Many people experience upper back pain during pregnancy, but the first thing you should do if you experience it is to consult your physician. Once you’re sure that your back pain is normal, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the strain on your muscles and encourage proper spine alignment. Heating pads, ice packs, and massage can all help—but if you’re still experiencing pain, a licensed physical therapist can suggest the best stretches for your upper back pain. Learn more about how to relieve upper back pain during pregnancy in this guide from IMPACT Physical Therapy, or request a virtual appointment to speak with a PT today.
Back pain is incredibly common during pregnancy, especially during the later months. While the pain often subsides after the baby is born, back pain can linger for months after giving birth. Finding healthy ways to relieve upper back pain during pregnancy, like stretching and strengthening your muscles, can help reduce lingering back pain after giving birth.
What Causes Pain in the Upper Back While Pregnant?
The rapid accumulation of body weight and baby weight can put a lot of strain on your muscles, which aren’t accustomed to it. This may result in sharp upper back pain during pregnancy. Here’s why:
As the baby and the uterus grow, your body’s center of gravity shifts forward. This places more pressure on your back.
Your body weight may increase by 25 to 30% in a short period of time, and your back muscles may not be prepared to handle the extra strain.
In preparation for delivery, the body releases hormones that loosen ligaments and muscles, which reduces stability in the pelvis and back. In turn, your back muscles need to work harder to maintain your posture.
Breast tissue enlargement during pregnancy can modify posture and cause strain on the neck, shoulders, and thoracic spine.
Best Stretches for Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy
Learning how to relieve upper back pain during pregnancy may be as simple as performing a few simple stretches at home. These movements can help alleviate stress from your altered posture:
Doorway pectoralis stretches
Stand in a door frame and place your arms on the frame, at shoulder height, with your elbows bent to 90 degrees.
Place one foot forward and perform a gentle lunge movement until you feel a moderate stretch from the front of the chest into the front of the shoulders.
Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times, several times each day.
Perform this stretch after the pectoralis stretch described above.
Let your arms drop to your sides and gently pinch your shoulder blades together, imagining that you’re holding a pencil between them.
Hold for 5 seconds, relax, and repeat 20 to 30 times, several times each day.
Simple Ways to Reduce Pain in the Upper Back While Pregnant
If you’re worried that learning how to relieve upper back pain during pregnancy could require a major lifestyle change, rest assured that a few simple changes can go a long way. You will need to focus on avoiding activities that can strain your back muscles, and on keeping your spine neutral while standing, sitting, and sleeping:
Engage in light physical activity or exercise. Activities that don’t put excess pressure on your muscles and joints, like walking or swimming, will keep your back muscles strong enough to support the extra weight.
Dress for comfort. Invest in a high-quality supportive bra, loose comfortable clothing, and supportive flat shoes.
Use proper lifting mechanics. If you can’t avoid lifting heavy objects entirely, be sure to use proper body mechanics to prevent pain in the upper back while pregnant. Face the object that you are going to lift, keep it close to your body, don’t twist your torso, and be sure to bend from the knees and not the back.
Keep your spine neutral while sleeping. A body pillow placed between the knees and under the abdomen can help maintain a neutral alignment of the spine. You may also want to purchase a memory foam pillow designed to support the neck.
Keep your spine neutral while sitting. This is especially important if you work from home or are sitting for long periods of the day. Use a chair with good lumbar support, or purchase a lumbar support pillow to make your chair more comfortable. Your chair should be at a height that keeps your hips positioned at approximately 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor.
Keep your spine neutral while standing. You can reduce upper back pain during pregnancy by adjusting your posture to put the least strain on your muscles. Stand up straight, keep your shoulders back and relaxed, avoid locking your knees, and use a wide stance with your weight equally distributed on both feet.
Can Exercise Relieve Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy?
As long as your care provider has determined that it’s safe for you to do so, then exercising during pregnancy is a great way to reduce back pain. We recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen not just the muscles of your back, but also your abdomen, hips, and upper body. With stronger muscles, your body will be able to handle the extra weight more easily and will be better prepared for childbirth.
Many people have found water exercise to be especially helpful for relieving upper back pain during pregnancy because the water provides support for the muscles and joints. In fact, swimming is a safe way to maintain strength, conditioning, and flexibility even through the very end of pregnancy. Once again, be sure to check with your care provider before undertaking any exercise while pregnant.
Learn More About Physical Therapy for Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy
Still experiencing pain in the upper back while pregnant after trying all the methods outlined above? Concerned about unusually sharp upper back pain during pregnancy? We can help! IMPACT Physical Therapy operates facilities in the South Loop, Hinsdale, Lakeview, and Norridge, throughout Chicago’s southwest suburbs, and in Champaign Urbana. Request an appointment today.