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Ask The Expert: Pregnancy back pain (and what to do about it!)

Feeling a little less limber than you once did? You’re not the only one! Pregnancy affects your body in so many ways, and as your bump grows heavier, your posture can start to suffer, leaving you uncomfortable, and at worst, in pain. We ask Chiropractor Dr Michelle Zhou McCulloch of UP!health for her advice on keeping yourself fit, flexible and free from pain, all the way through pregnancy and beyond.

Is back pain just part of being pregnant?

Absolutely not! However, according to statistics up to 50% of pregnant women will end up with some sort of back pain during their pregnancy, and it becomes even more common in subsequent pregnancies; so if you’re in this group, please be reassured that (unfortunately) you’re not alone.

Many pregnant women will first visit a chiropractor when they start to experience spinal discomfort or pain, typically during the second trimester, as the bump grows larger. In many cases this can be really quite debilitating – particularly if you’re busy working, or have a younger child to care for. But rest assured that there are effective treatments available to combat this, so you don’t have to just put up with pain.

What are the most common complaints that you treat during pregnancy?

Lower back pain and pelvic pain are common, with the sacroiliac joints most often affected. Sacroiliac joints in the pelvis are held together by strong ligaments that help to keep us stable. But during pregnancy a number of factors, including hormonal changes, can cause these joints to stretch and loosen, causing weakness in the pelvis that often results in that familiar pain in the lower back area.

Another associated factor is your growing bump, as this shifts your centre of gravity forward, putting even more strain on your lower back when it’s already working overtime. Your abdominal muscles also stretch to accommodate your baby, which weakens your normal core muscle support, causing yet more strain to the spine and pelvis. All in all, it’s really no wonder so many women experience this type of pain!

So what can be done?

When it comes to physical therapy, one, or a combination of therapies can be considered for treatment of pregnancy and postnatal back pain. Some of the more commonly utilised therapies include chiropractic, physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture, massage and clinical Pilates. As a chiropractor, my following advice is focused predominantly on the management this type of pain from a chiropractic perspective.

Pre-pregnancy

I advise any woman who is thinking of conceiving to have a check-up with a chiropractor before they fall pregnant – this is especially important if you already suffer with back pain. A thorough assessment of your alignment and posture, along with a few readjustments where necessary can highlight any potential issues before they become major problems, and can actually go a long way to prevent you from developing the dreaded backache once you do fall pregnant.

During pregnancy For pregnant women who are experiencing pain, chiropractic adjustments are gentle, drug-free and safe when administered by a qualified practitioner. Look for government-registered practitioners, and don’t be afraid to ask your chosen chiropractor if they are experienced in working with pregnant women.

Some recent studies have shown that chiropractic treatment during pregnancy can actually reduce your labour time by as much as 24% for first-time mums, and 39% for subsequent births, which makes it an important tool as you consider your birth plan.

If your OBGYN has given you the all clear, then exercise that strengthens the core, such as pre-natal Pilates, can be helpful to maintain strength and a good posture through the different stages of your pregnancy. Gentle workouts are also great energy and mood boosters, which really helps when you are feeling heavy and tired! I encourage my pregnant patients to practice a lot of self-care; make sure you are being easy on yourself and don’t hesitate to pamper yourself with massage when you need it.

Post-pregnancy

As a part of your recovery, I’d recommend a posture and spinal alignment check after your delivery. This can be scheduled at around four weeks after a vaginal delivery, and six-eight weeks if you had a C-Section. If you are unsure as to whether you’re ready to see a chiropractor yet, make sure you get the okay from your OBGYN first. Your chiropractor can also help you to maintain good posture when carrying your newborn, or breastfeeding, for example – both things that can commonly cause aches and pains.

Once you feel ready and have the doctor’s go-ahead then you can also resume some gentle exercise – but please take it slowly, as overdoing things in the early days can often cause more harm than good! Post-natal Pilates is great for re-training the core, while gentle yoga helps keep the body supple, and is a great relaxation technique for some very much-needed me-time.

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