Middle & Upper Back Pain Pregnancy Concerns

While you count the days until you get to meet your precious baby, their growing body and your body’s influx of hormones will naturally cause weight gain, which puts pressure on your lower back and abdomen. As your pregnancy progresses, it’s perfectly normal if you feel some lower back pain, especially in the second and third trimesters.

But What About Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy?

When you reach the third trimester, it’s also possible for you to experience upper back pain. Much like lower back pain, upper back pain and neck pain can be caused by changes in your body weight distribution and balance.

The difference? Although lower back pain is almost unavoidable while you’re pregnant, many women can relieve symptoms of upper back pain or prevent it by improving their habits. We’re here to tell you what those habits are and how to prevent them. Keep reading to learn more and discover options for pain relief and treatment for upper back pain during pregnancy.

Here’s What’s Causing Pain in Your Upper Back

Although upper back pain occurs more often during the third trimester, you can experience upper back pain throughout your pregnancy. Upper back pain can still occur even if you’re in an early pregnancy stage. But what’s the source of the upper back pain? 

There are several reasons you might be dealing with upper back pain during pregnancy, and almost all of them are related to your habits and their effect on your changing body.

Body Changes as Pregnancy Progresses

During your pregnancy, you will notice that your body undergoes many necessary changes. These changes are vital for your baby’s optimal growth and development; it’s natural and healthy, but many pregnant women endure significant pain in their whole body—particularly in the thoracic spine (upper back).

Hormonal

As your pregnancy progresses, your ovaries and placenta secrete hormones to prepare your body for labor and delivery. Relaxin—one of the many hormones—is aptly named; the hormone causes significant relaxation in the lower body muscles, ligaments, and pelvic joints.

This relaxation effect causes these muscles, ligaments, and pelvic joints to cause pressure on your spinal column and strain your upper back muscles as they stretch to keep up and support these changes, resulting in significant pain in your upper back.

Uterus

As your pregnancy progresses, your uterus expands and puts pressure on the entire lower body, particularly on your sciatic nerve endings and the blood vessels surrounding your spinal column. Your expanding uterus also pushes back on your spine, a direct cause of severe upper back pain during pregnancy.

With a growing uterus, relaxed muscles in the pelvic floor, and increased pressure on your entire lower body, the upper back muscles continue to stretch, and your thoracic spine must put in extra effort to keep you balanced and upright.

breast growth

Your breast tissue will increase during your pregnancy at around 6–8 weeks, growing to weigh up to two (or more) additional pounds by the third trimester. Your growing breasts can cause you to have rounded shoulders pulled forward, as the extra weight will shift your center of gravity forward.

These changes in your breasts can cause sharp pain in your shoulder blades and thoracic spine in the upper back as they can make it challenging to maintain good posture, even when you’re trying hard to stand up straight.

Body weight DISTRIBUTION and Balance

Most OB/GYNs recommend pregnant women gain some healthy weight based on their BMI and medical history both for the mother’s health and for the baby’s development. You will gain weight all over your body, not just in the belly.

As your uterus and breasts grow, you frequently stretch in uncomfortable ways to balance and orient yourself. Your body’s inherent stability is likely to become thrown off, as these changes tend to happen much quicker than you’d expect, and it’s not always easy for your back to keep up and support the weight.

Posture

It is essential to maintain good posture during pregnancy; otherwise, you could be met with lower, middle, and upper back pain early on and throughout gestation. Incorrect posture causes unnecessary stress on your spinal column, but you can prevent upper back pain by correcting the habit before extra weight gained shifts your center of gravity forward.

Too Much Stress

Pregnancy’s physical stress and strain are definite causes of upper back pain, but emotional stress can also contribute to your physical pain. Increased cortisol levels from too much stress or anxiety in your daily life—aside from the usual emotional fluctuations during pregnancy—can cause tight muscles, spasming back muscles, and sharp pain in your upper back.

Anxiety and undue stress can manifest as pain in the whole body, even when you’re not pregnant. Physical pain caused by stress and anxiety is not just a psychosomatic symptom nor something to ignore; it’s a valid cause for concern. Pregnant women battling anxiety or emotional stress—whether it’s causing physical pain or not—should consider seeking the advice and support of a counselor or mental health professional.

How to Prevent Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

As we mentioned, a large portion of lower, upper, and middle back pain during pregnancy is caused by improper habits that can be corrected and are therefore preventable.

Here are a few ways to prevent pregnancy back pain:

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects. Carrying heavy objects can cause unnecessary stress and strain on your back muscles, especially during pregnancy.
    • If you truly need to move or transport heavy objects, find a friend or family member to do it for you. The health of your back and the rest of your and your baby’s bodies are far more important, and you can return to your old habits once you’ve recovered postpartum.
    • When lifting anything while you’re pregnant (like other children, if you have them), avoid twisting to the side; bend your knees while continuing to practice good posture.
  • Avoid poor posture. There is a right way to stand, sit, and sleep while you’re pregnant. You should try to maintain a neutral spine at all times, which means you need to avoid slouching or stretching your upper spine and shoulders forward to an abnormal position.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of standing upright, especially if you’re in pain, feeling uncomfortable, or unable to avoid poor posture habits.
  • Do your best to monitor your stress with the support of friends and family, and try to avoid situations and habits that make you feel anxious or emotionally distressed.

