pregnant woman with back pain using a heating pad

Back Pain During Pregnancy Is Common—Here’s What Can Help

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
February 21, 2024

If you’ve been getting backaches, you’re not alone: Some research suggests that about 61% of pregnant people have back pain. (And some studies put the number as high as 90%!) The likelihood of experiencing back pain increases as your pregnancy progresses.

When you’re pregnant, pain can happen anywhere from the upper back to the lower back. “Most patients talk about it as being lower back pain during pregnancy,” says Danica Lapid, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at UT Health Houston in Bellaire, Texas. “And sometimes, it shoots down to their hips or their lower legs.”

What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?

A combination of factors may lead to pregnancy-related back pain, experts say. These include hormone changes, weight gain, and other changes in the body.

“[The hormone] progesterone specifically, which is pumped out by the placenta in large quantities, can relax the ligaments and the joints of your pelvis,” explains Eve Espey, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, in Albuquerque. “It makes them more flexible, but also makes them more prone to injury because they’re laxer than usual.”

Plus, she notes, weight gain in the belly can strain your back. It changes your center of gravity, too, making you more prone to injury. And as Lapid explains, “Because you’re having a lot of stretching and separation of your anterior abdominal muscles, that puts even more strain on your back muscles, the ones that run parallel to your spine.”

How to Relieve Back Pain

Some ways to alleviate the pain include using a heating pad, wearing supportive shoes, and getting acupuncture. Other ideas include:

  • Exercise. As Espey notes, “If exercise were a pill, we’d give it to everybody.” Yoga and swimming are both good options. (Get your provider’s approval first.)
  • A support belt. Sold at pharmacies and online, these belts can help relieve some belly weight from your back, Lapid says. You can wear the belt all day or at specific times, like when standing for long periods.
  • Rest. “Taking frequent breaks, listening to your body, and being able to lie down and really get that additional strain off your back can be very helpful,” Espey says.
  • Using support pillows. Experiment with pillows to prop your body and help you sleep on your side more comfortably. A pillow between your knees can take some pressure off your hips and help ease back pain.
  • Being aware of your posture. As your belly grows, you tend to arch your back more, which puts more pressure on your lumbar spine. Try to be aware of this and push out your lower back when sitting, standing, or walking. Also, sitting at a desk for much of your day may make the problem worse. Consider working at a standing desk or adding a pillow to your chair to give you more lumbar support.

What about medication? “Typically, we don’t recommend medication for back pain, just like we don’t recommend it for people who aren’t pregnant,” Espey says.

If you and your doctor feel that taking something will help, stick with Tylenol (acetaminophen). Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen). NSAIDs are not typically recommended during pregnancy, Lapid says.

When to Seek Extra Help

If the pain gets in the way of your daily living, or if you experience an increase in back pain, call your healthcare provider. They may recommend an evaluation with a physical therapist or chiropractor.

Also, reach out if you’re having back pain plus other symptoms, like burning when you urinate. This can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI), according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. UTIs typically require treatment.

The good news is that, as Lapid notes, “80% to 95% of back pain will resolve after delivery.” If it doesn’t, get it checked out, since it could be an issue outside of pregnancy, she says.

You May Also Like: