When I was pregnant with my first I was told that back pain was “normal.” It’s become normal because so many women are suffering from it. But it’s actually not a “normal” side effect of being pregnant. And it doesn’t have to be that way!
I’m going to roll the dice and confidently say at least 90% of pregnant women complain of back pain when pregnant. If you’ve never been pregnant just imagine strapping a thirty-pound (ish) bowling ball to your midsection and carrying it around 24/7. Ya, it might be hard on your back.
Obviously in pregnancy this doesn’t happen overnight. Weight gain is fairly gradual (with some spurts) over nine months. In my first pregnancy with each pound I put on, my back got worse. I also spent five days a week, eight hours a day slumped over a computer. That was strike one. Then I gave up on exercise and put on a little too much weight. Strike two. Finally, whenever I thought about the bad posture I had I would attempt to correct it by shoving my shoulders back as far as I could.
Strike 3. Back – You’re Out!!!
Ooooh I suffered! I would cry. I would take hot baths. I would foam roll. I would hang upside down from a chair in our living room. My husband spent hours massaging my back. No matter what I tried to alleviate my pregnancy back pain it always came back. And the reason for this is because I had very poor posture, which threw my body out of alignment 99% of the day.
Recently I’ve become obsessed with Katy Bowman, biomechanic scientist and founder of Aligned and Well. She has opened my eyes to the wonderful world of good alignment and its role in our health. This won’t be the last time I reference her work!
For me finding out what good alignment is has been life changing. It’s not about shoving your shoulders back or tucking in your pelvis. Good alignment begins at your feet and ends at your head. For me this is of particular concern because of the lower back pain I’ve experienced in pregnancy. So the obvious issue now is what is good alignment? Have a look at the photos below.
I spent my work hours with hunched shoulders and my non-work hours with a tilted pelvis and exaggerated curve in my spine. Back pain – no kidding!
Let’s take it back to basics, before humans started sitting on chairs most of the time. We walked. We squatted. We lifted. We carried. Our bodies have evolved for this type of functional use. Now we sit. We hunch over computers. We don’t use our glutes (bum muscles) enough so carrying a front load (pregnant belly) feels more difficult and our pelvis starts to rotate forward. Have a look at what’s happening inside:
Some pointers for ensuring good posture and therefore, great (neutral) spine alignment:
1. Toes are pointed straight. Imagine you are a car and your feet are your wheels. You can only move forward with the feet pointed straight ahead. Pigeon-toed or flared out toes – your “car” isn’t going anywhere!
2. Feet are hip width apart and from there you are stacked. Your knees are directly above your feet, your pelvis is directly above your knees, your body cavity is above your pelvis, and your head is at the top. Think of yourself as a stack of building blocks. If one block is out of alignment the whole structure is unstable:
3. Your pelvis should not be tilted forward OR be tucked in, it should be neutral. Imagine wearing a belt and it being parallel to the floor.
4. This isn’t pretty, but to complete the perfection of your spine alignment your neck needs to be in line and this will make you feel like you have a double chin (sorry – as if pregnant women, including myself, want to look like we have a double chin!). Our heads are on top of our bodies, not in front of them! Go ahead, give it a try. And if you need more convincing on why this is important, check out my former strength and conditioning coach Chris Collins’ blog post on a packed neck.
Don’t forget that neutral isn’t always natural. If standing with good posture (neutral spine) feels unnatural to you, it’s probably because of years of bad postural habits. Keep these alignment pointers in mind as you’re going about your day and over time it will become more natural, I promise. Especially after you feel the improvement in your back!
Get someone to snap a picture of you standing sideways and find out if your posture is suffering!