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Does Pregnancy Cause Herniated Disc?

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Pregnancy is both an exciting and challenging time for women. While it’s a blessing to be carrying another life, their bodies are also put under a great amount of stress due to the changes that occur throughout their childbearing journey. One of the bodily issues that they experience is lumbar pain which can sometimes happen due to spinal problems.

So how often does lumbar disc herniation occur during pregnancy? A herniated disc isn’t a risk during pregnancy. However, women who have a pre-existing lumbar spine disorder or disc condition before getting pregnant may experience significant pain, particularly in their second and third trimesters. Herniated discs shouldn’t pose a direct threat to your health and the baby’s safety, and there are treatments that can help provide pain relief.

How Common Is Lumbar Disc Herniation During Pregnancy?

From weight gain, morning sickness, and frequent headaches, women experience a lot of discomfort within the first few months of their pregnancy. Once the fifth to seventh month period of their pregnancy journey arrives, that’s when lower back pain symptoms become more constant and debilitating.

According to related studies, pregnancy-related low back pain can happen to up to 80% of women. However, a herniated disc is rarely an issue during gestation, and may only occur in less than 1% of pregnancies. In these cases, the majority of pregnant women diagnosed with herniated lumbar disc can recover without surgery and their symptoms can improve once they give birth.

There are some risk factors that may increase your chances of having lumbar disk herniation during pregnancy. Here are some of the possible causes of herniated discs during childbearing:

Signs of Herniated Disc in a Pregnant Patient

Lumbar Disc Herniation

Even though lumbar disc herniation is uncommon in pregnancies, it’s still important to be aware of its symptoms so you can get immediate proper treatment. To better understand what disc herniation is and what it feels like, let’s have a quick look at the anatomy of the spine:

The signs of a ruptured disc can vary depending on which part of the spine is injured. Here are some of the usual symptoms of a pregnancy-related lumbar herniated disc:

How Exactly Does Pregnancy Affect Your Spine?

When you’re pregnant, your body undergoes a lot of changes to accommodate the developing uterus. Aside from the hormonal shifts, there are other reasons why you notice chronic low back pain during pregnancy:

1) Excess pressure on the spinal discs

It’s normal to experience some weight gain as the uterus grows throughout childbearing. However, this means that your spine has to work twice as hard to support that added weight. As the spinal discs and nerves bear most of the increased pressure, you’ll notice more frequent discomfort and lower back pain.

2) Instability of the sacroiliac joints

The changes in hormones during pregnancy can also contribute to lower back pain. During your first trimester, the body produces relaxing hormones which are responsible for relaxing the sacroiliac joints and ligaments in the pelvic area to prepare your body for birth. This hormone can also affect the structures that support the spine, which can lead to joint instability and lumbar pain.

3) Changes in spinal posture

You’ll also notice that you have a more inward curve in your lower back which happens to help you maintain balance as you show more of the baby bump. But of course, note that this can also trigger low back pain and muscle tension since the lordotic curve restricts your spine’s movement. It also increases pressure on the vertebrae which may lead to a herniated or bulging disc.

4) Added stress on the pelvic joints

Your pelvic joints also experience alignment changes as you need more support for your upper body weight during pregnancy. It’s common to experience lumbar and pelvic pain because of the posture changes and additional pressure that’s put on the ligaments and joints of your lower body.

Possible Complications From Disc Herniation During Pregnancy

Most cases of lumbar disc herniation can heal on their own and get better without surgical intervention. However, if your symptoms worsen and you don’t get immediate medical attention, there’s a slight risk that it may lead to serious complications. Here are some possible conditions that may happen if you have untreated herniated disc:

1) Cauda Equina Syndrome

In rare cases, a severe bulging or slipped disc can affect the cauda equina nerves which are found at the end of the spinal cord. When this happens, it may cause debilitating symptoms such as bowel dysfunction or urinary incontinence. It may also affect the function of the nerves and lead to leg weakness or numbness of the lower extremities.

2) Sciatica

Also known as lumbar radiculopathy, this condition can occur when a herniated disc compresses the sciatic nerve root. This can cause symptoms of tingling or radiating leg pain that can also be felt on the buttocks and thighs. Typically, sciatica pain only affects one side of the body at a time.

Some patients may confuse the symptoms of sciatica with posterior pelvic pain or pelvic girdle pain. Similar to sciatic pain, it can cause a stabbing or dull ache but it’s commonly felt in the posterior pelvic region and can extend to the groin. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your physician so you can receive the appropriate treatment.

3) Nerve Damage

One of the most serious but rare complications of lumbar disc herniation is permanent nerve damage. This happens when a large, untreated ruptured disc compresses and interrupts the nerve impulses which can lead to loss of sensation in the lower body and difficulty controlling bowel or bladder movements.

When Should You See A Doctor For Your Pregnancy Back Pain?

Although low back pain is a usual phenomenon during pregnancies, it doesn’t mean that you can just ignore its symptoms. It’s still necessary to receive a proper diagnosis to see if your pain is related to a spinal disc injury or damage. Here are some signs that you should consult your doctor for your pregnancy discomfort:

How to Treat a Herniated Disc While Pregnant

Most pregnant women find relief in knowing that their lower back pain and disc herniation usually gets better once they give birth. However, it’s still necessary to receive specialized care to ensure your comfort and the baby’s safety. Here are some treatment options for lumbar pain and herniated discs during pregnancy:

1) Physical therapy

You can consult with a physical therapist for exercises that can help strengthen your muscles, stretch your lumbar spine, and maintain optimal mobility during pregnancy. A specialist may recommend specialized low-impact activities such as pelvic tilts, leg raises, and Kegel exercises.

2) Prenatal massage therapy

Gentle massage treatments can also reduce your low back pain and promote relaxation during pregnancy. A trained massage therapist can help alleviate pressure from the nerves and relieve muscle tightness to minimize the severity and prevent the recurrence of sciatica and herniated disc pain.

3) Acupuncture

Pregnant women can also find low back and herniated disc pain relief with acupuncture treatments. As long as it’s performed by a trained specialist, acupuncture should be a safe alternative therapy that can help manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being.

4) Medication

Doctors may also recommend certain pregnancy-safe painkillers which can help relieve herniated disc pain. Over-the-counter medications like paracetamol, are typically safe for expecting mothers and they can also help improve other pregnancy-related symptoms like headaches and muscle aches.

5) Spinal surgery

Your doctor may only recommend lumbar spine surgery or discectomy as the last option when the other pain management methods and conservative treatments are ineffective. A study suggests that the best time to perform the surgical treatment is during the second trimester when there’s a low risk of early labor.

Take Care of Your Body During Pregnancy With New York Pain Care

Your comfort should always come first during pregnancy. If you feel any unusual signs of discomfort aside from low back pain, you should immediately visit your doctor to get the right treatment. Find a trusted provider of safe and effective non-invasive treatments that provide lasting pain relief like New York Pain Care.

We have a team of specialists that are trained in the best techniques that can help alleviate your symptoms so you can have peace of mind throughout your pregnancy journey. Request a consultation today to discuss your pregnancy-related concerns and receive a personalized treatment plan.

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Page Updated on Aug 11, 2022 by Dr. Hosny (Interventional Spine Specialist) of New York Pain Care
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