back pain during pregnancy

Early Pregnancy Back Pain

As many as 50% of all moms-to-be experience moderate to severe backaches in the first three months of pregnancy. Back pain in early pregnancy falls into two categories. For most women, it's a strong, sharp pain located in the center of their back, right above the tailbone -- this area is what physicians call the lumbar region. The pain may or may not radiate down into the legs and feet. For others, back pain occurs contralaterally and may be experienced as more of a dull ache. Here's a look at what causes back pain during pregnancy and ways to manage it.

Progesterone and Back Pain

One of the main culprits of lumbar pain is progesterone, the same hormone responsible for stimulating the growth of your breasts and maintaining the placenta connecting baby to uterus. Progesterone's role is to prepare the body for birth. 
One of the ways it does this is by relaxing smooth muscles, weakening ligaments, and loosening the discs of the vertebra in the spine to accommodate a growing baby. Ligaments all throughout the body will become looser, even those that have nothing to do with giving birth. This is also one reason many women notice their feet grow larger during pregnancy. 

Posture and Center of Gravity

Another factor contributing to back pain is the growing baby bump that becomes a pregnant woman’s center of gravity. You may not realize it, but your posture and gait change to accommodate the influence of gravity on your front. The bigger your baby (and your belly!) grows, the more you’re forced to change your posture to counteract the effect. This requires more work of muscles you aren’t used to using so much, creating more and more strain on the back.

Complications Related to Back Pain

Contralateral back pain may be related to a urinary tract or kidney infection (pyelonephritis). You may notice an elevated temperature, pain or a burning sensation during urination, and an uncontrollable urge to urinate even when the bladder is empty. Even the smooth muscle of the urinary tract is influenced by progesterone, resulting in a predisposition towards these types infections during pregnancy. Pregnancy pyelonephritis is a serious condition, requiring immediate medical attention. Maternal kidney infections have also been linked to fetal and newborn mortality and carry the risk of preterm labor and a low birth weight.

Managing Back Pain

Exercise is the best remedy for lumbar back pain during early pregnancy. Many women experiencing this early pregnancy symptom stop exercising altogether, which is one of the worst things to do. Even a moderate 30 minute walk most days of the week can be helpful. Additionally, stretch periodically throughout the day. There are some great exercises to relieve back pain, which result in both flexibility and improved muscle strength. 
Lumbar back pain generally subsides around the 20th week of pregnancy as the pelvic brim begins to better support the uterus. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication. 
Last Updated: January 13, 2018