For many women, an aching back is just part of pregnancy. It doesn’t have to be, says Dr. Cynthia E. Neville, a physical therapist and contributing faculty member who specializes in women’s health.
“Up to half of all women who are pregnant experience back and pelvic girdle pain,” Neville says, which is thought to be related to the changing biomechanics and physiology of the pregnant body, but can be managed with physical therapy.
Neville recommends women visit physical therapists early in their pregnancies and four weeks after delivery for overall musculoskeletal evaluations. Physical therapists can identify and treat changes in their bodies, customize exercise routines, and recommend modifications to their work and home environments.
“When pregnant women have good musculoskeletal health, their pregnancies are more successful,” she says. “They shouldn’t settle for pain being a part of it.” Here, she shares several ways moms-to-be can prevent pain at home:
Pelvic floor muscle exercises: These support the uterus, bladder, and rectum. To find these muscles, stop urination midstream. Then, with an empty bladder, contract and hold muscles for 10 seconds. Relax for 10 seconds and repeat. Do 10 sets, three times a day. Avoid these exercises while urinating.
Heel lifts: While sitting or standing, move heels up and down to contract calf muscles and boost blood flow. Although not related to pain, the movement will promote blood flow and reduce foot swelling. Do several lifts each hour.
Back stabilization: Improve posture and ease discomfort by placing a pillow, rolled-up towel, or lumbar cushion behind your lower back while sitting.
Scoot to stand: Move to the front of the chair, plant your feet on the ground, sit up straight, and slightly arch your back as you transition from sitting to standing. These steps prepare joints for standing and undo the “slump” pregnant women often develop while sitting.