• Heat and Cold. Talk to your doctor about using applications of heat and cold to relax your muscles and increase blood flow to your painful back. Start with cold compresses (such as a bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel) on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. After two or three days, switch to heat — applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to the back area. Be careful not to apply heat to the abdomen during pregnancy.
• Improving posture. Using proper posture when working, sitting, or sleeping can help relieve pain. For example, sleeping on your side with a pillow between the knees will take stress off your back. When sitting at a desk, place a rolled-up towel behind your back for support; rest your feet on a stack of books or stool and sit up straight, with your shoulders back, to avoid the strain that slouching places on your spine. Wearing a support belt may also be helpful.
• Counseling. If back pain is related to tension caused by emotional problems, talking to a counselor may be helpful.
• Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted into your skin at certain locations. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in relieving low back pain during pregnancy. The way acupuncture works to relieve back pain is not known, but experts suspect it may cause the body to release painkilling substances.
• Chiropractic. Chiropractic is a health care and healing system based on the application of non-invasive treatments and spinal adjustments to alleviate health problems caused by vertebral misalignments affecting bodily function. When performed correctly, chiropractic manipulation of the spine can be safe during pregnancy, but consult with your doctor before seeking chiropractic care.
• Medications. If your pain is not relieved by nonmedication treatments, speak to your doctor about appropriate medications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe for most women to take during pregnancy. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are not advised. In some cases, your doctor may recommend other pain medicines or muscle relaxants that are safe during pregnancy.
Additional steps you can take:
• If you need to pick something up, use your legs to squat rather than bend over.
• Don’t wear high-heeled shoes.
• Don’t sleep on your back.
When to Seek Treatment From a Doctor
Back pain itself usually is not a reason to call your doctor; however, there are some situations where back pain signals a serious problem that requires your doctor’s attention. You should call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:
• Severe pain
• Increasingly severe pain or pain that begins abruptly
• Rhythmic cramping pains
In rare cases, severe back pain may be related to problems such as pregnancy-associated osteoporosis, vertebral osteoarthritis, or septic arthritis. Rhythmic pains may be a sign of preterm labor. If you are experiencing any of these problems, it’s important to be checked by your doctor immediately.