For most women, one of the major complaints during pregnancy is about an aching back. In fact, studies show that 6 in 10 pregnant women will experience back pain at one point or another during pregnancy. Sometimes, this pain presents as upper back (or thoracic spine) pain.
Although it can occur at any time during pregnancy, medical practitioners agree that it is more common in the third trimester as a result of certain factors which would be mentioned later in this article.
Furthermore, this article contains valid info on the symptoms, treatments, and prevention of upper back pain in pregnancy.
Table of contents
- First, What Is Upper Back Pain?
- Causes of Upper Back Pain during Pregnancy
- How to Prevent Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy
- Treatment of Upper Back Pain in Pregnancy
- A Final Word from Edie & Amy
First, What Is Upper Back Pain?
Upper back pain is the pain experienced in the middle and upper part of the back called the thoracic region which joins the neck to the lower back. Generally, the thoracic region provides stability to your back.
Most times, people experience thoracic pain due to injury or forceful trauma to the spine, muscle irritation, tissue problems, autoimmune, and degenerative conditions which may be a symptom of other bone conditions. However, certain physiological changes during pregnancy may also result in upper back pain.
Causes of Upper Back Pain during Pregnancy
As we mentioned earlier, upper back pain can occur at any point during pregnancy due to several reasons. Some of the major causes include:
- Hormonal Fluctuations
Pregnancy comes with a lot of hormonal changes which support the growing baby and prepare the body for child birth. For example, a hormone called Relaxin softens and loosens the pelvic joints in preparation for delivery. However, this hormone doesn’t just work in the pelvis. It moves through the blood to every part of your body, relaxing all your joints.
During pregnancy, this softening and loosening can affect the upper back, causing aches and pains.
- The Growing Baby
As pregnancy progresses, the increasing size of your baby may cause the uterus to adjust your body’s center of gravity. This shift places more pressure on the back muscles, resulting in upper back pain for most women.
- Weight Gain
Here’s the fact: Weight gain is inevitable in pregnancy.
In some cases, a woman can gain almost 30% of her body weight in this period. In addition to the growing weight of your baby, the weight gain that comes with pregnancy may also strain the back muscles, causing back pain.
- Bigger Breasts
As you expect your little one(s), your breast tissue may enlarge to prepare for the process of breastfeeding. When this occurs, it may affect your posture and increase the strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Now, this is not absolutely dependent on pregnancy.
Studies have shown that stress increases muscle pain and tightness, especially in areas of general body weakness. For most pregnant women, stress is not a stranger. Sadly, the combination of the demands of pregnancy and the resulting stress may cause upper back pain.
Although upper back pain is common during pregnancy, there are certain steps that you can take to prevent this uncomfortable occurrence and relieve the pain if it eventually comes up.
Read on to find out!
How to Prevent Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy
1. Maintain a Good Posture Always
A good posture is the first step to preventing upper back pain while pregnant. While standing, it is important to stand straight and tall, with your chest high and shoulders back. To make this easier, you can even use the wide stance which distributes your body weight equally between both feet.
Furthermore, it is advisable to keep your feet flat on the floor while sitting. As a pregnant mom, we recommend using a chair with a good back support while sitting for long periods of time. Finally, while sleeping, use the side position and place a pillow between your knees. This would keep your spine in a neutral position that reduces the possibility of back ache
2. Wear a Supportive Bra
During pregnancy, your clothes matter.
As you expect your precious one(s), it is helpful to wear a good, comfortable, and supportive bra that is able to bear the weight of your growing breasts without straining your back muscles.
In addition, it is better to avoid wearing shoes with high heels for long periods of time. Flat-heel shoes may relieve some of the back pain by keeping your spine in a neutral position and providing a good base to support your body weight.
As we mentioned here, exercise is important during pregnancy.
Daily exercises like yoga, walking or swimming would help relieve back pain and keep your upper back muscles strong enough to support the weight gain that comes with pregnancy. However, it is important to consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine during pregnancy.
4. Avoid Lifting Heavy Stuff
If you can, it is better to avoid lifting or carrying heavy objects as a mom-to-be. In fact, if you have to carry something heavy, make sure to keep the object close to your body at all times. This way, the strain on your upper back muscles would be less.
However, it is advisable to call for help if you need to move weighty objects during pregnancy.
5. Squat! Don’t Bend
As you know and agree, pregnancy comes with a lot of changes.
While expecting, it is important to squat and not bend at the waist if you have to pick something up from a lower surface. Bending may upset your body’s center of gravity, causing back pain.
However, squatting to pick things up would keep your spine straight and reduce any strain on your upper back muscles.
6. Don’t Stand For Long
During pregnancy, it is advisable to avoid standing for long periods of time. However, if you need to be on your feet for long, try to maintain a good posture throughout.
Furthermore, it helps to distribute your body weight as often as you can. You can achieve this by resting one foot on an elevated surface while standing.
7. Get a Lot of Rest
As we mentioned earlier in this article, upper back pain is linked to elevated stress levels during pregnancy. As you wait for your little one, it is advisable to get as much rest as you can.
You can even try things like power naps, meditation, and yoga to manage your stress levels during pregnancy.
Although upper back pain is relatively normal during pregnancy, if your back pain is excessive, it is important to consider other treatment options.
Treatment of Upper Back Pain in Pregnancy
If the preventive tips mentioned above to not relieve the feeling of back pain during pregnancy, it is important to consult your doctor immediately. Although it is quite frequent, back pain should not be ignored during pregnancy as it can be a sign of preterm labor, urinary tract infection or other medical conditions.
Furthermore, upper back pain that comes with fever, burning sensation while urinating, or vaginal bleeding should be treated immediately. If you experience any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor immediately.
In some cases, upper back pain can be treated by:
- Using ice packs
- Prenatal Massage
- Pain relief drugs
- Lifestyle changes
- Physiotherapy techniques (e.g. Dry Needling)
- Stretching Exercises
Finally, it is crucial to consult your doctor before taking any medication during pregnancy.
A Final Word from Edie & Amy
In conclusion, it is helpful to remember that back pain is a normal (but uncomfortable) part of pregnancy for most women. As we mentioned earlier, it is often associated with hormonal, physical and physiological changes. However, it is important to note that women who have experienced back pain before pregnancy face a higher risk of upper back pain during pregnancy.
Thankfully, you can avoid upper back pain by following the preventive tips mentioned in this article. However, if the pain is excessive, consult your doctor immediately.
Always remember that you don’t have to suffer and help is always available.
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Nwuga, V. (1982). Pregnancy And Back Pain Among Upper Class Nigerian Women. Austrain Journal of Physiotherapy, 28(4), 8-11.
Rodacki, C., Fowler, N., Rodacki, A., & Birch, K. (2003). Stature loss and recovery in pregnant women with and without low back pain. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 84(4), 507-512.