Neck Pain And Low Back Pain During Pregnancy

Neck Pain And Low Back Pain During Pregnancy

Reviewed By

Dr. Gargi Naha (M.Pth (Musculoskeletal))

Neck pain and low back pain are quite commonly seen in pregnant women. This neck pain and low back pain worsens with each week of pregnancy if not taken appropriate care of. 

Neck pain and low back pain are direct effects of laxity, hormonal changes, and postural changes. These changes take place over a period of time in pregnant women. Primarily due to the body’s need to balance the weight of the baby bump that's growing with the mother's posture.

Women are frequently seen adopting these awkward, painful postures due to this reason. However, a lack of awareness of preventing neck pain and low back pain also contributes to the increasing cases of neck and lower back pain in pregnant women. 

We at YourPhysio are working on creating awareness. Creating awareness about the different sequence of events taking place during each trimester of pregnancy and how to prevent any painful condition during it.

Neck and Back pain in each Trimester

First Trimester

The first trimester consists of the duration between the 1st week to the 12th week of pregnancy. During this period, neck pain is more common than back pain.’

Neck pain is mostly due to a forward head posture or muscle strain due to awkward sleeping positions.

Second Trimester

The second trimester starts from the 13th week to the 24th week of pregnancy. Here there is an equal occurrence of both neck pain and low back pain along with other symptoms like headaches, indigestion, and bloating. Headaches, forward head posture, improper sitting and sleeping postures, and even a slipped disc can cause both neck and back pain.

Third Trimester

The third trimester starts from the 25th week and ends on giving birth. This period is home to the severest of back and neck pain. Along with nausea, mood swings, and improper bowel movements. The added weight of the child on the mother's body is one of the main reasons.

What causes neck pain and back pain in Pregnancy? 

Each woman is different and so is each pregnancy. Although most symptoms of pregnancy are commonly seen in 80% of people, the remaining 20% experience symptoms of varied kinds. 

Here are some of the reasons why women experience neck and back pain during pregnancy:

1. Bad Posture

The natural shape of the spine isn't straight. It is naturally curved at both the upper or cervical end and the lower back region. This design of the spine is so as to enhance the flexibility and elasticity of the spine. And at the same time promoting normal body mechanics and balancing weight.

Pregnancy, especially the third trimester puts a lot of weight on the spine, disturbing the weight distribution of the body due to the growing baby bump.

This change in the weight distribution is compensated by the muscles surrounding the spine.

This compensation may or may not be in the best interest of the women as it is majorly impacted by the day-to-day posture of the spine. The kind of posture maintained by the mother during pregnancy while performing daily tasks, the strength of the muscles before pregnancy, and the overall health status of the mother are what primarily impacts the posture attained during pregnancy by the women.

Neck pain and back pain is usually caused due to the following reasons:

  1. Maintaining an awkward neck posture when looking at the phone while sleeping or sitting

  2. Slouched or a rounded back posture while sitting for prolonged hours

  3. Improper bending while picking heavy loads 

  4. Sleeping on too many cushions while sleeping elevates your head throughout the sleep hours. 

2. Hormonal influence

A hormone called relaxin and progesterone is produced in the female's body during pregnancy. This hormone helps in the relaxation of the muscles and ligaments, especially towards the end of the third trimester. 

This causes loss of muscle properties which is aggravated if the woman performs high-intensity activities. This can further cause muscle stiffness and pain if the muscles are overused in a relaxed state. 

3. Exercise

Women that are bedridden due to complications during pregnancy or due to an inactive lifestyle in general experience pain due to lack of exercise. This is majorly due to the tightness and atrophy or weakness caused in the muscles due to underusing them. 

Fatigue, morning sickness, and the growing size of the baby bump further contribute to a decreased movement ability in pregnant women, especially in the first and third trimesters.

Without regular low-intensity physical exercise, the chances of developing neck and back pain can increase two-fold. Hence, maintaining a healthy low-intensity stretching and mobility exercise regime throughout the pregnancy is crucial.

On the contrary, following a heavy-intensity exercise regime can also injure the muscles of the body. This is commonly seen in women trying abdominal exercises. As abdominal muscles undergo loosening to accommodate the growth of the baby, strengthening the abdominal muscles can put more pressure on the back and neck muscles. Further causing pain due to muscle injury.

How to prevent neck and back pain during pregnancy? 

There are some home remedies or things to keep in mind to prevent the occurrence of neck or back pain during pregnancy. These options can not only prevent neck or back pain but even help in reducing the severity of other pregnancy-related problems. 

1. Pay attention to your posture

Focus on your posture while sitting, standing, sleeping, and doing day-to-day activities. Try to keep your neck, shoulders, back, and buttocks in alignment while performing any movement.

Rolling your shoulders back, sitting tall and straight with cushions to support the lower back, bringing your head to a straight or neutral alignment are some examples.

Keeping the middle of your hip, in line with the middle of your shoulder and knee joint should be done while standing for long periods of time. While picking heavy objects, maintaining your back in a straight alignment and lifting after bending knees is important. Avoid wearing heels. Wear low-heeled shoes or flat shoes for maximum support and reduce the low risk of falling. 

