What Causes Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy?

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Many expectant mothers experience lower back pain during their pregnancy because the tummy starts growing and puts pressure on the thoracic spine. However, pregnant women should also expect upper and middle back pain as part of their pregnancy symptoms before they give birth.

So what causes the upper back pain that pregnant women often experience? Upper back pain can occur at any time during pregnancy because of changes in the center of gravity, hormonal changes, growing uterus, and incorrect posture. Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent upper back pain, including wearing the right clothing and footwear, maintaining a good posture, lying down in the right position, stretching, and signing up for prenatal yoga and massage therapy.

4 Possible Reasons for Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

Body pains are already a given for pregnant women. An estimate of about 50 to 80% of women endure low back pain throughout their pregnancy, but some of them also reported neck pain, shoulder pain, and upper back pain. 

Most cases of upper back pain in pregnant women are normal and don’t require immediate medical attention. Talking to a maternal doctor or physiotherapist can help patients find an effective treatment to help them relieve pain and discomfort in the upper back without worrying about possible pregnancy complications.

To determine which pain medication or physical therapy technique works best, it’s crucial to find out the cause of this painful pregnancy symptom first.

1) Changes in Center of Gravity

A pregnant woman goes through a lot of body changes, like their bigger breast and tummy to accommodate the baby and its needs. Since pregnant women also gain weight, they have to stretch their neck muscles and pull their shoulders for long periods to cope with the changes in the center of gravity.

Their effort to maintain balance causes strain along the spine, resulting in upper back pain and thoracic pain. As the body progresses from the early pregnancy phase, the center of gravity shifts towards the front, resulting in muscle shift and pain.

2) Hormonal Changes

Another possible reason for pregnancy-related back pain is the body's production of relaxin – a hormone that helps the body prepare for healthy pregnancy and childbirth. Along with progesterone, this hormone relaxes the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments. Because of the changes in body weight and loosened joints and ligaments, pregnant women often experience pelvic girdle pain that may extend to their upper back.

3) Growing Size of the Uterus

As the uterus expands to prepare for the baby, two parallel abdominal muscles separate along their center seam. These muscles run from the rib cage to the pubic bone, so the separation may worsen posterior pelvic pain.

The expanding uterus also puts pressure on the nerve endings and blood vessels surrounding the spinal cord. Upper back pain typically becomes more intense as the patients approach the third trimester. Lying down on their back makes the pain even worse – some patients might need to take pain relief medications. 

4) Incorrect Posture Throughout Pregnancy

Pregnancy also causes posture changes that affect how the patient moves. The weight gain and growing uterus gradually adjust the patient’s posture, which puts strain and pressure along their spine.

Maintaining a good posture can help patients relieve some pain in their upper and lower back while ensuring that they won’t feel like they’ll topple every time they move. There are recommended ways to stand, sit, and lie down while the patient is pregnant, so it’s best to consult a healthcare provider about how to maintain good posture.

How to Manage Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

a pregnant woman doing exercise

While upper back pain is one of the most common pregnancy symptoms, expecting mothers don’t have to endure long months of pain along their back. There are a few ways for them to relieve pain and discomfort without negatively affecting their pregnancy health:

1) Wear the Right Clothing and Footwear

Dressing up during the time of pregnancy is a good way for mothers to boost their self-confidence and sense of beauty. However, it’s still important to prioritize comfort and support over anything to avoid triggering back pain. Here are some clothing tips for expecting mothers:

  • Wear light and comfortable clothes instead of outfits that are too tight.
  • Choose clothes that also provide support to the stomach. Maternity pants and abdominal support garments aren’t required, but they greatly help patients maintain a good posture and relieve pressure on their backs.
  • Avoid belts, garters, slacks, and tight bras that don’t offer much support because they might restrict blood flow.

Don’t wear heels that put additional strain on the hips and back. Opt for comfortable sneakers and closed shoes instead.

2) Maintain a Good Posture

Although it may seem hard to keep an upright position when the growing tummy is pushing the entire body forward, having a bad posture only leads to more pain in the upper and lower back. Make sure to always keep a neutral spine when walking to relieve some of the load from the spinal column. Try shifting positions frequently without putting all the strain on one area.

  • When Standing: Stand straight with each shoulder blade placed back and relaxed. Make sure to keep the chest high and avoid locking the knees. If needed, build a good base of support and distribute weight on both sides by keeping a wide stance.
  • When Sitting: Sit on chairs with good lumbar support or always bring a lumbar support pillow with you to provide the right support for your spine. Avoid crossing the legs. Make sure to keep the feet flat on the floor and there’s at least a shoulder-width space between them. If the feet don’t feel comfortable on the floor, consider using a footstool. Lastly, the hips should be at approximately 90° to have proper support.

When Lifting and Carrying Objects: Lifting heavy objects should be avoided as much as possible, but use proper body mechanics when necessary. When lifting an object, make sure to face it first and keep it close to the body at all times. This decreases the pressure placed on the back. Avoid twisting the body and never bend back.

3) Lay Down in the Right Position

Sleeping on their back is challenging for pregnant women, especially those in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy. With all the added weight on top of their bodies, it’s better to sleep on the right side. 

Always place a pillow under the abdomen and between the knees to maintain a neutral spine as the patient lies down. Use as many pillows as needed to keep the neck and cervical spine in a neutral position. It’s also recommended to purchase a pregnancy pillow that provides proper support and spine alignment needed when sleeping.

4) Try Stretching Exercises

Daily stretching exercises can make a world of difference for pregnant women suffering from intense back pain. They help improve blood circulation throughout the body and reduce postural stresses caused by body changes. 

  • Doorway Pectoral Stretching – Stand near a door frame and put the arms on the door frame at shoulder height while making sure that the elbows are bent to 90 degrees. Put a foot forward and gently lunge until there’s a stretch at the front of the chest to the front of the shoulders. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat the exercise about 3 to 5 times a day.

Scapular Retraction – After performing the doorway pec stretch, keep the arms at the sides. Gently pinch the shoulder blades as if there’s a pencil between them. Hold this position for 5 seconds before relaxing. Repeat this exercise about 20 to 30 times a day.

5) Sign Up for Prenatal Yoga and Massage

Prenatal yoga and massage therapy offer a ton of benefits for pregnant women who want to alleviate physical and emotional stresses. Prenatal yoga improves posture to relieve pain while also preparing the body for childbirth. The breathing exercises of yoga also help reduce emotional stress.

On the other hand, prenatal massage may be recommended for patients with acute back pain caused by irritated sciatic nerves. Swedish massage is the best option for pregnant women because it involves long and smooth strokes that help relax the tightness in the muscles without aggravating the joints or pushing fluids into the wrong parts of the body.

When to Contact Your Doctor About Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

Although upper back pain during pregnancy is normal, there are also situations when the pain becomes too much to bear. Call a healthcare provider immediately if the upper back pain is accompanied by:

  • Signs that the patient is going into labor
  • Vaginal bleeding and leaking fluid
  • Frequent urination and burning sensation when peeing
  • Tingling sensation and loss of feeling in the extremities

Let Gramercy Pain Center Help With Your Upper Back Pain

 injections for pain management treatment

Upper back pain is a common pregnancy symptom, but letting it be might affect your pregnancy and overall quality of life. At Gramercy Pain Center, we have highly-trained experts and pain specialists who can help you relieve pregnancy-related back pain. 

Depending on your needs, we may recommend a wide range of treatment options including pain relief medication and physical therapy to help you manage upper back pain. Call us today to know more about our services and how we can help you have a pain-free pregnancy.

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