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Are You Still Dealing with Back Pain After Pregnancy?

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It’s not uncommon for pregnant people to experience back pain as their baby grows. Should they be concerned if the pain doesn’t go away after delivery?

What causes back pain after pregnancy?

It’s normal for the ligaments in your lower back and pelvic region to loosen during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby due to the release of a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin, as the name suggests, causes the muscles and ligaments in your pelvic region to relax. However, it can cause some muscles and ligaments to relax a little too much, which can lead to nerve and joint pain.

Relaxin stays in the body for up to six weeks postpartum.

Many people suffer from postpartum back pain due in part to ligamentous laxity, which occurs when your ligaments are too loose to hold your joints in the proper position. Joint instability causes your muscles to compensate, usually by tightening, which can cause pain.

This pain is most commonly in the sacroiliac joints, which connect the pelvis and lumbar spine. Roughly 15% to 25% of patients who experience lower back pain are experiencing sacroiliac joint pain.

Sacroiliac joint disfunction can cause pain in the lower back and pelvis. You also may experience pain running down your buttocks.

The pain experienced with sacroiliac joint disfunction may mimic other conditions, like a herniated disc or hip problem. Many people describe the pain as a hip that’s “out of place.” That feeling typically is pain on one side of the lower back in the region of the sacroiliac joint.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is not picked up on an MRI or CT scan. It is not uncommon for people to see multiple doctors for chronic back pain before finding a cause or treatment option that works for them.

The Fortin finger test can help diagnose sacroiliac joint dysfunction. To perform the test, your doctor will ask you to locate the pain using one finger. They will then have you relax for five to 10 minutes and identify the pain again. If you consistently locate the pain within one centimeter, the test is considered positive.

While sacroiliac joint pain can have a significant impact on your postpartum recovery and your ability to enjoy normal life, there are several nonsurgical treatment options to help you get back on your feet.

What is the treatment for back pain?

Manual adjustment, massage and therapeutic exercises that can help correct the positioning of your muscles and joints can help realign the lower back and pelvic region.

The best time to receive a readjustment may be within six weeks after giving birth when relaxin is still present in the body, but it can be done at any time. The relaxed state may make your body more flexible and easier to adjust.

Medication, either over-the-counter or prescription, physical therapy or injections may also provide pain relief.

Sacroiliac joint pain vs. sciatica

It is also common during pregnancy to experience sciatica, which is a shooting pain and/or numbness or tingling that starts in the back or buttock and radiates all the way down your leg. Infrequently, sciatica can be caused by a disc herniation, or slipped disc.

If sciatic pain persists or worsens after pregnancy or if you develop numbness and/or tingling and extremity weakness, consult with a spine surgeon for further investigation and treatment options.

There are enough challenges that come with new motherhood. Back pain does not have to be one of them. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

Learn more about orthopedic spine surgeon Charles Yu, MD.

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