2. Gentle exercises during the day

Performing gentle light-intensity exercises during the day while sitting, sleeping or standing can reduce the chances of developing neck or back pain considerably. Chin tucks, chin-to-chest, neck rotations, shoulder rolls are some examples. Dedicating 5-10 mins twice a day for these exercises is ideal. Take breaks every 60 mins for stretching and de-stressing while working for a long period of hours.

However, some precautions should be kept in mind while exercising.

After the first trimester, avoid exercises when sleeping on your back. This position puts excess pressure on the heart. Over-exerting can make the pregnant woman feel dizzy, breathless, or nauseated.

Exercising in a safe, hurdle-free environment is a must. Wearing comfortable, full support shoes is also necessary, as weight gain during pregnancy can impact your balance.

Avoid exercising exactly after having meals or even thirty minutes before eating.

Drink plenty of water during the day and maintain room temperature around you.

3. Maintaining a healthy weight gain

Gaining weight while pregnant is unavoidable. But maintaining a healthy weight gain can be beneficial for both the mother and baby’s health. Excessive weight gain contributes to excess aches and pains in the joints and contributes to diabetes and other symptoms.

Exercises for Back pain during Pregnancy

Strengthening Muscles

Back pain during pregnancy is impacted by the number of large groups of muscles that stabilize the body's framework. Using a large group of muscles while doing activities not only helps in strengthening them but even in reducing the chances of developing back pain.

Strengthening your abdominal muscles and buttocks can prevent low back pain and consequently neck pain in pregnant women.

Stretching Muscles

Stretching the low back region and neck region helps in preserving the muscle properties. The integrity, elasticity, and contracting ability of the muscle are retained. All the while keeping the muscles at their optimum length.

Low back stretches

Being in the four-legged pose, with knees in line with the shoulders, fingers pointed forwards and stomach muscles pulled in to maintain a straight back.

Pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back, such that the back forms a rainbow shape. With your head facing downwards towards the ground.

Backward stretches

Starting in the four-legged position, keep your shoulders in alignment with your hand and hips above the knees. Try to touch your buttocks to your heels, or sit back on your heels as far as you can, without moving your arms and hands from their position. Tuck your head in between your knees and hold for three to four seconds.

Do this for 10 repetitions. This same exercise can be done with a gym ball. The hands can be kept on the gym ball and the same exercise can be performed. This variation would not let you touch your buttocks to the heel. You can try to stretch as much as possible.

Pelvic rotations

Pelvic rotations can be done in standing, sitting, or lying down. Stand up straight with your back against a wall, and try to push your buttocks against the wall, with the lower back up against the wall as much as possible. Hold for several seconds and then come back to the starting position.

The same exercise can be repeated while sitting on a chair. Sit on a chair with your weight equally distributed on both your knees and legs. Keeping your back straight, contract or pull in your abdominal muscles, rotating your pelvis upwards and then release.

While lying down with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Exhale and pull your abdominal muscles inwards while rotating your pelvis towards the ground. Repeat this for several counts.

Rotating the upper body

This exercise helps in rotating your upper back. While sitting on the floor with legs crossed try holding your right foot with your right hand. Keep your left hand as far back as possible. This opens your back muscles and stretches all the upper back muscles.

Hold for 3 seconds and then come back to the starting position. Repeat the same on the other side by switching hands. Perform a minimum of 10 repetitions. You can perform the same rotation while sitting on a chair or standing too.

This position not only helps in reducing back pain and neck pain, it even helps in restoring optimal breathing.

Leg raises

This exercise helps in strengthening your lower extremity muscles. Lie down on your right side with your right shoulder, hip, and ankle in a straight line. Keeping a pillow under your abdomen can help take the weight of the baby bump.

Now slowly raise your left leg without bending the knees. Raise it as much as you can, preferably a 45-degree angle, and maintain this position for five seconds. Release the leg and repeat on the left side. Do this for a minimum of 8 repetitions.

Exercises for Neck pain during Pregnancy

Chin Tucks

These exercises help improve the neck muscles' flexibility, strength, and function in keeping the neck aligned with the head and body. You can perform these exercises while sitting or standing. Keeping a comfortable amount of distance between your feet, your feet in line with your shoulders, your back and buttocks relaxed, place a finger on your chin.

Now gently push your chin backward pulling your head straight back until you feel a stretch in the lower part of your neck from behind. Hold this position for five seconds while maintaining normal breathing. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Open book stretch

Lie down on your right side with your left hand and right hand on a foam pillow with your arms elbows extended. Keep a pillow in between your knees. Inhale and open your arms across your body while moving your head and shoulders in the same direction of the hand. Exhale and hold this stretch for 15 seconds and release. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Reverse Plank

This exercise helps stretch the chest and shoulder muscles while strengthening the upper back and abdominal muscles. Start while sitting on the floor with your legs stretched. Now keep your hands behind your buttocks. Engage your abdominal muscles and slowly raise your legs. Maintain this position for only three seconds and release. Repeat this exercise for 5 repetitions.

Conclusion

The above-mentioned exercises can help if your neck and back pain are not disturbing the quality of life you are leading drastically. Knowing each trimester of pregnancy and the changes occurring in the body while pregnant is quite essential in treating any kind of pain that the woman experiences.

For better all-rounded care visit a Physiotherapist. A physio will guide you throughout all the trimesters of pregnancy, as well as help in relieving back pain, neck pain, abdominal pain as well as prepare you for delivery.

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