Back pain is a common occurrence during pregnancy. The weight gain, shift in your center of gravity and loosening of your ligaments caused by hormones all contribute to pain throughout the lower back and pelvis. Some women may find that their pain is caused by a bulging or herniated disc.
Disc problems are common. Many people over the age of twenty would show some signs of disc degeneration if they received spinal imaging tests, and nearly everyone in the elderly population has degenerated discs. With its commonness, it may seem that almost everyone should be suffering from chronic pain, but degenerated discs usually aren't symptomatic. They can occur or become symptomatic during pregnancy due to the extra pressure exerted on the lower back by a growing baby.
Spinal discs sit between vertebrae and absorb shock. They are composed of a tough exterior and a gel-filled center, a construction that allows them to have a cushioning effect. Through age, spinal misalignment, uneven forces from poor posture, improper body mechanics or injury, the exterior of a disc can degrade. The fluid inside can be pushed to the weakest side of the disc, causing a bulging disc. If the exterior of the disc cracks and internal fluids leak out, the disc is herniated.
If the bulge or the leaking fluid don't cause changes in spinal mechanics or interfere with nerves, then the disc degeneration will be asymptomatic. With the addition of a growing baby, the bulge or herniation can increase and cause symptoms to arise.
The most common symptom of a herniated disc is nerve pain. In the lower back, sciatica can occur when the sciatic nerve, running from the lumbar spine to the foot on each side of the body, becomes impinged or irritated by disc material. Sciatica causes pain to radiate from the lower back down the buttock and into the leg. The pain is sharp and generally shoots down the nerve path.
Pregnant women can still use some conventional pain treatment methods like heat and certain medications, but it is important to find something that addresses the problem directly.
Poor posture can exacerbate pressure on a damaged disc. Taking prenatal Pilates classes can help you maintain alignment and strengthen muscles around the spine that help support discs.
Chiropractic care may help alleviate pain from a herniated disc if it is caused by an alignment issue. By aligning the spinal and sacroiliac joints, a chiropractor can relieve pressure off discs and the sciatic nerve.
Acupuncture and acupressure are two types of pain management that are generally safe during pregnancy. Both interfere with pain sensations, acupuncture with the use of tiny needles and acupressure with applied pressure to specific points of the body. These therapies may work by targeting nerve clusters, releasing endorphins and/or unblocking energy meridians throughout the body (this latter explanation is the one supported by thousands of years of traditional Chinese medical practice). When seeking out a practitioner, be sure to find one well-versed in working with pregnant women. There are some pressure points believed to induce labor, which should be avoided unless that is the goal. Also, practitioners should be careful to avoid triggering muscle spasms, since the uterus is a muscle.
After delivery, the pain from your disc may subside since there will be less pressure on the lower back. It is still a good idea to pursue core strengthening exercises to provide support to the healing disc. If herniated disc pain continues well after labor, consider seeking inversion treatments that aim to expand interdiscal space and rehydrate damaged discs.
A herniated disc during pregnancy can cause lower back, buttock and leg pain. There are a number of options for safely managing pain while pregnant.