It is common to have pregnancy back pain.

As a woman progresses through her pregnancy, she gains weight and undergoes hormonal changes, both of which can affect the spine, causing back pain.

6 Easy tips to relieve pregnancy back pain

There are several options for safe back pain treatment during pregnancy. Dr Jessie Phoon, Senior Consultant from the Department of Reproductive Medicine under Division of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, and Director of KKIVF Centre, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares more.

  1. Apply heat or cold
    Both heat or cold can be used based on personal preference. “The objective is to desensitise the nerve sensation for pain relief. Going into a sauna or steam room for short periods of time may relieve back pain.
    However, this is not advisable in the last trimester especially nearer to the due date, since there is a higher possibility of going into labour then,” advises Dr Phoon.

  2. Exercise to strengthen back muscles
    “Some of these exercises may involve weight lifting of less than 5kg. Pregnant women are advised to consult a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist before embarking on such exercises,” says Dr Phoon.

  3. Avoid standing and sitting for long periods
    Also avoid bending down at the waist. Be careful of your posture and stand, sit and bend down with care.

  4. Avoid wearing sandals or high-heeled shoes

  5. Avoid sleeping on your back
    Try to sleep on your side with knees bent as far as possible.

  6. Wear a maternity support belt 
    “Some women may find them useful and we do recommend them. These belts are more commonly used in the second and third trimesters,” says Dr Phoon.

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Causes of pregnancy back pain

Weight gain

“Weight gain is the major factor but the hormone relaxin, released during pregnancy, does play a small role. Relaxin may cause ligaments that support the spine to loosen, causing instability and pain,” says Dr Phoon.

A pregnant woman’s significant weight gain causes a shift in the body’s centre of gravity which affects posture. Any posture change of this kind can cause back pain.

Emotional stress

A pregnant woman’s emotional state may also play a part. While it isn’t a direct cause of back pain, it can worsen it. “Emotional stress may heighten the sensation of mild back pain that you are already experiencing from the weight gain and posture changes, and can cause muscle tension,” says Dr Phoon.

Back pain, particularly lower back pain, typically begins in the second trimester of pregnancy when the growing baby and expanding uterus begin to place undue pressure on the spine.

FAQs about painkillers and remedies for pregnancy back pain

1. Are NSAIDs and painkillers safe to take during pregnancy?

“Pregnant women should never self-medicate,” says Dr Phoon. “Always consult a doctor before taking any medication for back pain during pregnancy.

Painkillers such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are not recommended in pregnancy as they can harm the foetus and cause premature birth. Aspirin is an NSAID that can be used occasionally in the case of high-risk pregnancy, and for specific medical conditions, after consulting a doctor.

Paracetamol and opiate-based painkillers are relatively safe for pregnant women, but these should also only be used after consulting a doctor.

Can pregnant women use pain patches and topical gels for back pain treatment?

“Local treatment with patches or topical gels is generally safe as the absorption is very minimal. But they should be used as little as possible,” says Dr Phoon.

2. Are acupuncture and chiropractic treatment safe during pregnancy?

“We have not done any studies on the effectiveness of alternative treatment for back pain during pregnancy,” says Dr Phoon.

When to see a doctor for pregnancy back pain

Occasionally, severe back pain could be a sign of miscarriage or early labour.

“Severe back pain that does not resolve with any simple remedy should be seen by a doctor immediately,” says Dr Phoon.

Ref: I23