With the exception of those early days of nausea, there are few pregnancy-related issues that are more widely discussed or suffered through than back pain. In fact, about 50 percent of women will experience pregnancy-related back pain. While it is usually a condition that will pass after childbirth, there are some important points and characteristics not so commonly discussed that may help provide some comfort to those who are suffering.
First, it should be explained that no matter where the feeling of pain in the back is coming from, it is the symptom of something else that is going on, not a condition itself. That is why it is important to attempt to pinpoint exactly where the pain is coming from in order to find the best relief from it. For example, pain that feels like it is originating in the pelvic or gluteal (medically referred to as pelvic girdle pain or PGP) portion of the spine may have a different treatment recommendation than pain that is generally in the low back (medically referred to as lumbar pain or LP).
The experience of low back pain during pregnancy is one that affects the quality of life for many soon-to-be-mothers and is a subject that has been discussed for centuries. But it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that one physician researcher made the distinction between PGP and LP.
While a small set of pregnant women suffer from a combination of PGP and LP, low back pain in pregnancy tends to take on two different patterns that seem to be the result of several factors including hormonal, mechanical and others. For the most part, PGP is the more common type of low back pain experienced by women during pregnancy and in the postpartum period after childbirth. This type of low-back pain is four times more prevalent than LP and is described by those who have experienced it as a “deep, stabbing” pain between the hip bone and buttocks which tends to radiate to one thigh and sometimes all the way down to the knee and calf of the affected leg. PGP is usually more intense during pregnancy than it is during the postpartum period.
LP on the other hand is very similarly experienced in pregnant women the same way that it is experienced in women who are not expecting. This type of pain tends to be felt as a generalized “hovering” pain and muscular tenderness around the low back, but above the sacrum. This distinction usually makes differentiating LP from PGP fairly simple for most experienced physicians, but there are certain pain provocation tests that can be performed that will usually help a clinician arrive at the distinction. Unlike PGP however, LP can tend to aggravate or escalate during the postpartum period and is usually worsened by certain activities like prolonged sitting.
Because it is so widely believed that low back pain just “comes with the territory” of pregnancy, many women don’t seek treatment for it early on or at all in some cases. But early, non-invasive treatments – from specific exercises to pelvic support braces – can help elevate the quality of life during those final months of pregnancy and help reduce or prevent the pain from extending into the postpartum period. If you or someone you care about is experiencing pregnancy-related back pain that hasn’t been evaluated, please encourage them to talk to their doctor about it as soon as possible. A mother who focuses on maintaining her health isn’t selfish. She is the best equipped to handle the demands of a brand new baby.
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