By Dr. Thomas Sullivan
The decisions of picking a name… The anticipation and excitement… Painting the new room… Clothing, diapers and family celebrations. The joy of a pregnancy is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Unfortunately however, for many women the later months of pregnancy can prove to be quite challenging. One common problem many women face is lower back pain.
Lower back pain can be a horrible interruption in day-to-day activities for a pregnant woman. More importantly, it interferes with their quality of life, not to mention the enjoyment of one of the most memorable times of their life.
The obvious cause of lower back pain is the biomechanical stress being placed on the mother by the added weight of baby. As the baby gains weight the mother is pulled forward. To compensate for this forward pull, the mother has to lean her upper body backward. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the low back and pelvis.
The “hidden” cause
This explanation of low back pain sounds complete. It is a true explanation but is only a small part the problem. The “hidden” cause of lower back pain is actually muscle imbalances. In fact, muscle imbalances are a common cause of lower back pain in pregnancy but they are also responsible for back pain in a majority of the population.
The strength and tone of the muscular system is an extremely important factor when assessing a patient with lower back pain. Unfortunately, muscle imbalances are not addressed properly by most health practitioners. But just because they are not trained in identifying and addressing muscle imbalances, it doesn’t mean you have to continue to suffer.
But before I share with you the solution to this problem, let me first explain in more detail what a muscle imbalance is and how it causes back pain and sciatica.
How muscle imbalances work
In a nutshell, muscle imbalances work like this. Muscles work together with opposing muscles to allow movement at joints. One muscle stretches while the other shortens. Each side should be of equal tone and strength. When a pregnant woman walks, moves, bends, twists or sleeps she will typically do so in an unbalanced and awkward manner to accommodate for her increased weight. In addition, various everyday activities and positions we put our body in create imbalances in the muscle groups and during pregnancy it only worsens.
Muscle imbalances then pull the pelvis and low back out of alignment and this places uneven and excessive stress on the muscles, bones and joints.
The spine is comprised of 24 moveable bones with a shock-absorbing disc in between each bone. This spinal column rests on three large bones called the pelvic girdle.
When this spinal column is in proper alignment it will carry a majority of the weight and stress being placed on the body. When one or more of these 24 bones misaligns, especially the pelvis, the muscles work overtime, so to speak. They now have to carry the weight that the spinal column is supposed to handle. At this point the muscles are unbalanced and are very prone to an injury. Lower back pain is the most common expression of this problem.
If the above scenario takes place then the stage has been set for lower back pain and dysfunction. Not only do expectant moms have to deal with safely carrying the baby, they have to now do it with a painful lower back.
The solution is based on a better understanding of muscle imbalances and how your body works. The first thing you have to do is fully understand what muscle imbalances are, how they are created and how they cause back pain and sciatica.
Here are two things that you can do right now to help you visualize what I mean:
• The best way to see what we are talking about is to look at photos of pregnant women at various stages of their pregnancy. Pay close attention to and ask the following questions; Do you see a tilt of her pelvis? Do you see excessive curvature of the lower back? Are her shoulders level? Are her hips level? Do you see her leaning back with her upper body to compensate? You will need to view photos taken from the front, back and either side to see all of the changes.
• Now the best way for you to chart your changes is to take your own photos. Please take the first photos as soon as you know you are pregnant and than take some every month. You will need to take at least one front, one back and one side photo every time. It is best if you are in bare feet, standing on a hard surface and standing as natural as you can do not try to stand with corrected posture. Your photos will be much more telling than ones you will find in a magazine meaning that you should be able to see your changes more clearly. Again note; the tipping of your pelvis over time, the excessive curvature in your lower spine, look to see if your shoulder and hips are level. Remember some of these changes are normal but they do have an effect on the body.
By using the photo to help you understand muscle imbalances, the next step is to be specific and identify the imbalances that you have to understand how they are creating your pain. When you have identified the imbalances you can then begin addressing them with the right combination of corrective exercises, stretches and treatments.
About the author: Dr Thomas Sullivan earned his undergraduate degree from The Johns Hopkins University in 1993 and received his Doctorate of Chiropractic in 1997 from Life College of Chiropractic. He is a Certified Active Release Practitioner and Director of Sullivan Chiropractic and Muscle Therapy Center in Manhattan, New York. For more information on how to treat all forms of back pain read the latest Back Pain Advisory from The Healthy Back Institute. Visit www.losethebackpain.com to sign up for your free back pain e-mail educational course and to learn more about how to identify and address your muscle imbalances.