At some point in a 40-week pregnancy, most women are likely to experience some level of low back discomfort. Not all women will experience low back pain per se, but they’ll experience over the course of the pregnancy. That fatigue can lead to a discomfort that some women wouldn’t describe as painful, but will still lead them to seek relief.
Although the pain and discomfort may have you thinking about sinking into a couch and not moving for days, one of the most important things you can do to manage your symptoms is to keep moving. Walking and swimming are aerobic activities that will engage your whole body, take pressure off your joints, and counteract those feelings of discomfort.
Because sitting or standing still for too long can contribute to low back discomfort, pregnant women should try to change positions as often as possible, or as often as needed. It can be as simple as sitting down after being on your feet, or getting on your feet and moving a little after being sedentary for a while.
For example, when I was pregnant I worked at a small bookstore and made it a point to switch positions throughout the day. I would walk around the store helping customers or stocking shelves, then switch to admin work when I needed to get off my feet.
Choose chairs that can support you in good posture. At my bookstore job, I would alternate between a high stool that didn’t allow me to slouch, a regular desk chair with high back support, and a low chair that essentially put me in a supported squat position. Though your work days may not allow for all of these seating options, when at home consider sitting on a stability ball or a yoga block instead of the couch every once in a while.
If you’re feeling low back pain and discomfort during your pregnancy, in addition to long walks, regular swim sessions and changing positions throughout the day, here are four other ways to get some relief. You can use these movements on their own or as part of a warm-up to your prenatal exercise routine.
1. Foam Roll Glutes, Hamstrings and Calves
Tightness in these areas will increase your experience of low back pain, so you’ll do well to spend some quality time with a foam roller. Start with legs extended on a foam roller, just above the Achilles heel. Slowly roll, the calves, a couple inches at a time, and rotate your legs and ankles to alleviate areas of discomfort.
Move roller to just above the back of the knee to access the hamstrings. Again, slowly roll small areas at a time and rotate your legs to alleviate tightness in all areas of the hamstrings.
Next, sit on the roller with your feet flat on the ground. Either keep both feet on the ground as you roll your glutes, or cross one foot onto the opposite knee in a “figure 4” position (the latter position will be more challenging to achieve in later stages of pregnancy). Finally, slowly walk the feet out to the sacrum (flat spot at the top of your glutes, just below lower back). Gently rock side to side for 20 to 30 seconds. (Check out this article for more on foam rolling.)
2. Pelvic Tilts and Hip Circles on a Stability Ball
I love this exercise movement for everybody, from prenatal clients to older women and men. It's a great core stability exercise that also strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Sit tall on a stability ball with feet rooted to the ground, shoulders back and hands on hips. Start by slowly exhaling as you rock or move your hips to the front of the ball to flatten the small of your back (posterior pelvic tilt). You should feel a slight drawing in of the abdominals. Return to neutral then slowly inhale as you move your hips toward the back of the ball, creating a slight arch in the back (anterior pelvic tilt). Return to neutral and continue for 10 reps in each direction.
When you feel stable on the ball, find your neutral position and draw circles with your hips on the ball. Keep your feet planted with hands on your waist and make sure you’re moving from your hips, not your obliques. Perform 10 circles in each direction.
3. Glute Bridge and Hip Thrust Variation
One of the causes of low back pain is weakness in the glutes, so exercises that isolate and strengthen these muscles are important during all stages of pregnancy.
Make sure to include a few different supine glute bridge variations in your exercise routine such as the standard, two-leg bridge, single-leg bridge and marching bridge. With all glute bridge variations, take a moment to exhale to gently contract the abdominals. Keep these muscles engaged as you lift your hips off the floor. Avoid hyperextending or arching the low back at the top of the movement. Only lift as high as you can by contracting the glutes.
Bench hip thrust variations (double-leg and single-leg) are another great way to strengthen your glutes.
Position your head and shoulders on a stable bench, with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Slowly lower your tailbone toward the ground then press your feet into the ground and squeeze the glutes to return to starting position. TIP: slightly tuck your chin to look at your belly button throughout the movement. (This article offers has some additional tips for hip thrust variations.)
4. Suspension Trainer Squats and Hip Hinge
Wall sits are a popular exercise for pregnant women to use to strengthen the lower body while keeping the back in neutral alignment. There are many more squat variations that are accessible to prenatal exercisers. Box squats and sumo squats are among my favs, but as part of a warm-up I like to use supported squats with a suspension trainer. As you squat, think about slowly pulling into the floor and hold your bottom position for five to 10 seconds. Think about pushing the floor away from you and contracting the glutes to stand. Repeat five times.
A supported hip hinge on a suspension trainer can also help ease back pain and was one of my go-to positions during my first labour. Stand with straight arms and feet hip width apart. Slowly bend at the hips, thinking about pulling back through the hamstrings. Knees will also bend, but focus on the movement from the hips as you maintain a neutral curve in the spine. To stand up, think about pulling the hips forward.
Although some amount of back pain or discomfort is normal during most pregnancies, it is important to pay attention to the pain and discuss it with your prenatal practitioner. Maintaining an exercise routine can be helpful to manage or reduce back pain in pregnancy — listen to your body’s signals to find the movements that feel best for your body.
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