When to See a Doctor for Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

At times, your upper back pain and associated symptoms are signs that you need medical attention, and you should contact your doctor. These symptoms include:

  • vaginal bleeding;
  • frequent urination or a stinging sensation each time you pee (signs of a urinary tract infection);
  • signs of premature labor;
  • incessant, stabbing pain;
  • a tingling sensation or numbness in your limbs, hands, feet, fingers, or toes.

Whether you’re experiencing these symptoms along with or without back pain during pregnancy, get in touch with your physician as soon as possible. In the event of these serious symptoms, you may not be able to see your OB/GYN right away, and you’ll need to go to an emergency care clinic as soon as possible.

How to Relieve Upper Back Pain Symptoms

You may simply be here to find out how to alleviate upper back pain during pregnancy; if so, this is the section for you! Here we’ll share our best tips and advice to relieve symptoms at home or with professional treatment.

Safe Back Pain Management and Treatment for Pregnant Women

There are a number of professional practices that safely provide treatment for back pain during pregnancy, as well as other conditions affecting the health of both your back and spine.

Practitioners and Specialists

Some of the professional services you may want to consider are chiropractic, massage therapy, and physical therapy. Keep reading as we dive into each of these options and discuss the ways they can help to relieve upper back pain (as well as other types of back pain common during pregnancy).

chiropractic

Chiropractors practice a combination of conventional medicine and holistic stretching and joint manipulation methods to align the body’s skeletal structure, mainly to alleviate pain and promote non-invasive healing in the spinal column.

“Holistic” medicine is often hit-or-miss regarding reliability and safety regulation, as it doesn’t always constitute medical advice. Still, chiropractors are licensed healthcare professionals who are required to obtain a doctorate in their respective fields of study.

For most pregnant women, chiropractic is completely safe, therapeutic, and often effective on back pain during pregnancy. Some practitioners specialize in prenatal chiropractic, but all in the field are trained to treat pregnant women. However, if you experience the symptoms mentioned above, you should avoid chiropractic care until you consult your OB/GYN.

prenatal massage therapist

Prenatal massage can be highly therapeutic, and many massage therapists solely specialize in providing pain management and non-invasive treatment for back pain during pregnancy. As a bonus, the relaxing atmosphere of a massage spa or clinic can help to reduce stress (another source of pregnancy back pain, as mentioned above).

As with chiropractic, you’ll want to discuss massage therapy with your OB/GYN before making an appointment.

physical therapist

Physical therapy is a great choice to consider for muscular pain, tension, and irritation of the sciatic nerve. A licensed physical therapist can assess the source of your pain anywhere on the body and then determine the right treatment plan for you. Physical therapists can also perform pregnancy massage and acupuncture, as they’re trained to offer services specifically for back pain during pregnancy.

Relieve Your Pregnancy Back Pain at Home

Maybe you’re just looking for ways to relieve upper, lower, or mid-back pain at home; we’ve got the answers for you right here!

Activity

Low-impact, easy-going exercise and activities to get you moving—like swimming, yoga, and walking—can provide much pain relief during pregnancy for your upper back and the rest of your body. Prenatal yoga can promote good posture and ease muscle tension with proper stretches, like the door frame stretch.

As always, it’s good to check with your OB/GYN before performing prenatal physical activities.

Remedies

Home remedies can relieve upper back pain when you stay consistent and avoid certain herbs—such as Rosemary, which is linked to hypertension during pregnancy—or other alternative treatments that could cause more harm than good to your pregnancy.

Be sure you check with your OB/GYN before taking pain medicine or using topical forms of pain relief: You might not have a reaction to the ingredients when you aren’t pregnant, but they could be unsafe while you’re expecting.

Pregnancy-safe options for at-home relief include:

  • Rotating between hot and cold compresses for tight muscles;
  • Pregnancy-friendly topicals. Lotions or gels are options to consider, but remember to consult your doctor first, even if the label claims its ingredients are safe for pregnancy;
  • At-home massage from your partner (or whoever you are comfortable with).

Get Comfortable

Your upper back pain will usually worsen with a lack of support and comfort. Good lumbar support is important while you’re sleeping, so a pregnancy body pillow can offer you optimal cushioning for your belly, back, neck, and legs. Lumbar support pillows of all shapes and sizes are also available for your chairs at home and in the car.

comfortable clothing

Comfortable clothing can truly improve pain and discomfort throughout your entire pregnancy. As your breasts become heavier and shift your balance to the front, a supportive bra designed for maternity can help to quite literally lift the weight off your shoulders.

This is the time to break out your favorite sweatpants, baggy t-shirts, and comfiest shoes. Sure, you can wear cute maternity clothes too if you’d like, and many options are quite comfortable! Just do what helps you to feel your best and stay relaxed while you await your little one’s arrival.

Quality Maternity and Postnatal Care

Our maternal medical care team in the Women and Children’s Pavilion has a team of specially trained OB Nurses, board-certified physicians, and top-of-the-line labor, delivery, and recovery care systems.

RMC is committed to patient safety, comfort, and guiding new parents through one of the happiest moments in life. Each milestone through prenatal to postnatal care is catered for at RMC.