Exercises and Stretches for Upper Back Pain during Pregnancy

Exercises and Stretches for Upper Back Pain during Pregnancy


Pregnancy is a transformative and exciting time, but it often comes with its fair share of physical challenges. One common discomfort many expectant mothers experience is upper back pain in pregnancy.

This blog focuses on the causes of upper back pain during pregnancy and offers practical strategies for maintaining health and alleviating pain.

Causes of Upper Back Pain in Pregnancy

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health reported on a study that a 42% prevalence of upper back pain while pregnant and during postpartum. Experiencing upper back pain during pregnancy is a common phenomenon, and it can be attributed to a combination of physiological changes occurring in the body.

Understanding these factors is crucial for effectively managing and alleviating discomfort over periods of time.

Changes in Posture

In pregnancy, the growing baby bump shifts the center of gravity, altering posture and increasing curvature in the thoracic spine of the spinal column. This strains upper back muscles, causing discomfort. As the abdomen expands, shoulders rolling forward to balance the weight adds stress, contributing to pain.

Hormonal Fluctuations

During pregnancy, hormonal changes, marked by an increase in the hormone relaxin, prepare the body for childbirth by relaxing ligaments and joints. However, this pregnancy hormone also makes muscles more susceptible to fatigue, potentially leading to muscle spasms and adding additional strain, contributing to upper back pain.

Added Weight of the Growing Uterus

During the months of pregnancy, as the uterus expands for the growing fetus, it adds additional weight to the pelvis and spine, particularly affecting the upper and lumbar regions. This can cause tension, discomfort, and strain as the body works to support the extra weight, preparing the body for labor and contributing to upper and lumbar back pain.

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Changes in Breast Size

In addition to the growing uterus, an increase in breast size, a common occurrence during pregnancy, can impact posture due to added weight and changes in breast tissue. This alteration in the body’s center of gravity may potentially cause strain in the upper back, shoulders, and rib cage, leading to various forms of aches influenced by hormone levels.

Stress and Tension

During this special time of pregnancy, emotional and physical stress are common. The stress response can manifest in muscle tension, especially in the upper back and neck. Chronic tension can worsen existing discomfort, contributing to the overall perception of upper back pain.

Strategies to Stay Healthy and Alleviate Pain

Upper Back Pain in Pregnancy

Paying attention to body position

Maintaining proper posture and body position is crucial for reducing upper back pain, especially in the upper body. Be mindful of your posture while sitting, standing, and walking. Investing in ergonomic furniture provides adequate support for your back. Consider chiropractic treatment for additional relief and support in managing upper back pain.

Using stretches to improve posture and mobility

Incorporate low-impact exercises, such as water exercises and those using an exercise ball, along with gentle stretches into your daily routine to enhance posture, mobility, and range of motion as your center of gravity shifts. Concentrate on exercises targeting the upper back, neck, shoulders, and abdominal muscles to alleviate discomfort. However, if you experience severe pain, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and assistance.

Addressing the root cause of back pain

Understanding the risk factors and specific reasons for pregnancy-related upper back, neck, and pelvic pain is essential. Consult with healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, to identify the root cause and develop a personalized treatment plan, which may include the use of a heating pad for relief.

Maintaining Good Posture

Maintaining Good Posture

The role of strong core, glutes, back, and leg muscles

Upper back pain is common during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. The growing baby and uterus shift the center of gravity, increasing pressure on back muscles. Building strength in your core, glutes, back, and leg muscles provides crucial support for your upper back. Engage in pregnancy-safe exercises to strengthen these areas.

Stretches and Exercises for Upper Back Pain

Specific exercises for upper back pain during pregnancy

Include exercises like cat-cow stretches, seated rows, and shoulder blade squeezes to alleviate upper back pain. Consult your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine.

Additional Tips for Relief

Proper lifting during pregnancy

Learn and practice proper lifting techniques to avoid straining your upper back. Bend at the knees, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting.

Getting the right gear

Invest in supportive footwear and maternity bras to reduce the strain on your upper back. Consider using a belly support band to distribute the weight of your growing belly more evenly.

Proper sleeping position

Use pillows to support your body and maintain a comfortable sleeping position. Consider sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees.

Use of heat, cold, or massage

Apply heat or cold packs to the affected area and consider prenatal massages with a qualified therapist to alleviate tension in the upper back.

Including physical activity in your daily routine

Incorporate gentle exercises like swimming or walking into your routine to promote overall health and reduce upper back pain.

Consulting Healthcare Professionals – The Role of a Physical Therapist

Consulting Healthcare Professionals - The Role of a Physical Therapist

If upper back pain persists or worsens, consult a healthcare professional, especially a physical therapist from Life in Motion Physical Therapy. We provide targeted exercises and techniques tailored to your specific needs, highlighting the benefits of exercise during pregnancy. This ensures effective relief and guidance for a more comfortable pregnancy journey.


In conclusion, effectively managing upper back pain during pregnancy requires understanding its causes like posture changes and hormonal fluctuations. Adopting strategies such as maintaining good posture, targeted exercises, and seeking guidance from professionals like Life in Motion Physical Therapy can alleviate discomfort. Prioritizing self-care and staying active within comfort limits contributes to a positive pregnancy experience and a smoother transition into motherhood.


Q1: Is upper back pain normal during pregnancy?

A1: Yes, upper back pain is a common symptom during pregnancy, often attributed to changes in posture, hormonal fluctuations, and increased weight. Approximately 50 to 80% of expectant parents experience this prevalent symptom. While many feel discomfort in the lower back, some also report pain in the upper back, neck, and shoulders.

Q2: Why does my back hurt when I sleep pregnant?

A2: Back pain during sleep can result from poor sleeping positions, inadequate support, or the natural changes in the body during pregnancy. Discover effective strategies on how to help upper back pain during pregnancy by adjusting your sleep environment. Use pillows, including a lumbar support pillow, to promote comfort for your entire body, optimize blood flow, and alleviate stress on soft tissues.

Q3: What sitting positions should be avoided during pregnancy?

A3: Avoid poor posture and sitting positions that strain your back, such as slouching or crossing your legs for extended periods. Opt for a chair with proper back support and take breaks to stand and stretch regularly, maintaining a wide stance for added stability and promoting a neutral spine for optimal comfort. Additionally, consider using a maternity pillow for support while sitting or resting.

Logan Lynch
Owner & Head Clinician at Life In Motion Physical Therapy

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Dr. Logan Lynch

Life In Motion Physical Therapy

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