Is your back pain during pregnancy robbing of enjoying those precious nine months?
I hear ya!
Back pain during pregnancy is one of the most frequent complaints and for many, it can become almost unbearable.
An estimated 50-70% of pregnant women experience back pain during pregnancy and for many moms, it lasts long after pregnancy is over.
While resting to relieve your back pain may seem enticing, choosing simple stretches and strengthening exercise can help you carry your pregnancy with much more ease.
Which also means you may even enjoy it more!
When addressing aches and pains during pregnancy, it is important to remember that movement is medicine and keeping your body strong can make your pregnancy much more enjoyable.
So here are some of my favorite stretches and exercises to help make back pain during pregnancy much more manageable.
Disclaimer: Although I am a certified prenatal/postnatal exercise specialist and personal trainer, I am not YOUR trainer. The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute of the information and advice you receive from a healthcare professional.
Why Is Exercise Important for Back Pain?
Because movement is literally medicine!
Too many people think they need to move LESS when they have aches and pains when really, they probably need to move more.
We forget that our muscular system is what provides support and stability to our entire body and keeping that system strong is what helps prevent aches and pains.
MANY moms are nervous to do ANY exercise during pregnancy not realizing that our bodies are stronger than we give them credit for.
Trust me, being consistent with movement is MUCH healthier than popping Advil or Tylenol to relieve the pain.
Related: All Your Fit Pregnancy Questions Answered
What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?
Understanding where your back pain is coming from can help you relive it.
Here is what causes back pain during pregnancy.
Hormone production during pregnancy makes your joints more loose.
The combination of the extra weight of the uterus and the shift in your center of gravity can put strain on your lower back.
Many moms are afraid to do prenatal core exercises because they are unsure how to even navigate their growing belly.
However, as the uterus grows the abdominal muscles become stretched which decreases their ability to maintain your posture.
The result is extra strain on the lower back.
Contrary to what many think, prenatal core exercises are very important to helping prevent pregnancy back pain and when done correctly, can even help push your baby out faster!
Changes In Your Center of Gravity
The combination of the weight of your growing baby and weakening of the core muscles causes a pull in your lower spine.
This pulling can cause strain in your low back as well as problems with balance and an increased risk for potential falls.
Too Little Activity
Remember, movement is medicine.
Sitting all day or not getting enough movement can actually do more harm than good.
Changes in Sleeping Positions
Trying to find a comfortable sleep position during pregnancy can feel impossible.
Especially if you were a back sleeper and now being forced to sleep on your side.
Changes in how you sleep can be a big culprit to pregnancy back pain.
The Best Exercises To Relieve Back Pain During Pregnancy
The best approach to relieving aches and pains during pregnancy is through a combination of stretching and strengthening.
Weak muscles in your glutes, core and back are unable to support the weight of your growing baby which can lead to pain in your back and hips.
Strengthening these muscles can help you carry your baby and pregnancy much more comfortably.
The most common culprit of pregnancy back pain is weak glute and core muscles as well as tight hamstrings.
And back pain, especially in pregnancy, is often a sign of a weak core and glutes.
Stretching allows your body to open up while strengthening helps to provide a strong support for your body.
These stretches and exercises can be done on their own or grouped together for a full workout for back pain relief during pregnancy.
The Cat Cow exercises is great for improving circulation in the disks in your back and relieving stress through the use of breathing movement.
How To Do It
- On an inhale, tilt your pelvis so that your tailbone moves up as your belly drops down. Keep your core engaged as if you were hugging your baby.
- Take your gaze up toward the ceiling without cranking your neck too hard.
- Hold for a few breaths.
- Then slowly take your gaze down, engage your core, press through your hands and press your back up into a rounded position. Make sure to also tuck your tailbone.
- Continue alternating between cat/cow, moving with your breath.
- Continue for 60 seconds.
Wide Knee Child’s Pose (Mobility)
Once you have finished your cat/cow exercise, you can move directly into the childs pose.
This is great for warming up your back and hips as well as stretching your back, inner thighs and glutes.
