Prenatal back pain due to poor posture can take away from the joys of your pregnancy. I will teach you the basics and importance of good posture so you can be a happy and comfortable mama!
How Pregnancy Affects Posture
Let me start first with a little disclaimer, of course. Always always always, consult with your physician if you are having pain during your pregnancy. This post is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice.
Throughout pregnancy, our bodies change and vary from person to person. Generally speaking, most women experience weight gain in the chest and of course in the belly. Both places that have major impacts on the shoulder and hip girdle. Over time, an increase in weight pulling our spine in one direction causes imbalances to form in our muscular system. To keep it simple, our skeleton provides structure, and our muscles provide the support.
So if the muscles are not properly supporting our spine, we can feel the affect in the form of discomfort or prenatal back pain. Mostly due to the change of weight distribution that is causing some of our muscles to become fatigued or over worked. The over-worked muscles begin to “lock up” or become hypertonic because they are compensating for the lack of support from the antagonist muscle group. The fatigued muscles are these unsupportive ones that were fighting this constant “pull” of the new weight.
Okay I know that was not the most simple explanation but in truth, I am barely scratching the surface. I told you that my goal is to teach you, remember??? We are in the realm of corrective exercise, which is what your physical therapist spent so much time mastering!
Make it simple, Zo! Okay, okay. To put it SIMPLY, we gain significant weight in the front of our bodies during pregnancy. We hold this weight for a long enough time that makes our muscles work harder to exhaustion or overcompensation. Our skeletal alignment is negatively affected. Mommy’s back hurts. Make sense? Now let’s go into a little more depth of each girdle.
Prenatal Back Pain and the Shoulder Girdle
In the picture above I am demonstrating really progressed forward posture. I am exaggerating it a little here for the benefit of assessment, however this is the posture we tend to adopt from rounding the upper back. Some of us have a tendency to find this posture even when not pregnant. It is very important to take note if you find yourself in this position, especially with your chin pushing forward like mine is. This can cause SO much weight to be added to the muscles in your upper back. They already work very hard already to give you a tall, “proud chest” (as I like to refer to it) and the weight of our growing breasts are already a lot to balance.
Fix it! When you feel an achiness in the back of your neck or between the shoulder blades, it is usually a pretty good sign your body has found this position. I like to find a wall and gently press the back of my neck against it along with my shoulder blades to find that center of gravity again. Another great way is to stretch out your pectoral muscles! While standing or sitting, reach your arms out in a Y formation while looking high at the ceiling. We also want to activate and wake up those fatigued back muscles with some contraction, or work. The best exercises are pulling variations like rows, pull downs, and reverse flys.
Pelvic Tilts and Low Back Pain
Again, quite a bit of exaggeration just so the difference is easier to see do let’s dig in! When aligned, our shoulders should sit comfortably over our hips, not in front (anterior) or behind (posterior). A pelvic tilt becomes a little more complicated because it tends to travel up the body, so let me break each one down and you can identify where you need help!
Anterior tilt means our hips tilt toward the front of our bodies, anteriorly. Here you will notice a “duck butt” and forward shoulder posture. The overworked muscles are the hip flexors, quads, and low back. You will typically feel a constant achiness in the low back and sometimes some sharp sporadic pains as well. These are the muscle groups that need help relaxing through stretches! This is one of my favorites for the hip flexors…
By relaxing the hip flexors and quads, our erectors (low back) are not fighting as hard to maintain uright posture. Helping your low back pain find some relief. In contrast we want to activate their antagonists, the glutes and abdominals. Great exercises for those are hinges like a deadlift or bridge and core work like vacuums (drawing the abdominals inward) and bird dogs or cat cows!
A posterior tilt is the opposite, the hips are pulled toward our back. Here you will notice a “tucked butt” and shoulders that sit far behind the hips. The overworked muscles tend to be the glutes, hamstrings, and typically abdominals (although not in times of progressed pregnancy for obvious reasons 😉 ). So take the time to stretch these guys out like so…
Next, take the time to activate their opposers the quads and hip flexors. That can be done with squats, wall sits, and lunges.
Remember the 4th Trimester
We want to keep in mind that while recovering from pregnancy and labor our bodies will be trying to find their way back to “normal.” Yes your body will have changed and be different, per say, but what you do during pregnancy greatly affects your recovery! Maintaining our pain and posture throughout pregnancy can make such an impact on our postpartum bodies.
I had low back pain for such a long time after my daughter was born. And a lot of that was because I got lazy and didnt keep my physical health a priority during those last, very physically daunting months. My exercise regimen became unpredictable and infrequent. I could tell I was weaker and it was showing through more consistent and regular discomfort. And I don’t mean my beach ball belly. So I know where you’re coming from! I just want you to learn from my mistake. Now of course diastasis recti is also another BIG culprit in back pain after baby but that is another topic for another day. I just want you to use this reminder for motivation to stay committed and strong when the going gets tough. Your future self will thank you for relieving that prenatal back pain. Or at least doing your best to!
(Psssst! My post about staying motivated during pregnancy can be found here for those kinds of days)
Prenatal Back Pain Is An Ongoing Battle
I know, that heading sounds a little discouraging. But I want you to really understand that you will have to continue mindfulness and be proactive throughout your pregnancy, not just when you notice your discomfort. My best tips to keep it simple are,
Avoid long bouts of sitting. This can encourage an anterior pelvic tilt by making our hips tight and forward posture exaggerated.
Avoid long bouts of standing. This can encourage a posterior pelvic tilt because our glutes kick in to minimize the work.
Take time for mobility everyday. The best times are when we wake up because we are tight and stiff. Also, before exercise to prepare our bodies to work in the right movement patterns and after exercise when the body is loose and warm. It doesn’t have to be a long time but just hitting the problem or stiff areas for a few minutes makes a big difference.
Vary your exercise. Try not to do the same workouts all the time or really repetitive movements. Mixing it up between strength, cardio, upper body, lower body, swimming, walking, yoga, dancing or whatever you enjoy is the best way to look forward to your workouts while being sure to keep your body balanced!
Hydrate! I feel like that is the catch all advice from every trainer, am I right? LOL. But really, hydrate your body to keep those joints lubricated and your energy up!
Workout to Relieve Prenatal Back Pain
If you are ready to rock but want more guidance, join me for a posture correcting workout. Let’s take care of that prenatal back pain in a safe and controlled way!
You can also check out my Lazy Prenatal Mobility Workout for the days you’re unmotivated but want to fight the achiness!