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Postpartum Back Pain is Pretty Common

When you think of postpartum recovery, what comes to mind? Your cuddly newborn? Adorable baby grunts? Sleep deprivation? Adult diapers? What about how your body feels – weak, leaking, pelvic heaviness?

Many women often associate primarily pelvic floor symptoms following labor and delivery or a C-section. However, there is another complaint I hear very often from postpartum women during those first couple months – back pain. Having back pain really does make sense with what our bodies just went through and the demands of taking care of a newborn. Let’s discuss why this is so common and what can be done to resolve postpartum back pain!

Why Do I Have Postpartum Back Pain?

Your Back = Huge Part of the Core Canister

We can’t talk about back pain without talking about our entire core system, of which the back plays a huge part! Think of your core as a soda can – the top is your diaphragm, the bottom is your pelvic floor, and the sides of the can are your deep stabilizing abdominal and back muscles. All these muscles work together to give your core stability and to manage the pressure in your core. When all these muscles are working together and properly functioning, you have a strong, stable core.

Core Canister Healing

Ok, let’s think about these core canister components in your postpartum body. Two of the four areas just went through massive changes (pregnancy plus labor and delivery or a C-section) and are not functioning well. And let’s be real – that’s putting it lightly… Your pelvic floor muscles just worked overtime for 9 long months supporting the ever growing weight of your abdominal organs and baby. THEN, if you had a vaginal birth, they lengthened 2 to 4 times their resting length (woah… you read that correctly!) in order for your baby to pass through your vaginal canal. Your deep abdominal muscles were just stretched out and lengthened (and thus often weakened) for the past several months while your baby and belly grew.

Because two of the four parts of your core canister are not functioning super well right now, other muscles often do more of the work to help out and then get overworked and angry. Which part of the body often takes the brunt of that? You guessed it – the back muscles!

We Do All The Forward Things Postpartum

Our back muscles have to work a bit harder to hold us upright when we are hunched over or bent forward. What activities are we doing in early postpartum life? Cuddling with your sweet newborn. Bending over to change diapers. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Setting your baby down in his or her bassinet or crib. Lifting and carrying the diaper bag and carseat. SO many activities that involve bending or leaning forward. Thus, our back muscles are again working overtime = postpartum back pain.

Fixing Postpartum Back Pain

Restoring the Core Canister Components

Ok, it makes so much sense WHY my back hurts, but what can be done to get rid of it? One HUGE component to solving postpartum back pain is restoring function of the other components of your core canister – specifically your pelvic floor muscles and your abdominal muscles.

Here is where it gets a bit tricky. Postpartum pelvic floor muscles often are either too weak OR are too tight. In order to know how to restore their function, you need to know what end of the spectrum your pelvic floor muscles fall into. The only way to know for sure is through an evaluation by a pelvic floor physical therapist.

Strengthening Your Deep Abs

Restoring your deep abdominal muscle strength is a little more straightforward. Below is a great first step in connecting with that muscle. Once you have the hang of activating it, try doing that same exercise on hands and knees to start building up your strength!

Stretch Your Back Muscles

Doing some stretches for those overworked back muscles can feel pretty great! Below is my favorite back stretch and one that I recommend to a lot of postpartum mamas.

Fix Your Posture

You can do all the strengthening and stretching in the world, but if you’re not fixing faulty movement patterns or poor posture, postpartum back pain is not likely to completely go away and stay away. Because we do all the forward things in postpartum life (like breastfeeding for what feels like all day), it’s vital to fix your posture with all these activities. Trying to maintain a neutral spine and good upright posture will make a huge difference! Below are a couple pictures comparing poor posture to good posture with some common postpartum activities.

Postpartum posture 1
Postpartum posture 2

Get Some Physical Therapy

If watching your posture and doing a few simple exercises aren’t doing the trick, that is a good indicator that it’s time to seek out some help! There are a lot of other things that can contribute to postpartum back pain. A physical therapist can figure out exactly what some of these factors are in your specific case. Additionally, manual work, such as dry needling or cupping, can feel pretty fantastic on those overworked back muscles. Solving your postpartum back pain can take one big stressor off your plate during the chaos that is postpartum life!

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