Unfortunately for some pregnant women, a common pain that accompanies pregnancy is backache.
The Bane of Backache
There are numerous reasons why backaches are common in pregnant women. It usually starts in the second trimester due to weight gain, which causes more stress on the spine. Meanwhile, the growing uterus and baby put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the back and pelvis, and the woman has to make postural changes due to the change in her centre of gravity. Then there is the separation of the abdominal muscle, which increases stress on the back, and the secretion of a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes the ligaments and joints in preparation for childbirth.
From an Ayurveda perspective, backaches can also happen due to a variety of reasons, such as from existing chronic backache, a fall before a pregnancy, and even constipation. Constipation can cause lower back pain due to an imbalance in the Apana Vata, or the movement of air below the navel, which is responsible for all excretion and gestation.
The danger of backache is compounded when it comes to TCM. Backache is likely to affect women who have qi deficiency in the liver and kidney, as well as women who do not have sufficient calcium in their bodies. This is due to the growing baby, who needs increasing levels of nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus.
Despite these innocuous-sounding factors, backache is a condition not to be taken lightly. According to Physician Ban, severe backache during pregnancy may lead to miscarriage. “It is important for us to verify that there is no risk of miscarriage when backache occurs,” she says. “Typically, backache only happens during the later part of pregnancy. Women should consult a doctor if they experience backache during the early stage of pregnancy. If she also experiences vaginal bleeding, she should seek medical help immediately as this may be a sign of miscarriage,” she warns.
Western Medicine Perspective
Western medicine, too, understands the dangers of backache, particularly with the compression of nerves at the spine. Dr Lim notes several scenarios related to backache, which would require professional attention, including the loss of sensation or weakness of the lower limbs due to compression of the nerve roots of the spine, and problems with urinary or bowel habits together with lower back pain due to severe compression of the nerves of the spine. Lower back pain one side under the ribs, or on both sides, can also be a sign of a kidney infection, especially if the mother also has a fever, nausea, pain on urination, or blood in the urine. Lastly, back pain in the late second or third trimester can also be a sign of pre-term labour. As such, if backache becomes intolerable or affects your ability to walk, consult your doctor.
Aside from keeping a lookout on the severity of backache, mothers can do more for themselves by resting more. They could also hold on to someone, if needed, as this can reduce the weight and strain on their backs. “Regular exercise strengthens your back muscles and helps flexibility,” advises Dr Claudine Tan, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Thomson Women’s Clinic in Serangoon Central. “Proper posture also helps relieve the strain on the spine.” Massaging the affected areas can also help with pain relief.
However, Physician Ban recommends against tui na for pregnant patients. While tui na can relieve physical stress and tension of the body, the pressure placed on the body can affect certain acupoints and areas that may have an effect on the baby or the pregnancy. Physical Ban singles out the abdomen and lumbar sacral as parts of a pregnant woman’s body that patients and physicians alike have to be careful with.
TCM Approach to Relieve Backache
According to Physician Ban, herbal remedies are the mainstay of TCM treatment for backache, and can be complemented with acupuncture. However, acupuncture should only be prescribed selectively to pregnant women, and special care should be administered to their acupoints, especially around the lower abdomen and lumbosacral areas.
For patients with less severe backache, Physician Ban recommends that they engage in light exercise and change their sitting posture to reduce the pressure on their back, which will then ease the backache. Patients are also recommended to take collagen to strengthen their skeletal muscles, which reduces the risk of this health problem. For more serious cases, she suggests using herbs like teasel root and cuscuta seed to alleviate the ache.
However, Physician Ban also stresses that pregnant women with backache should not take herbs indiscriminately as they may affect the baby. She advises those who feel that they have backache to first consult a physician for a more accurate diagnosis and prescription of treatment.
Stay Active, Stay Positive
Mothers-to-be need not be unduly worried about morning sickness and backache. Dr Lim assures, “It’s heartening to know that most of these symptoms of morning sickness and lower-back pain in pregnancy are common, and that they usually have no harmful effects on the growing baby. Most of the morning sickness resolves spontaneously after the first trimester, while the back pain goes away after the pregnancy.”
“Stay active, stay positive,” suggests Dr Chong. “Use the symptoms as a way to bond with your foetus, using psychology. Vent and tell your husband, family and friends! Most importantly, enjoy your pregnancy!”
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.12.