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By Patrick Foote
It’s no surprise that degenerative disc disease in the lower back can be triggered by different types of physical stress, and pregnancy is no exception. From the increased weight that the spine must support during pregnancy, to the fact that many pregnant women become less active as they carry a baby to term, the amount of strain put on the lumbar (lower) spine can easily exacerbate intervertebral disc deterioration that has already taken place, possibly causing one or more discs to collapse, bulge, or herniate. And while it’s not likely that pregnancy in and of itself will cause DDD, it could be the catalyst that turns asymptomatic degeneration into a symptomatic condition.
Types of Back Pain Experienced During Pregnancy
Discomfort in the lower back, or lumbar spine, is fairly normal during pregnancy and this is generally the area that is affected by degenerative discs. However, posterior pelvic pain is more common during pregnancy and can usually be felt around the waistline and across the sacrum. The sacrum is made up of five fused bones that form a triangle, separating the last lumbar vertebra from the coccyx, or tailbone. The sacrum contains no intervertebral discs, so pain in this area due to degenerative disc disease could be caused by tension transferred from the lumbar intervertebral discs if they have deteriorated to the point that they are unable to absorb shock.
Causes of Back Pain during Pregnancy
Degenerative disc disease in the lower back, if a contributing factor to back pain during pregnancy, is rarely the primary reason for symptoms. Lumbar spine pain is generally caused by a combination of the following:
— Weight gain – Many woman gain weight when pregnant, some as much as a quarter of their pre-pregnancy body weight. While some of the weight will be distributed throughout the body, much of the weight is concentrated in the uterus, which puts strain directly on the lumbar spine.
— Change in center of gravity – With so much more weight around the torso, pregnant women must change their gait and posture to maintain their balance. Some women develop lordosis, which is an overarching of the lumbar spine to maintain postural stability.
— Muscle imbalance – Changes in posture can cause the muscles surrounding the spine to become fatigued, which can actually cause posture to worsen. Postural modifications can also cause painful muscle spasms and other muscle imbalances.
— Changes in hormone levels – During pregnancy, the body produces increased levels of a protein hormone called relaxin, which mainly relaxes and softens the joints of the pelvis so that it can widen when a woman is in labor. Relaxin also reduces the stability of the spinal joints, which can cause an increased amount of stress to be transferred to the intervertebral discs.
Treating Back Pain during Pregnancy
While much of the back pain that a pregnant woman experiences will likely abate once the baby is born, there is a chance that degenerative disc disease in the back will continue to cause discomfort even after pregnancy. This is why it is so important to address back pain right away, even if you’re pregnant, by telling your doctor about it and beginning a conservative treatment regimen that might include posture modification, adjustments to body mechanics, body work (gentle massage, stretching, or stabilization exercises), and non-pharmacological pain management techniques.
About the Author: Patrick Foote is the Director of eBusiness at Laser Spine Institute, the leader in endoscopic spine surgery. Laser Spine Institute specializes in safe and effective outpatient procedures for the treatment of
degenerative disc disease
and several other spinal conditions.