Low Back Pain During Pregnancy: Physical Therapy Can Help

Back pain can limit your ability to move normally during pregnancy.
Your physical therapist can help you manage your back pain during pregnancy. Lane Oatey/ Blue Jean Images/ Getty Images

Low back pain affects nearly everyone at one time or another.  If you are pregnant, you may have an increased chance of feeling back pain, most likely due to the little bundle of joy that is hanging out in front of your spine for nine months.

Physical therapy is a proven treatment for low back pain.  People with back pain or sciatica may benefit from PT to help improve posture, learn the correct exercises to perform, and learn what NOT to do during episodes of pain.

But what about if you are pregnant?  Is physical therapy effective for pregnant women who are experiencing low back pain?  Which treatments or modalities are considered safe to use during pregnancy to treat your back pain?

For many women, back pain decreases or goes away once the baby is born, but approximately 1 in 3 women will continue with back pain during the first post-partum year.

Physical therapy is a safe and effective treatment modality for pregnant women who are experiencing low back pain.  Your PT can teach you specific exercises to do that can help take pressure off of your spine to decrease your pain.

Specific Treatments for Low Back Pain During Pregnancy

Many physical therapists use physical modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation to treat back pain .  But using these treatments during pregnancy may not be safe for you or your unborn child.  Therefore other treatments should be considered.

 These may include:

  • Exercise
  • Information on posture correction
  • Manual therapy, such as joint mobilization or massage
  • Bracing
  • A combination approach of various treatments
  • Heat or ice

So What Treatment is Best for Back Pain During Pregnancy?

With all the available treatments for low back pain and, specifically, back pain during pregnancy, it may be difficult to determine the right treatment for you.

 Your physical therapist can assess your specific condition to determine the best course of treatment.

A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy examined what treatments are most appropriate for pregnant women experiencing low back pain.  The researchers analyzed data from studies that included exercise, bracing, manual therapy, and a combination treatment approach.  They found the most effective treatments for back pain during pregnancy were exercise and patient education about modifying activities and lifestyle to help decrease low back pain.

Other treatments, including manual therapy and bracing, may be of benefit, but currently the published evidence is lacking in quality to recommend those treatments for pregnancy-related back pain.

Remember that everyone is different, and everyone responds differently to various treatment approaches.  Therefore, it is important to work closely with your doctor and physical therapist to be sure you are getting the best care for your back pain and your specific condition.

It's natural to be a little anxious if you are expecting a baby, and dealing with low back pain while pregnant can add an extra level of stress. If you are pregnant and are experiencing low back pain, a visit to your physical therapist may be in order.  He or she can assess your specific situation, prescribe exercises to help decrease your pain, and recommend temporary lifestyle changes that can help decrease your pain and improve your mobility during your pregnancy.

Source: van Benten, Pool, J., etal. "Recommendations for physical therapists on the treatment of lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy: a systematic review."  JOSPT. July, 2014, (44) 7.  Pg. 464-473.

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