How To Do It
- Begin by kneeling on the ground with your knees slightly wider than hip width apart and you can always make adjustments for what is most comfortable for you.
- Slowly come forward, walking your hands out in front of you until your arms are almost straight.
- Walk your hands forward and relax into the position, releasing tension in your lower back, glutes and pelvis.
- Focus on keeping the spine long and not scrunching your shoulders up by your ears.
- If you need to, you can place a pillow under your pelvis for added support.
Hamstring Stretch To Hip Flexor Stretch
In this mobility exercise, you are going to slowly move back and forth from a hamstring stretch to a hip flexor stretch.
- Begin with your right foot forward and your back knee on the ground in a lung position.
- Slowly shift your hips back as you straighten your front leg to a place you feel a good stretch but not straining.
- Place your hands directly under your shoulders and press through your finger tips to keep length in your back. Focus on keeping your back straight and length in your spine.
- Engage your quadricep muscles and focus on keeping your right knee facing directly up and a small bend in your knee if needed to prevent hyperextending.
- Hold the pose for about 30 seconds then engage your core and slowly move your hips forward in a straight line to a hip flexor stretch.
- In the hip flexor stretch, focus on lifting your belly button toward your rib cage, shoulders and neck soft.
- Move back and forth between these positions 5-8 times then switch sides.
Seated Half Pigeon (glute release)
- Cross your right leg over your left knee keeping your foot flexed.
- If this is enough to feel a stretch in your outer glute, stay here.
- If you need more, slightly hinge (not hunch) your hips forward, keeping your back as straight as possible.
- Hold stretch for 30-45 seconds then switch sides.
Thoracic and Shoulder Stretch
This stretch feels so good! It helps take pressure off of the back and open the shoulders and upper back.
- Start with your hands on a chair or high counter. Walk your feet back until you can allow your shoulders and chest to lower.
- You can have your knees slightly bent or straight, whatever feels more comfortable.
- The goal is to pull your lat muscles down and away from your ears. Keep your core engaged to prevent overarching your back.
- If this is too much, you can place your hands a little higher on a wall.
- if you need more, try putting your elbows on the chair or counter and really feel the stretch in your lats and triceps.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds, as often as you can throughout the day.
Seated Side Stretch
This is a great stretch for opening the groin, chest, shoulders and back.
- Begin in a seated straddle position.
- Lean your body over to the right for a side stretch.
- Bring your right forearm to the ground and extend your left arm up over our head as if to reach for your right toes.
- Rotate your chest upwards. You can also grab your toes if you have the flexibility.
- For an added stretch, you can gently press your right forearm into your leg to give your torso a slight twist.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds then slowly release and switch sides.
Pelvic Tilt (core)
The pelvic tilt is one of the main exercises to master with pregnancy and postpartum.
- Depending on the stage of your pregnancy and your mobility, this exercise can be done either lying down or standing.
- Note, it is safe to lay down on your back in pregnancy for short periods of time as long as you do not experience dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea. (source)
- If you are on the ground, bend your knees and you will likely notice the natural curve in your back prevents the lower back from touching the ground.
- Inhale and on an exhale, engage your core and pelvic floor to rock your hips up toward your head and press your lower back against the ground.
- Hold for a few breaths, then release.
- If you are standing, try this against a wall so you can imagine lifting your core and pressing your lower back against the wall.
- Complete 10-12 reps, 3-4 sets.
This pose helps to stretch the spine, chest and neck while also strengthening your core and glutes.
- On an inhale, engage your core (think pelvic tilt), press your feet into the floor and lift your pelvis off the floor.
- At the top of the bridge, tuck your chin gently toward your chest.
- Your weight should be distributed on your shoulders and feet.
- Hold at the top for about 5 seconds, then slowly lower back to the ground.
- repeat for 12 reps, 3-5 sets
Bird Dogs (Core/ Pelvic Stability)
This exercise is much more challenging that it looks! But it is a fundamental movement for teaching core stability by engaging the back and ab muscles at the same time.
- Start on your hands and knees with a straight spine.
- Engage your core and do a pelvic tilt to keep your pelvis stable.
