Back pain during pregnancy is very common and it’s no surprise. You’ve got the influx of hormones that loosen certain ligaments, the weight gain in your tummy pulling your back muscles forward and downward, and your pelvic bones shifting. All of these changes in your body are a recipe for discomfort.
Just because there’s good reason for back pain during pregnancy doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it. Use these simple exercises to help you feel better and avoid unnecessary pain medications. As a bonus, these moves will also get you stronger and better prepared for labor and delivery.
These exercises are safe and gentle enough for any mom-to-be during any phase of pregnancy. But one word of caution: If you had not been exercising before pregnancy, then start with just 1 set of each of these exercises and work your way up as you become stronger. You may be a little sore the next day if these moves are brand new to you.
You can choose to complete these exercises as a whole back strengthening and stretching circuit, or you can pick your favorites and add them to your regular workout routine.
As with all exercises, make sure you’re breathing during each movement and working slowly with control.
1. Seated Tick Tocks
How these help ease back pain: Stretching and strengthening both play key roles in reducing and/or eliminating back pain, and this move gives you both! If the pain you’re experiencing is on the sides of your back, this move should provide some immediate relief as well as help tone and strengthen those muscles to prevent future pain.
How to do this exercise: Sit in a comfortable seated position with legs crossed. As you lean over to one side with your arms extended overhead, you will be stretching one side of your back while contracting the other side. Hold that stretch for just a moment while inhaling a deep breath, and then exhale the air out as you contract the elongated side, return through center, and stretch to the other side.
How many? 3 sets of 10 slow reps per side
2. Figure 4 Stretch
How these help ease back pain: Some back pain can be related to tightness in the hips, which then puts pressure on the surrounding nerves. This hip opener helps create more space around the hips, relieving some of that pressure. Also, by leaning slightly forward, you get a good lower back stretch.
How to do this exercise: If you have trouble balancing on one leg, try putting your butt against the wall for support. Lift one leg and place your ankle across the top of your knee. Make sure to flex the foot to protect the knee. Hold your heel with one hand and press down on your knee with the other hand. The lower you can squat with the standing leg, the more you will feel the stretch across your back and your hip. Gently increase the depth of your squat until you feel an intense but manageable stretch. Hold and continue to breath.
How many? 3 sets of a 30-second hold per side
3. Wide Squat with Twist
How these help ease back pain: Another hip opener, but this one also incorporates a back twist which feels really good to the spine. Also, by pressing your straight arms against your knees, you create length in your spine.
How to do this exercise: Step your feet nice and wide and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Place your hands on your thighs just above your knees and keep your elbows straight. Turn your shoulders towards one side and look over your shoulder. Only twist as much as you can without turning your belly. The straighter you keep your arms, the more you will elongate your spine, so think of length as you twist.
How many? 3 sets of a 30-second hold per side
4. Bent-Over Front Raises
How these help ease back pain: Weak back muscles that are unable to hold the weight of your growing belly are a primary cause of back pain. It can be difficult to find exercises that can strengthen your back without using weights, machines, or belly down exercises, which are contraindicated for pregnancy. This exercise is safe for anyone at any fitness level and can be done without any equipment. The weight of your arms over your head is enough to strengthen your back but light enough to prevent injury.
How to do this exercise: Begin by hinging at the waist to form a bent-over position; your back should be parallel to the ground or slightly higher. Clasp your hands together with your pointer fingers pointed towards the ground. Raise your arms up until they are also parallel with the ground, in line with your back. Make sure your arms are flexed all the way straight, then slowly lower back down to the starting position.
How many? 3 sets of 10 reps
5. Glute Bridges
How these help ease back pain: Weak glutes (butt muscles) are another cause of pregnancy-related back pain. When pregnant, we often spend a lot more time sitting than standing, squatting, or walking up stairs. This leads to weaker than usual glute muscles.
How to do this exercise: Begin by lying flat on the ground with your arms down by your sides. Bend your knees and plant your heels on the floor close to your butt. Now press your heels into the floor to raise your butt up off the floor, forming a bridge shape with your body. Squeeze your butt and back muscles at the top, and then slowly lower back down to the ground.
How many? 3 sets of 15 reps
6. Child’s Pose
How this helps ease back pain: Child’s Pose is more of a stretch than an exercise, but it certainly feels great for the back and is a great way to cool down from all the strengthening work you just did. The elongation of the spine in this pose helps relieve pressure on surrounding nerves.
How to do this exercise: Start in an all-fours position and open your knees wide apart. Sit your butt back and down as low as you can go until you can relax your weight down, allowing your back to round. Stretch your arms all the way out in front of you on the floor. If this feels uncomfortable with your baby belly in the way, you can rest on bent elbows.
How many? Hold this stretch for 1-2 minutes as a cool down stretch.
By incorporating these exercises into your weekly routine you can greatly reduce or eliminate pregnancy related back pain.
(Your Next Pregnancy Workout: 7 Safe Pregnancy Exercises for Every Trimester)