How prenatal yoga can help relieve back pain during pregnancy
Back pain during pregnancy
Here at Prenatal Yoga Center, back pain is one of the most common complaints I hear in prenatal yoga classes. But since every body and pregnancy is different, it doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way. Sometimes this manifests as general lower back pain, while sometimes students report sharp or constant left or right lower back pain (usually SI joint pain), and sometimes it’s mid-back or upper back and neck pain .
Luckily, we can address these various pains with prenatal yoga!
Yoga: treatment of prenatal back pain
While yoga is a fantastic workout in its own right, regardless of pregnancy, it’s especially beneficial for pregnant women because of its gentle yet effective approach to back pain and overall well-being. Sometimes it is the use of yoga lengthening and stretching which will relieve back pain. Or maybe it is leveling and deep breath yoga that will help with back pain. In other cases it is even strengthening and balancing yoga that does the trick. As you can see, many components of yoga can play an important role in healing the whole body, but especially the aches and pains of pregnancy.
Yoga technique for prenatal back pain
When it comes to the upper back, these muscles tend to over-lengthen due to the additional kyphosis (excessive outward curvature of the spine, causing the back to hunch) that occurs when the shoulder rolls forward. To solve this problem, I incorporate scapular crunches and other upper back strengthening poses such as camel (see image above) and sitting dog (see image below) into my classes. These yoga poses focus on lifting and opening the chest by engaging the trapezius and upper back muscles.
SI Joint pain
When it comes to pain in the SI joints (the sacroiliac joints located in the pelvis), we look at how to create better balance in the pelvis and focus on strengthening the supporting muscles. This means we do a lot of poses to strengthen the hips, glutes and hamstrings. The following remedies are quite effective for the treatment of joint pain in SI:
- Dynamic squats
- Utkatasana, squeezing the block between the thighs
- Downward dog with a block between the thighs
- Bridge pose with a block between the hips
In the Bridge pose, we want to focus on lengthening the tailbone to the kneecaps while isometrically pulling the heels toward the shoulders. This is very beneficial as you engage the hamstrings, glutes and adductors.
Best practices and postures for prenatal back pain
Here are some of my “go to” poses for back pain that are often woven into the flow of class:
- Cat and cow: this is a moving version of the cat and cow, which emphasizes the stretching of the muscles of the lower back. (See image above).
- Puppy pose: this pose makes it possible to stretch the muscles of the spine. The beauty of dog pose is that it doesn’t require the same opening of the shoulders as downward dog, and it puts very little weight on the arms and wrists (a great option for people with carpal tunnel).
- Without stretching either side: Any side stretch pose relaxes the lower back muscles (especially the QL or quadratus lumborum) and opens up the lateral ribs and intercostal muscles. For those who feel very “full of baby”, this may provide some relief.
- Hip Drop: It also helps to lengthen and release QL. Begin by sitting down with your left thigh on a blanket or mat and your right thigh in the air. Lift your right thigh up slightly, then lower it back down (then repeat on the other side).
- Downward facing dog: Similar to the puppy pose, it helps to stretch the spine and back muscles.
- Opening of the hamstring: You might be surprised to see the hamstring stretch on the list of poses for back pain. When the hamstrings are tight, they can pull the pelvis into a greater tilt and limit pelvic range of motion, putting excessive strain on the QL muscles.
- Puppy pose with side stretch (see image above).
- Eagle weapon
- Thread the needle
- 360 Breathing
- Breast opening poses (such as camel or cactus arms)
- Means for strengthening thighs (check out this video on Poses to Strengthen Thighs: Remedies to Strengthen Thighs)
- “Pyramid Deb”: This is a pose I created that is a combination of wide legs forward and downward dog. (See image below).
- Figure 4 Por: This pose is a favorite for those who suffer from sacroiliac joint pain (pain in the sacroiliac joint). This pose stretches the piriformis muscle, which can ease this discomfort a bit.
See these poses in action by watching this video here: Lower Back Pain
Your Changing Body: Back Pain That Develops During Pregnancy
As pregnancy progresses, the curvature of the spine becomes more exaggerated, causing the pelvis to tilt more forward, the upper back to round more, and the cervical spine (neck) to elongate more. All of these can cause certain muscles to shorten while others over-lengthen and weaken.
Lower, middle and upper back
During pregnancy, lower back muscles tend to contract and tense up. So we address this with poses that help bring length back to the lower back. Lots of rocking cat poses, side stretches to relax a tight QL muscle, and downward facing dog.
For middle of the back, we work on strengthening these overstretched muscles with scapular push-ups. But we also work on finding rib cage mobility with poses like thread the needle, upper back twists, and eagle arms. For the mid back, we also work on opening up the chest, as tight pectoral muscles can also help round out the upper back.
Close upper back can also lead to neck pain, so we like to work on better alignment and good breathing. Normally, the pregnant body shifts the weight forward, so we start by balancing the weight on all 4 corners of the feet and then bring back the femurs, which are often pushed forward. Then we align the pelvis. I often give the signal “pubic up and tail down, not down.” Then, continuing up the torso, we try to fold the ribs over the pelvis and turn the head up, which is often in a head-forward position.
Good breathing goes hand in hand with careful alignment. Here I introduce what is called 360 breathing, with an emphasis on breathing into the side and back ribs. “360” means 360 degrees of the chest. Most people are often stuck on high chest breathing or pushing their breath into their stomach. But by focusing the breath on the base of the ribs and specifically the back and side ribs, we can promote diaphragmatic breathing and especially get more movement in the sticky mid/upper back.
How we can solve your prenatal back pain
At Prenatal Yoga Center, we offer both prenatal and postpartum yoga classes in our New York student studio and online to serve pregnant yogis worldwide!
If you are interested in eliminating back pain during pregnancy or learning more about how you and your growing family can be supported during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, contact us or book a class, workshop or an event already today!
frequently asked questions
Can you do yoga on your back during pregnancy?
The idea of not lying on your back comes from trying to avoid vena cava syndrome. This is when your baby’s weight can press on the vena cava, restricting blood flow to your heart. Most people feel nauseous, dizzy, or generally unwell when this happens. It’s your body telling you to move!
At the same time, we want to consider the position of the fetus. Prolonged time on your back can encourage your baby to move more towards your spine. But for most people, by the third trimester, lying on your back is no longer very comfortable. So nature has a way of taking care of itself!
Besides, we usually don’t sit on our backs in class. When we lean back, it’s either very momentarily, like when we move into a pose like bridge pose, or if we stay for a longer period of time, we create a 45 degree angle with blocks and supports so that the torso is larger vertically .
How to stretch the waist during pregnancy?
Several poses are effective for stretching and relaxing a tight lower back during pregnancy. Some of my favorites include rocking cat spine, puppy pose, downward dog, and side stretch.
Is a dog safe for pregnancy?
Absolutely! Several other poses allow you to stretch and lengthen the excessive curves of the pregnant spine, such as downward facing dog. I recommend not focusing on straightening your legs and lowering your heels, but rather emphasizing the dual action of pushing your arms down and forward while actively driving your outer thighs back and up.
I also recommend emphasizing the ascending quality of the pose. For those who experience tightness in their hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, I would even recommend lifting your heels and bending your knees slightly to release the low back. This will help take the focus away from exposing the back of the legs (for which there are many other opportunities) and instead give the pregnant person a chance to really enjoy the lengthening of the spine and relief from pregnancy-related back pain.
What exercises do you recommend for back pain?
All of our prenatal yoga classes will focus on treating back pain! Because of the very nature of yoga, you can find relief from back pain with some of the simplest yoga poses and stretches.