By: Donald R. Murphy, DC, FRCC, Medical Director, Care New England Spine Care Program

Pregnancy is usually a joyous time but as the baby grows, it can put added strain on parts of a woman’s body, especially the lower back.

During pregnancy, 50 to 70 percent of women will develop back pain and/or sciatica, which is pain from the lower back down the leg. Luckily, there is a lot that can be done to manage this pain, much of which can be taught to you to do yourself.

The birth of back pain

During pregnancy, a hormone called Relaxin is released to relax and prepare the ligaments around the pelvis for the opening of the birth canal. This can cause the pelvic joints, particularly the sacroiliac joints, to loosen. If this relaxation of ligaments is not adequately compensated for by the muscles around the pelvis, back pain can result. Sometimes, the pain can spread down the leg, causing sciatica.

Delivery will usually cure this type of back pain, but you don’t have to suffer through your pregnancy. Primary spine practitioners (PSPs) with special interest in pregnancy-related back pain can help you effectively manage the pain with exercises and self-treatments so you enjoy your pregnancy.

In the Care New England Spine program, we use gentle manipulation and other manual therapies to help the process along and make you feel as comfortable as possible.

Exercise can help

Before starting any exercise on your own, you should speak to your PSP or your obstetrics care provider. One exercise you can try at home is what we call the “Cat and Camel” exercise. To do this, you:

  1. Get onto your hands and knees.
  2. Bring your back down into an arch while moving your head upward and sticking your rear end out (figure 1 below).
  3. Then, raise your back up while moving your head downward and tucking your rear end under (figure 2 below).
  4. Repeat steps two and three.

Figure 1

Figure 2

You should feel a bit of a “pull” in your lower back which is normal. If you feel pain at any point, stop short of that point but do the rest of the movement. If there is pain throughout the movement, stop the exercise and contact your doctor or a member of the Care New England Spine Care Team (see below for contact information).

In addition, you can help your back pain by simply moving. The human body, particularly the spine, craves movement. Be sure to get up and move around as often as you can, both at work and at home.

It’s also important that you call your obstetrics provider immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Cramping in your back or abdomen.
  • Fever.
  • Unusual bleeding, spotting or discharge.
  • Bouts of diarrhea.

Contact Us

The Care New England Spine Care Program offers a team that includes primary spine practitioners, physical therapists, pain management specialists and other experts who can help diagnose and treat pregnancy-related back pain or sciatica. For an appointment, call (401) 728-2200.

Meet the Author

Dr. Murphy, is a primary spine practitioner who has nearly 30 years’ experience helping people return to productive, meaningful lives and has operated practices throughout Rhode Island. He cares for patients with problems such as back or neck pain, thoracic pain, disc pain, radiculopathy, spinal stenosis, whiplash, headache, and pregnancy-related lower back pain and has served on national expert panels crafting physician guidelines on neck and back pain and has helped implement other integrated spine care programs like the program at Care New England.