- Slowly lift your right arm and left leg at the same time to form a straight line with your spine. Squeeze your left glute to help with stability.
- Hold this position for a three breaths then lower and repeat on the opposite side.
- Peform 5 reps on each side 3-4 times.
- If it is too challenging to keep your balance, then start by lifting your arm and leg separately.
Things to avoid
- Allowing your hips to drop as you lift your leg. Squeezing your glute with help stabilize your hips
- Allowing your belly to sink toward the ground and arch in your back.
Wall Squats (glutes/core)
The wall squat is one of my favorite exercises for strengthening the core, pelvic floor and glutes which will help with back pain.
- Start by standing with your back, head and shoulders against a wall and feet shoulder width apart.
- Walk your feet forward as you slide your back down the wall until your knees come to a 90-degree angel. If this is too low, you can stand a little higher.
- Do a pelvic tilt and press your lower back against the wall, lift your pelvic floor and squeeze your glutes.
- Hold this for 15-45 seconds and repeat 3-4 times.
Deep Squats (assisted if needed)
Deep squats help to open the hips and groins while also stretching and strengthening the feet and ankles.
This should be avoided if you have pubic bone pain.
- Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Bend the knees and lower down into deep squat
- Bring your hands into a prayer position with your elbows pressing against your knees to help open the hips.
- Keep your spine straight and shoulders relaxed away from your ears.
- Also focus on lifting your pelvic floor (think Kegal)
- Hold for 5-10 breaths then stand. Repeat 3-4 times.
- If this is too challenging, have your partner help you by holding their hands or holding onto something sturdy as you lower.
Seated Band Row (back)
This exercise helps stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the back muscles to help carry your pregnancy with more comfort.
More Tips To Prevent Pregnancy Back Pain
Aside from strengthening and stretching, here are a few other helpful tips to manage your back pain.
Watch Your Pregnancy Weight Gain
Despite popular belief, gaining too much weight during pregnancy is not healthy for mom or baby.
Think about it, the more weight your gain, the more pressure it places on your loosened and weakened joints resulting in greater back pain.
While pregnancy is definitely not a time to focus on heavily restricting calories, it is also important to be aware that excess weight gain during pregnancy comes with a lot of other health concerns such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction) and pain in the joints and back.
Related: Perfect Pregnancy Nutrition Plan-Prenatal Nutrition for Optimal Fetal Growth & Gene Expression
Improve Sleep Positions
The American Pregnancy Association recommends sleeping on your left side which helps increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta.
One of the best investments you can make during pregnancy is to get yourself a pregnancy body pillow.
It will help you sleep more comfortably on your sides and support your belly to alleviate any straining.
I even used my for about six months postpartum to help with postpartum back pain.
Consider a Pregnancy Support Band
Wearing a pregnancy support band, especially if you are exercising or on your feet all day, can really help take some of the pressure off your pelvic floor and low back.
The best part about this one is that you can use it after pregnancy to help support and even shrink your hips.
You can also try using something called “Rock Tape”. I used this often when I didn’t feel like wearing a belly support band.
Be Mindful of Bending and Lifting
When bending down to get something off the floor or even lift a heavy toddler, make sure you are squatting down instead of bending over and use your legs to lift, not your back.
As you lift, be sure to engage your core to take the pressure off of your back.
Final Thoughts On Exercises To Relieve Back Pain In Pregnancy
If your back pain during pregnancy is unbearable or you are not able to find any relief, I suggest discusing your concerns with your healthcare provider.
Struggles of a Fit Mom uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within it’s articles. Read my editorial process to learn more about how I fact-check and keep my content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Back Pain in Pregnancy; University of Rochester Medical Center
Healthy Eating For Two; American Pregnancy Association
Chronic Tightness: Are You Muscles Weak or Tight?; Symmetry Physical Therapy
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Brooke is a certified Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology-Exercise Science. She is also a mom of 3 girls with more than 15 years of experience in health and fitness. Brooke’s goal at Struggles of a Fit Mom is to help motivate, educate and inspire other busy mamas who struggle with finding time, energy and motivation to take care of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.