There is a lot of information about the unavoidable gauntlet that a woman's body must bear to carry and give birth to a child. Luckily, resiliency plays a remarkable role and usually allows the woman and the baby to get through it, and it can be a beautiful experience.
But what if you have preexisting back pain or sciatica? What if you have had previous spinal surgery? What if you have a preexisting structural problem like scoliosis? When this is the case, you will be well served to take some extra steps to avoid or minimize the chance of developing or worsening your back pain during pregnancy.
Preexisting spine conditions or prior spine surgery and pregnancy
Preexisting spine conditions are not uncommon in women who are considering having a child. Some common structural spinal conditions include scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, and lumbar disc conditions such as a herniated disc, annular tear, or degenerative disc. Some of these conditions may have been treated with a previous spinal surgery, like a lumbar discectomy or even a lumbar or thoracolumbar fusion.
Watch: Lumbar Herniated Disc Video
The good news is that there is no strong evidence that having these preexisting conditions or surgeries will cause greater risk of developing back pain during pregnancy, or will cause complications with the pregnancy itself—even if you have had an extensive surgery such as a spinal fusion.
That being said, if you have active back pain or sciatica or if you have had recent spinal surgery and are considering becoming pregnant, consult with your OB/GYN and spinal specialist to determine what is best in your individual case.
Risk factors of back pain during pregnancy
A more common risk of developing back pain or sciatica during pregnancy exists for women who are deconditioned, overweight, or smoke tobacco. This holds true even if they have not experienced back pain before.
Most gynecologists and spine specialists will agree that women who have an active, healthy lifestyle—including regular exercise that continues during pregnancy—will have a much smoother pregnancy free of back and pelvic pain or radiating sciatica pain.
Unfortunately, if you have no prior history of back problems and practice a healthy lifestyle, you can still develop back pain during pregnancy. Usually, simple supportive and nonsurgical treatments suffice. In extremely rare instances, microsurgery to treat an acute lumbar disc herniation causing severe neurological symptoms could be required during pregnancy. This scenario should involve the input of the treating OB/GYN, but typically can be achieved without consequence to the pregnancy or child.
As with most things in life, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way, and I certainly believe that's the case for women preparing to become pregnant. Remember, there is no substitute for the things you can control: diet and nutrition, exercise, and getting enough restorative sleep.
If you have had prior spinal surgery or recent back pain, see your gynecologist and spine specialist. The triple whammy of having a child may be unavoidable, but a little preparation and attention to lifestyle factors will help improve the experience for most women.