Exercises for Low Back Pain During Pregnancy

Posted on July 25, 2014

exercise for pregnancy
Article written by: Alfonse F. Neumann III BS, MSA, ACSM, CSCS

Lower back pain is one of the most common discomforts of pregnancy. Women generally gain between 25 and 35 pounds while pregnant, so it’s no surprise that most women experience back pain at least once during their pregnancy. Not only do certain hormones increase in preparation for the birth of the baby, causing ligaments in the pelvis to relax making it more flexible, but the growth of the baby is also added weight and pressure placed on the lower back. Since the extra weight they carry in the front of their bodies causes them to realign their balance, this can make most normal activities such as sitting, standing and sleeping very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, a number of common pain relievers that are designed to alleviate back pain can’t be taken during pregnancy. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any way to deal with the back pain. There are exercises and stretches that are safe for pregnant women to do that can reduce or alleviate the back pain.

Engaging in a number of simple, low-impact strengthening and flexibility exercises during pregnancy can help. Strengthening muscles such as the abdominals, pelvic floor, back, butt and thigh muscles can go a long way toward easing or preventing back pain.


Prior to strengthening exercises, walk for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up the body and loosen the joints.

Pelvic tilt: is a simple exercise that employs the abdominal muscles and lengthens the lower back muscles. To perform the stretch, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet resting firmly on the floor. Place your hands in the small of the back and ensure that there is a space between your back and the floor. Next, contract your abdominal muscles so as to flatten the lower part of your spine along the floor so no space remains. In this position the buttocks should remain relaxed, this will strengthen your abdominal muscles and lengthen the muscles along your lower back. The contraction should be held for 6 to 10 seconds and performed 10 to 20 times. At all times, ensure that you are breathing during the exertion phase of exercise and inhaling as the body relaxes.

This exercise can also be performed while standing, on hands and knees, or while sitting. 

Stand with your back against a wall, knees slightly bent and your feet 6 to 8 inches away from the wall, then contract your abdominal muscles and press your lower back into the wall. Hold for a count of 10, and repeat it 10-20 times. If you would like to perform this exercise on your hands and knees, start with a flat back, then gently round your lower back by pulling in the abdominal muscles and curling your bottom under. In a controlled movement, bring yourself back to a flat back, and repeat the motion 10 to 20 times, two to four times a day.

Kegel exercises: are another alternative for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles that support the growing abdomen and other abdominal organs. These muscles also aide in the delivery process. To perform this exercise, clench your muscles like you are trying to keep from urinating; hold them for 10 seconds, and then release. Repeat 10 to 20 times a couple times a day.

Bridging: is an easy-to-do exercise. It is very useful in maintaining the strength in the low back. Pelvic bridging is also a great exercise that strengthens the paraspinal muscles, the quadricep muscles, the hamstring muscles, the abdominal muscles and the gluteal muscles.

Start by lying flat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. Place your hands on the floor at your sides for stability. Keeping the spine neutral, pull your belly button in towards your spine. Maintain this abdominal contraction throughout the exercise.

To perform the exercise, begin to exhale while slowly lifting your hips up toward the ceiling, allowing your buttocks and lower back to rise off of the floor. Stop when your hips are in a straight line with your thighs being careful not to put extra pressure on your shoulders and neck. being careful not to exceed this Hold here for 3-5 counts. When you begin to inhale, relax and slowly lower your hips as close to the floor without touching the floor, and repeat.  Repeat 10-15 times, for 2-3 sets.

If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, make sure your abdominals are tight. If this doesn’t help, try using a smaller range of motion or don’t hold the bridge as long as recommended.

Leg lifts: tone the front and back of your thighs and hips, which support the body as the hip joints become more lax toward the end of the pregnancy. Begin on your hands and knees. Start by bringing your left knee forward toward your left shoulder and then in a controlled movement, straighten the left leg out behind you. Repeat 10-15 times. Switch legs and do another 10-15 repetitions with the right leg.

Walking and swimming are both good exercises for toning and strengthening the abdomen, back and legs while also providing a cardiovascular workout. Also include 10 to 15 minutes daily of the following floor exercises that target specific muscles most often used during pregnancy.

Wall squats: work the abdominals, buttocks and thighs muscles to aid in the relief of back pain. When the surrounding muscles are strengthened, less pressure is put on the back muscles.

To perform the wall squats, began by leaning with your back against the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and two feet out in front of you. Tighten your abdominals and slowly slide down the wall until your thighs are at about a 45° angle, and then straighten your legs, sliding up the wall. Repeat 10-15 times.

Stretching Exercises

Prior to stretching exercises, walk for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up the body and loosen the joints.

Seated hamstring: this is safer than doing it standing to reduce risk of injury due to loss of balance. Begin by sitting on the front edge of the chair with your left knee bent and left foot flat on the floor. Straighten your right knee so that your heel is resting on the floor and your toes are pointing toward the ceiling. Keeping your back straight and your chest up, leaned forward until you begin to feel a stretch in the back of your thighs. However, be careful not to stretch too far, as your joints will be looser during pregnancy and you want to avoid any hip or knee injuries. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times with each leg.

Backward Stretch: the backward stretch or modified child pose stretches your lower back, hips and thighs. Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Place your arms directly under your shoulders and keep your arms straight. Slowly move your hips backward until you are sitting on your heels and your head is between your arms near the floor. Make sure your knees are wide enough to make room for your stomach. Keep your arms extended and let your forehead rest on the floor. Breath deeply as you hold for 30 seconds. Return to your starting position and relax. Repeat 3-5 times.

Quadriceps stretch: stretches the muscles in the front of the thigh. Begin by standing next to a counter or something solid that you can hold onto for balance. While contracting your abdominal muscles and doing a posterior pelvic tilt, hold on to the counter with your left hand. Stand on your right leg with the knee slightly bent. Reach around behind you with your right hand and grab your left ankle and pull your heel toward the opposite buttock until you feel a stretch in the front of your left thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times with each leg.

Calf stretch: stretches the muscles in the back of the lower leg. Begin by facing a wall, in a stride stance so that one foot is further out in front of the other. Place your hands on the wall. Keep being the back legs straight with your heel flat on the ground, bend the front knee and leaned forward toward the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf of the back leg. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times with each leg.