A woman’s body does some incredible things to bring a baby into this world, but some of them also have negative side effects. One of the more common ones is sacroiliac joint pain. In fact, 50% to 80% of women deal with back pain during pregnancy, with dysfunction of the sacroiliac (SI) joint being a common culprit.
The sacroiliac joint is where the sacrum, the large, triangular bone at the bottom of the spine, meets the ilium, or the largest, uppermost part of the hipbone. This joint is held together by strong ligaments that allow just a small amount of movement.
Symptoms of SI Joint DysfunctionWhen the pelvis and sacrum move in opposite directions, it can cause some really unpleasant symptoms, including:
- A dull or sharp pain in the lower back on one or both sides of the spine
- Stiffness in the vicinity of the joint
- Pain that radiates to the hip, groin, butt or abdomen
- Numbness, tingling or weakness in the leg
Why Women?Pregnant or not, women are 8 to 10 times more likely to experience sacroiliac joint dysfunction than men due to differences in our anatomy and body chemistry. Just some of the risk factors include:
- Women have one less sacral segment than men to lock into the pelvis and stabilize it. This difference enables us to birth children.
- Women have wider hips than men, which increases torque across the SI joint when walking or running. This, too, is related to having children.
- Our sacroiliac joint surfaces are shallower than men’s, which also diminishes the stability of the joint.
- Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy and lactation can all make our ligaments more flexible (again, so we can bear children). This can leave the SI joint too mobile, causing pain and inflammation.
Pregnancy May Be to Blame for Your Low-back AcheFollowing are some pregnancy-specific changes that can increase your risk of low back pain from the SI joint.
- You know those hormone shifts you deal with simply because you are a woman? Those go into overdrive during pregnancy. The resulting over-mobility of this joint that is usually pretty stable can cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
- A growing baby bump also shifts your center of gravity forward. This increases the force on the lower spine.
- Further, many compensate for this added load by overarching the low back. This stresses the region and compresses the spine.
- Your abdominal muscles, which usually play an important role in supporting the torso and maintaining good posture, stretch out when you’re pregnant to make room for your growing baby. Your lower back picks up the slack.
More Risk Factors for SI Joint Pain When Pregnant
Other risk factors for sacroiliac joint pain during pregnancy include a higher pre-pregnancy body mass index (find out whether your BMI is healthy), preexisting back pain or carrying multiple babies.
Some studies have also shown that the younger you are, the greater your risk of developing SI joint pain.
Your activity level can also come into play. A sedentary lifestyle can up your odds of low-back pain, but so can overactivity during pregnancy. The lesson: a happy medium is best.
Take Low Back Pain into Your Own Hands
Tackling some of these risk factors like BMI and activity level is pretty straight-forward, but you might be surprised to hear that you can also do something about some of the anatomical and hormonal issues at play with SI joint pain.
1. Wear a Low-back Brace for SI Joint Pain
One of the simplest steps to treat SI joint dysfunction pain is to wear a sacroiliac belt designed for pregnant women. These can help stabilize the SI joint area and allow painful inflammation to go down.
The added support of an SI belt can reduce pressure on the spine. Plus, such products can help with posture and the anterior shift that pregnant women deal with by supporting the baby bump. (Find more maternity bands here.)
We also offer a number of belts for sacroiliac joint pain for people who are not pregnant.
2. Exercise during Pregnancy… 5 Moves to Work Those Abs!
Exercise during pregnancy is not only safe, but it is actually encouraged. Of course, you must be sure not to overdo it, as getting too aggressive can actually increase low back pain.
When working out, you should be sure to spend some time on your abdominal muscles. You can reduce how much strength they lose as they stretch to accommodate the growing uterus. This can keep the abdomen engaged in maintaining a good posture that is so important for SI joint pain treatment.
Plus, ab exercises have a number of other health benefits, such as limiting the odds your abdominals will split apart (eek!), strengthening key muscles for labor and delivery, and making it easier for you to get back in shape after having the baby.
Many traditional abdominal exercises are safe during pregnancy, so long as you make some modifications during the second and third trimesters, such as elevating your upper body with a pillow/your elbows for positions traditionally done in a lying down position.
Following are some good SI joint pain exercises for your abdominal muscles.
Heel drops (alternating or double)
Opposite arm/leg extension
Side plank (with one knee dropped for added stability)
3. Gain a Healthy Amount of Weight during PregnancyKeeping active is also great for making sure you put a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy. Adding too much can contribute to lower back pain while gaining too little is unhealthy for your baby. It is foolhardy to put a number on how much weight a woman “should” gain during pregnancy. It depends on your pre-pregnancy weight and how many babies you are carrying, among other factors. And even with those things considered, there is still quite a range of what is “healthy.” Ultimately, you should listen to your doctor about how much weight you should gain and try to adhere to that goal. Doing so via a healthy diet and level of activity can limit any unnecessary stress on the lower back.
4. Remedy SI Joint Pain by Eating SmartAnd while we’re on the topic of diet and exercise, it’s worth noting that some foods can decrease inflammation and thus pain. Those with omega-3 fatty acids are especially great for this. Some examples include:
- Olive oil
- Fish (though you should avoid ones that might have high mercury levels)