Why Does My Back Hurt?

Well, I don’t know.

Really. The muscles in and around the back are complex. But I have a few guesses, and maybe I can help get your back feeling a whole lot better.

Back Pain and Me

I loved that bright little post-nap smile when my babies were ready to get up from their naps, telling me in their language how happy they were to see me. But that feeling got dyed with dread from the predictable shot of pain I got lifting them out of the crib. More than once, I cried in the car after grocery shopping. I had already dealt with the car seat twice, gotten the groceries out of the cart and into the trunk. Now I was in serious pain, and still had to lift everything out of the trunk, up the stairs, and into the house–and deal with the car seat again. I went through a phase where I wouldn’t go places unless I could walk or bike there because buckling the car seat left me in pain for hours.

Back pain makes you irritable, and it makes you shy away from activities you used to do with no problem. Chronic pain is limiting, and the accompanying feeling of helplessness also puts you at risk for depression.

Back pain and you

I can show you how to lift your baby (and the groceries) without fear of pain. I wish I hadn’t been so ignorant about my body when I was going through it, but at least you don’t need to.

Here are three common postpartum back pain culprits:

It’s your posture. A lot of people have little things here and there in their posture that aren’t too big of a deal until they go through pregnancy. The big postural changes that result from carrying a human inside you for ten months exacerbate those little things. Now you might have a big thing, and some significant pain, stiffness, or mobility limitations. Good news: your posture is changeable.

Learning some of the details of anatomy can really help with awareness. You might be doing some great exercises, but doing them without awareness of a postural tendency you have. Getting to know your skeleton and muscle systems a little better is likely to make your workouts do what you want–help you, not send you into spasms of pain.

It’s a movement pattern you’ve adopted. Do you hold your baby a lot? Do you spend a fair amount of time staring down at your phone in a sort of exhausted slouch? Are your breasts larger than they were two years ago? Our bodies compensate for the changes they go through, and in the postpartum state–both physically and emotionally–we tend toward a forward head and wilting thoracic spine. When we’re missing strength, like in our core after childbirth, or when there’s a new demand (like nursing or sessions of bottle feeding), there’s always a neighborly muscle willing to help. These temporary fixes help us keep going, but when they become chronic adaptations, we get pain, reduced range of motion, and sticky fascia. Good news: movement patterns are changeable.

Corrective exercise can get neurons firing in healthy patterns again, creating a virtuous cycle where your daily movements help your body heal instead of creating demand on a strained system.

It’s a muscle imbalance. During pregnancy, the ligaments loosen so the organs and joints can adjust to a position that allows your body to carry the growing baby effectively. But while the body does adjust back, it doesn’t always do so evenly. For instance, maybe one hip bone has returned to its original position in relation to the spine, and one has returned most of the way–but is still a few millimeters away from where it used to be. Now you’re doing all your movements with an asymmetric alignment. The muscles that insert in the hip joint are stretched farther on one side than the other. This kind of hip joint imbalance often co-presents with back pain.

Getting an assessment of any imbalances in your current musculature is the first step. Then you can use corrective exercise to build up strength where it’s needed, loosen muscles that are too tight, and release fascial adhesions that are preventing full muscle expression.

You don’t need to be suffering with back pain. You’re doing enough already. You don’t just have to live with it–help is available.