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Prevent Lower Back Pain during Pregnancy

I had terrible back pains during my first pregnancy and none at all during my second. What was the difference? I was doing special strengthening and stretching exercises designed specifically to prevent lower back pain in pregnant women. In those days, the exercises were part of the Jane Fonda Pregnancy Workout. Today, you can find similar exercises in the book, Maternal Fitness, by Julie Tupler, a registered nurse and personal trainer who has taught exercise to pregnant women since 1991.

The reason lower back pain is so common during pregnancy is that as the abdomen enlarges and pulls forward, the lower back muscles shorten and pull backwards to compensate. It is the weakening of the abdominal muscles as they are being stretched by the growing uterus and the compensatory tightening of the lower back that can pull the spine out of alignment and send the muscles into a painful spasm.

Therefore, you need to strengthen your abdominals and stretch your lower back to reverse the process. Here’s how to do it the “maternal fitness” way.

Strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Your abdominal muscles come in four layers. The deepest layer is called the transversus abdominis or the TVA. It wraps around your torso in horizontal fibers like a wide belt. This is the muscle that you will primarily use to push your baby out. It is also the muscle you use when you cough, sneeze, and go to the bathroom. By keeping it strong, you help support your spine thus putting less stress on your lower back muscles. Tupler says an added benefit is you will be able to recover your pre-pregnancy waistline at a faster rate.

Tupler says to think of the TVA moving out and in or forward and backward, as if it were a horizontal elevator. Think of your belly button as the engine that moves the elevator. Do this exercise while sitting on a chair or sitting cross-legged on the floor or your bed.
· Expand your TVA by inhaling and pushing your belly forward.
· Exhale slowly, and begin to move your belly button backward towards your spine
· Your back must be supported and not move during the exercise. Keep one hand on your belly, the other hand on the lower back to feel the TVA moving back-and-forth.
· Keep pulling your belly button inwards as you count aloud to 30 (in the beginning, count only to 5 or 10). Counting aloud will force you to take a breath of air in between. Do 10 repetitions a day.

This exercise isn’t only for pregnant women. People who don’t have time to work out can do this exercise anywhere and anytime to strengthen their abs and back. It is a very simple technique that is quite effective in firming up flabby abdominal muscles.

Stretch your lower back muscles.
Tupler calls her lower back stretches “belly dancing” because the bottom of the pelvis is brought forward and then returned to the center making the belly appear like it is “dancing”. Fitness trainers call these stretches “pelvic tilts”. The movement relieves stress on the lower back. It prevents backaches by lengthening the lower back muscles, which become shortened as the enlarging abdomen pulls them backward.

There are three positions that Tupler recommends: Standing erect, standing while leaning forward with the hands above knees, and on all fours.

The technique is the same for all three positions. Think of a string attached to your tailbone. “Pull” the string down towards the floor and you will feel the bottom of your pelvic bones tilt forward as your lower back flattens and the muscles lengthen. Hold this tilted position for five seconds as you keep breathing normally. Make sure not to arch your lower back when you return your pelvis to the center. Do at least 10 tilts a day.

If you do the standing erect version, keep your legs at hip distance apart with your knees slightly bent. Tupler suggests placing keeping one arm at your side and placing your other hand on your lower back with your fingers facing downward. She says that if your fingers are not facing straight down, bring your hips forward until they do. This will be your starting position to begin tilting your pelvis forward.

For the hands above knees method, your legs are hip width apart and knees bent. Place your hands on your thighs and use your arms to carry the weight of your upper body as you lean forward. Keep your knees still as you tilt your pelvic bones forward. Tupler says only the pelvis should move. The knees should not move at all.

In the all fours technique, get on your hands and knees on top of an exercise mat or rug to cushion the knees. Keep your upper back still and back flat when you tilt your pelvis forward so that you can feel the lengthening of your lower back muscles.

If you are a “pregnant” man with a big hard belly from too much alcohol and pulutan, you may experience lower back aches and pains for the very same reason that mothers-to-be do. You can “belly dance” for temporary relief but a more permanent solution would be to lose weight and shrink your belly.

Check with your doctor.
Since every woman and every pregnancy is different, always check with your doctor first before doing any kind of exercise. The same goes for these lower back prevention techniques from The Tupler Method.

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