Periods, pregnancies and perimenopause, Oh My!
As a woman, you’re probably keenly aware of the changes your body has gone through from the teenage years to pregnancy to post-partum fun right on through perimenopause. And, while all of these events can take a toll on your body in different ways, there’s one thing they all may have in common: stress on your back. Let’s take a look at some of the women-centric events that affect your back and address some ways to deal with them.
“We’re just going to say it: periods aren’t fun,” mused Huffington Post. And we agree. From the cramps to the crankiness to the cravings, they just plain stink. For many women, the pain associated with menstruation can make the monthly visitor more than just unpleasant—especially when it’s lower back pain you’re dealing with.
“Lower back pain during your period is totally common. It’s caused by contractions in the uterus, which radiate through the web of nerves within your pelvic region,” said Huffington Post. “As your body contracts to rid itself of the uterine lining, it can sometimes press on blood vessels in the area, limiting or cutting off the supply of oxygen to the nearby muscles.”
Sounds fun, right? Ibuprofen can help with the pain. Or, you can “try a warm bath or a heating pad,” said POPSUGAR. “Avoiding foods that contain caffeine and salt can also help. And even though you have about as much energy as it takes to plop onto the couch, women who exercise regularly often experience less menstrual pain, so keep up with your routine by doing some light cardio or these cramp-relieving yoga poses.”
For many women, being pregnant is no picnic either. The body’s natural response to growing another human can be downright dreadful, and the back pain during pregnancy can vary from slightly annoying to totally debilitating.
“Pregnancy back pain typically happens where the pelvis meets your spine, at the sacroiliac joint, said WebMD. “There are many possible reasons why it happens:” They include:
- The increased stress on the spine and uterine pressure on nerves and blood vessels from normal weight gain during pregnancy
- A change in posture that naturally occurs as your belly grows, often resulting in back pain
- Hormone changes.“During pregnancy, your body makes a hormone called relaxin that allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and the joints to become looser in preparation for the birth process,” said WebMD. “The same hormone can cause ligaments that support the spine to loosen, leading to instability and pain.”
- Muscle separation that can occur during the expansion of the uterus
Doctor-prescribed exercise like swimming, yoga, and walking may help to strengthen muscles and boost flexibility during pregnancy, according to WebMD. Applying heat and cold and working on maintaining good posture can also help to keep back pain away.
Night sweats, irritability, and fatigue may be some of the more expected symptoms, but back pain in menopause, and before and after, is also common. An article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, analyzed several studies that showed the relationship between menopause (peri, during, and post) and increased joint and spine pain.
In one study, 61% of women “reported lumbar spine pain; in another, the percentage of women experiencing general back pain related to menopause was 81.6%.
A commonality between several of the studies was a higher BMI and its effect on increased spinal pain. A number of other factors can contribute to the pain, including inactivity. “If you don’t have a regular fitness routine, that lack could be a primary cause of back muscle tension during menopause,” said 34MenopauseSymptoms. “One of the best things you can do to relieve tension in your back muscles is to begin regular exercise. Stretching, yoga, and cardio exercises are the best ones that you can do. Stretching and yoga will loosen the muscles in your back, which can ease pain, while cardio exercises relieve anxiety and stress, which in turn relaxes back muscles.”
An unhealthy diet, which, in addition to contributing to a higher-than-recommended BMI, can rob the body of important nutrients, is also a factor. “Eating a well-balanced diet is vital to reducing back muscle tension,” said 34MenopauseSymptoms. “Foods high in magnesium, calcium, or vitamin E can all help alleviate back muscle tension. Make sure you eat fish, which contains fatty acids, known for relaxing muscles and reducing inflammation. Foods high in sugar or carbohydrates should be avoided, as they can exacerbate the problem.”
The biggest culprit is changing hormones later in life. “The most common reason for back muscle tension during menopause is unbalanced hormone levels,” they said. Your doctor may talk to you about hormone therapy or herbal supplements, depending on your condition. But if your back pain is keeping you from enjoying your life and you feel like you’ve tried everything, there may be more at play.
Seeing a doctor
If you’re experiencing ongoing back pain, you might need treatment. Advancements in minimally invasive surgical procedures have changed the game for those who have been suffering from chronic back pain. There are a variety of minimally invasive treatments for back pain, as well as minimally invasive surgical procedures that vastly improve upon traditional back surgery. Long surgeries and recoveries associated with traditional procedures can now be a thing of the past, with shorter operations, smaller incisions, and quicker recoveries. Many minimally invasive surgical procedures can also be done on an outpatient basis with complete recovery in a few weeks.