise to your routine, such as walking or swimming, will help relive pregnancy related back pain.
Dr Parkinson is a highly qualified neurosurgeon with extensive experience in neurosurgery. He has studied under, and worked with leading neurosurgeons in the USA performing ground breaking surgeries. Dr Parkinson has attained internationally esteemed qualifications from both the USA and Australia and is a highly respected specialist at the forefront of Neurosurgical science and development. Dr Parkinson was the first to be trained in neurointervention in Australia and his expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of sports and neurological injuries is highly sought after by elite sportspeople throughout Australia.