Back pain in pregnancy is very common, but should be avoided. It is estimated that between 50% and 80% of women experience some form of back pain during pregnancy.
Such pain can range from mild pain associated with specific activities to acute back pain that can become chronic back pain.
Studies show that lower back pain in pregnancy usually occurs between the fifth and seventh month of being pregnant. In some cases, pregnancy pain in the lower back can begin as early as 8 to 12 weeks after becoming pregnant.
Women with pre-existing lower back problems are at higher risk for back pain, and their back pain can occur earlier in the pregnancy.
Types of Pregnancy Back Pain
There are two common types of back pain in pregnancy:
- Lumbar, or lower back pain
- Posterior pelvic pain (see Figure 1).
For obvious reasons it is useful to know the difference between the above two types of back pain in pregnancy and labor pain, which is also felt in the back during pregnancy.
Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy (Lumbar Pain)
Lumbar pain during pregnancy is generally located at and above the waist in the center of the back. This lower back pain in pregnancy may or may not be concurrent with pain that radiates into your leg or foot.
Pain that radiates into the leg or foot is known as sciatica. For more information see What You Need to Know About Sciatica
In general, lumbar pain during pregnancy is similar to lower back pain experienced by non-pregnant women. This type of pain typically increases with prolonged postures (such as sitting, standing, or repetitive lifting), and tenderness may also be present in the muscles along the spine during pregnancy.
Pregnancy Pelvic Pain
Posterior pelvic pain (in the back of the pelvis) is four times more prevalent than lumbar pain in pregnancy. It is a deep pain felt below and to the side at the waistline, and/or below the waistline on either side across the tailbone. Such pregnancy pelvic pain may be experienced on one or both sides.
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Posterior pelvic pain in pregnancy can extend down into the buttock and upper portion of the posterior (in back of) thighs, and does not usually radiate below the knees. It can be associated with pubic pain. The pain does not quickly resolve with rest, and morning stiffness may also be present.
Posterior pelvic pain during pregnancy can be brought on or exacerbated by the following activities:
- Rolling in bed
- Climbing stairs
- Sitting and rising from a seated position (such as getting in and out of cars, bathtubs, bed)
- Lifting, twisting, bending forward
- Running and walking.
A job that involves prolonged postures at extreme ranges (such as sitting at a computer and leaning forward, standing and leaning over a desk or workstation) increases the risk of developing pregnancy pelvic pain.
Unlike many other forms of lower back pain in pregnancy, a previous high level of fitness does not necessarily prevent posterior pelvic pain while pregnant.
Labor Pain During Pregnancy
It is important to note that labor pain is a different type of pain. It is similar to an intense menstrual cramp and has the following characteristics:
- The pain is persistent
- It increases in intensity and frequency over a short period of time
- It is not affected by your level of activity (while back pain associated with pregnancy is often activity-induced).