Musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy? Try These Tips.

Written By: Chelsea Tetreault PT, DPT, PCES on September 26, 2022

Throughout every stage of pregnancy, many changes occur to the birthing person's body. These changes are necessary to support the developing baby and prepare the pelvis for labor. Some of these changes can contribute to increased musculoskeletal pain, which affects bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles. In addition to growth changes, symptoms can be related to postural adaptations, suboptimal movement strategies, and beliefs surrounding pain. Common complaints include pain in the back, pelvis, hips, nerves, and abdomen. A pelvic health physical therapist (PHPT) can help reduce pain to improve quality of life and function. PHPTs work together with the other healthcare team members to coordinate safe, comprehensive care for patients from pregnancy through labor and delivery and into the postpartum period.

The Spaulding Outpatient Center for Pelvic Health at Care New England is designed to offer interdisciplinary treatments and services to address your specific needs. PHPTs evaluate your musculoskeletal system and develop an individualized plan of care to help you understand and treat your pain. Try these tips to reduce musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy:

  • Exercise as tolerated. It can be as simple as a short walk, dancing, resistance training, stretching, or water aerobics. If you didn’t exercise prior to your pregnancy, get clearance from your medical provider to start. Current medical research shows that low-intensity exercise may be safely initiated during pregnancy.
  • If you are noticing increased pain in your pelvis, avoid prolonged positions that place uneven strain on your joints. Examples of positions to avoid include crossing your legs, standing with your weight fully shifted on one leg, sitting in an asymmetrical/uneven position, or leaning over to one side (like sitting twisted on the couch/ leaning over an armrest). Try to change the position you are in every 15-30 minutes.
  • Maximize support while sleeping. Lay on your side with a pillow between your knees, under your abdomen, and between your feet. Long body pillows work great for this.
  • Reduce pain with transfers. To get up out of bed, roll onto your side as a unit by keeping your knees together. Use your arms to help push your trunk up as you lower your legs down off the side of the bed. To get into the car, turn and face away from the seat to “back in.” Scoot back into the seat and move your legs into the car together as you turn to face forward. To avoid increased strain on your joints, place and remove items in the passenger seat/back seat when you are outside of the car.
  • Lift safely. Instead of repetitive bending at the spine, squat down to get close to the object you are lifting. It is also helpful to keep objects as close to your body as possible, engage your core muscles (yes, these muscles still work!), and exhale when you lift to avoid holding your breath.
  • Practice deep breathing by taking some slow, deep, calming breaths. Deep breathing helps to calm your nervous system, promotes ribcage expansion, increases your energy, improves blood circulation, and elevates your mood.
  • Sit down when dressing or changing footwear. This reduces single-leg activities and lessens the risk of falling.
  • Prioritize your basic needs. Get adequate sleep/rest, hydrate sufficiently, and nourish your body to reduce fatigue and optimize how your body adapts to the changes of pregnancy.
  • Manage stress. Find ways to manage your stress with self-care, meditation, movement, or therapy.
If you have questions about these tips or continue to experience pain, go to a pelvic health physical therapist. The Spaulding Outpatient Center for Pelvic Health at Care New England has multiple providers throughout Rhode Island who can treat musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy and improve postpartum recovery.