Is Upper Back Pain a Sign of Labor?

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It’s not uncommon for a pregnant woman in labor to experience back pain. An estimate of 50% to 80% of expecting parents experience back pain during labor and pregnancy, most of which is lower back pain. Lower back pain is the most common symptom of pregnancy-related back pain and back labor. In some cases, however, parents report having experienced upper back pain as well during labor and before their baby arrives.

So is upper back pain a sign of labor? In itself, it isn’t. Upper back pain still happens at any point in pregnancy due to many factors such as baby growth, weight gain, and hormonal changes. However, it’s lower back pain alongside other symptoms that are most suggestive of labor or back labor. Overall, upper back pain in itself doesn’t usually indicate labor unless it’s accompanied by or triggered by other direct symptoms of labor, or referred from lower back pain.

Upper Back Pain and Labor

Lower back pain is a far more common occurrence than upper back pain during pregnancy. Despite being a less common occurrence, upper back pain can happen during pregnancy. For many expecting mothers, it’s felt like a dull but intense pain, with a severity hindering their daily functioning. 

Albeit being an indirect indication, upper back pain during a certain period accompanied by certain symptoms can give you an idea of whether or not you are already in labor.

Is Upper Back Pain a Sign of Early Labor?

Pregnancy is usually associated with lower back pain or pain in the lumbar spine. Lower back pain is also one of the most common indications of labor in pregnancy. However, one cannot rule out that upper back pain may be related to preterm labor.

Upper back pain can be caused by a multitude of risk factors. Not only is the upper back a region consisting of a complex system, but it is also connected to many parts of the body that can transmit referred pain to the upper back. Many patients may experience this alongside other conditions. This means that upper back pain can at times be experienced alongside pregnancy and even labor.

Are Contractions Causing Upper Back Pain?

Contractions don’t directly cause upper back labor pain. Upper back pain can happen at any point in pregnancy, but it is most commonly noticed during the third trimester. In some cases, in which it’s experienced before the 37th week of pregnancy, upper back pain can be indicative of preterm labor which can lead to premature birth. In this case, you must consult with your attending OB/GYN doctor.

What Are the Signs of Early Labor?

Early labor leads to premature birth, which can prove dangerous to your baby. To determine whether or not your upper back pain is linked to early pregnancy labor, its first important to note the common signs and symptoms that may coincide with it. If you experience most of these signs, it’s best to consult your doctor without worrying if it’s false labor. Below are some signs you might feel alongside back pain if you are experiencing early labor.

1) Worse Contractions

The non-labor contraction known as Braxton Hicks contraction is generally painless and normally occurs after approximately 30 weeks of pregnancy. They tend to fade when you stop to rest after overexerting yourself.

Meanwhile, real contractions during labor feel different than regular contractions. True labor contractions occur at regular intervals, become more painful and more frequent, and persist even after physical activity, unlike Braxton Hicks contractions. Uterine contractions can also be an indicator that you are in early pregnancy labor if they happen every about 10 minutes before your 37th week of pregnancy.

2) Bloody Shows or Vaginal Discharge

A bloody show, spotting, or vaginal discharge of the mucus plug is characterized by a release of blood and mucus during late pregnancy. This jelly-like discharge is a mucus plug that blocks your cervix and protects your baby from foreign bodies. When you are in active labor, this mucus plug starts to loosen and comes out of your vagina as pinkish or brownish jelly-like spots.

3) Abdominal Cramps and Tightening

Cramps and a tightening sensation in your lower abdomen can indicate labor, especially when it happens at a regular and predictable interval (approximately every 10 minutes). If you’re experiencing predictable belly cramps without diarrhea before your 37th week of pregnancy, this can be a sign of early labor.

4) Water Breaking

Water breaking is a normal indication of labor, and is characterized by a sudden discharge of fluid from your vagina. If you’re in labor, this fluid might just be made mostly of amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is a slightly yellowish fluid surrounding the baby in the amniotic sac in your belly. If you feel a fluid gushing or slowly trickling, you might be ready for birth.

5) Pressure in the Pelvis

Pressure in the pelvis can be a sign that your baby is ready to come out. If you feel like the baby’s head is about to come down, it’s natural to feel mild pelvic pain or pressure before birth. This can indicate preterm labor if you haven’t completed your 37th week of pregnancy.

6) Labor Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain can be indicative of early labor only if it’s accompanied by the aforementioned signs and symptoms, and occurs in a regular and predictable manner as if rhythmic with menstrual cramps. Upper back pain in itself does not herald your baby’s arrival, but it can occur as a form of non-labor back pain.

Upper Back Pain During Labor vs. Back Labor

Labor pain is a different thing from back labor. Back labor happens when your baby presses against your tailbone and spine, causing sharp pain in your lower back. During back labor where the baby might be in an occiput posterior (baby’s head is facing the abdomen) position, you might require pain medication and Cesarean section birth.

Below are some key differences between back labor and labor pain:

  • Back labor happens only during active labor.
  • Back labor pain persists and peaks during contractions. Labor back pain comes and goes.
  • Back labor usually happens after the 40th week of pregnancy.

What Are Other Causes of Upper Back Pain Associated With Pregnancy?

Upper back pain can be non-labor-related, but it can still happen in most cases throughout pregnancy. Non-labor upper back pain can be caused by the growth of the baby, pregnancy weight gain, hormonal changes, and other conditions such as preeclampsia and high blood pressure.

Manage Back Pain Now by Consulting With Gramercy Pain Center’s Certified Specialists

Your back pain may start as a mild annoyance and disappear after some stretching. At times, it persists and worsens. In this case, it is best to be aware of its root cause as early as possible to prevent worse complications. 

Gramercy Pain Center is a trusted establishment for pain relief and chronic disease treatment. Our team of expert physicians and pain specialists is dedicated to providing patient-centered services, fully understanding each patient’s unique severe pain conditions, and providing the appropriate diagnosis and treatment techniques.

Here at Gramercy Pain Center, you can start your journey to pain-free living with our advanced medical services. For any kind of pain, we’ve got your back. Contact us today for a consultation with our doctors.

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