Exercises to Stretch and Strengthen Your Back While Pregnant
Today we have a special guest post from Dr. Brent Wells from Better Health Chiropractic. Happy reading!
Even though I, myself, have never been pregnant, I’ve been through two pregnancies with my wife and I’ve also had hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of pregnant patients in my many years practicing as a chiropractor. So, while it’s common knowledge that pregnancy often causes back pain, I’ve certainly gotten an education over the years about exactly how much back pain some women endure.
What They Didn’t Tell Me in Med School
Chiropractors get some fairly extensive training on pregnancy, but I don’t recall there being much emphasis placed on back pain except for the third trimester.
I have since discovered that many women, my wife included, can have some intense back pain at almost every stage of pregnancy. I recall a woman who complained of some severe back pain in her first few weeks of pregnancy. It took a bit of investigation to find out that she had been spending a great deal of her time bent over a drain in a storeroom, vomiting in private because she didn’t want her boss to know she was pregnant. But that’s a story for another day.
Today, I would like to talk about how and why you should stretch and strengthen your spine and other muscles to make pregnancy a bit easier, as well as making delivery a bit easier.
What Causes Back Pain in Pregnancy?
It’s obvious that the weight gain from your little bundle of joy is going to put a strain on your back, but there are other reasons for back pain during pregnancy, including:
- The weight of growing breasts
- Poor posture (sometimes due to weight gain but other times, poor posture is already a habit that is exacerbated by pregnancy weight)]
- Weak abdominal and core muscles
- Urinary tract infection
- The growing baby puts pressure on the spine and nerves
- Hormonal changes cause the spine to become looser than normal
Let’s not forget that low back pain, especially if you are in your third trimester, might be a sign of labor, so don’t forget that one!
Do’s and Don’ts
I want to talk about stretching and other exercises but before we go in that direction, I would like to take a few minutes and discuss a few of the do’s and don’ts of how to be kind to your spine when you are pregnant.
You might have heard of some of these before, but please take a moment to look them over, in case you find something new.
- DO watch your posture when sitting. Use chairs with good lumbar support and use a small footrest.
- DON’T lift anything too heavy and if you must, bend at the knees and look up, don’t bend at the waist.
- DO take frequent breaks. Set a timer on your phone or even an old-fashioned kitchen timer to remind you to get up and walk or stretch at least once every hour.
- DON’T stand on tip-toes or stretch to reach for anything that is up high. This puts an additional strain on your lower back. Use a step stool!
- DO sleep on a firm mattress or put a board under your side of the mattress for extra support
- DON’T wear any kind of heels, not even kitten heels. These are murder on your back. It’s only a few short months, go with flats or tennis shoes.
- DO consider getting regular chiropractic adjustments to help keep your back in tip-top shape, as well as to make more space for your growing baby.
- DON’T You really should watch your weight, not only for an easier delivery but to prevent damage to the nerves in your back. Most pregnant women with sciatica are overweight.
- DO get regular massage therapy. Many chiropractic offices offer chiropractic massage with tables made especially for pregnant women.
Best Exercises for Strengthening and Lengthening Your Spine and Other Muscles
Let me put the standard warning here that, before you begin any exercise program, you should speak with your obstetrician.
Your body is undergoing a tremendous change right now and getting regular exercise will not only give you more energy, but it will make you feel better over time. Experiencing some level of back pain during pregnancy is probably inevitable, but being flat out bedridden because of back pain is 100% preventable.
If you have been doing some sort of cardio exercise program before you became pregnant, chances are you can most likely keep at it. If you haven’t been doing much cardio or don’t have any special program that you stick to, activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, and dancing are all good choices. Try to get in at least 30 minutes of cardio on most days.
Even if you have never done any type of strength training before, you will be amazed at how fast this type of exercise can change your body. You don’t have to lift anything heavy, 2 – 5-pound weights are plenty or you can even just use your own body weight. Try to get in some strength training 2 days per week.
Best Exercises for the Spine
Be sure to warm up for about 5 minutes before you start these exercises. Try speed walking around the block or even around your house to get your muscles warmed up and ready to go. Get a mat unless you have some nice, plush carpet.
- Cat Stretch
To lengthen and stretch your entire spine, simply get down on all fours and flatten out your back (as much as possible in the third trimester). Now, arch your back up, like a cat would do. Feel the stretch through your shoulders. Hold for a count of 5, then go back to the neutral (flat back) position. Don’t let the weight of your belly pull your back down towards the floor. Repeat 5 times.
- Trunk Twister
To get a really good stretch on the back and upper torso, this one works wonders and feels so good! Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Hold your left ankle in your right hand. Put the other hand on the floor for support. Now slowly twist your torso towards the right, as if you were looking over your right shoulder. Hold for a count of two, then slowly return to center. Repeat with the opposite leg. Do this 5 times for each side.
- Wall Press
To encourage good posture, as well as strengthen the upper back, this little trick works like no other, and all you need is a wall. Stand against a wall with your heels about 10-12 inches away from the wall. Press the lower part of your back against the wall and hold it there for a count of 10. Don’t forget to breathe. Relax, and repeat 10 times. Do this daily and you will be seeing better posture in about 4 weeks!
- Overhead Pull
This easy movement will strengthen both the middle and lower back. You can stand or sit doing this exercise. Put your arms up over your head. Imagine that you are grabbing a stick with both hands. Pull down on the “stick” with both hands, bending your elbows out to the side until your hands touch your shoulders. The “stick” should be behind your head. Return to start. Repeat 10-15 times and complete three sets each day.
- Rocking Arch
To both stretch and strengthen the muscles in the abdomen, hips, and back, this little rocking motion works amazingly well. Start by kneeling on all fours, distributing your weight evenly between the hands and knees. Your back should be in as straight a line as possible, no arching or sagging. Hold for a count of 3, then push your belly button down towards the ground and pulling your head back, so you are looking at the ceiling. Hold for a count of 3, then rock the other direction, arching your back as high as possible and pulling your head down towards your chest. Do this exercise very slowly, this is not about speed, but about stretching and strengthening. Repeat 5 to 10 times every single day for best results.
Get in a little walking, do some strength training twice a week, and do these 5 little exercises every day and I can almost guarantee that you will be saying “Back pain? Who? Me? Not a chance!”
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.