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upper back pain during pregnancy

Upper Back Pain during Pregnancy

by Athletico43 Comments

There is a lot of focus on pre-natal lower back pain, but clinically I treat many women in this population that experience upper back (thoracic spine) pain as well. Upper back pain during pregnancy can occur at any point, but is most common in the third trimester. This occurs for several reasons. First, as pregnancy progresses, the growing size of the baby and the uterus shifts the center of gravity forward placing increased pressure on the muscles in the back. Secondly, a woman can gain 25-30% of their body weight in a relatively short period of time, which also places increased stress on the muscles in the back. The changing hormones in the later stages of pregnancy can also have an effect. As the body prepares for delivery, hormones are released that loosen the ligaments and muscles in the body. When this occurs there is less inherent stability in the pelvis and back, which causes the muscle to work harder, and sometimes this increased demand on the muscles can cause muscle spasm. Lastly, the enlargement of breast tissue during pregnancy can alter posture and increase strain on the neck, shoulders, and thoracic spine.

While upper back pain during pregnancy is common there are some steps that you can take to prevent this from occurring and relieve symptoms when they do occur. 

  • Maintaining a neutral standing posture. Stand up straight and tall with your chest high and shoulders back and relaxed. Don’t lock your knees. Use a wide stance for a good base of support and try to keep weight equally distributed between sides. If you are statically standing for prolonged periods of time, rest one foot on a small step stool and change feet regularly to change the weight distribution.
  • Maintain a neutral sitting posture. Use a chair that has good lumbar support or purchase a lumbar support pillow. Do not cross your legs and keep your feet flat on the floor approximately shoulder width apart. If your feet do not sit comfortably on the floor consider using a foot stool. Make sure that your chair is of a proper height with the hips positioned at approximately 90 degrees. Your knees should never be higher than your hips in sitting. By keeping the lower back supported, the muscles in the upper back can relax more in sitting.
  • Maintain a neutral spine while sleeping. It is recommended that pregnant women, especially in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, sleep on their side. Placing a pillow between the knees and under the abdomen can help to maintain a neutral spine with sleeping. Also, using the appropriate number of pillows to ensure a neutral neck or cervical spine position is important.
  • Avoid lifting and carrying heavy objects and, when necessary, use proper body mechanics with lifting. Some helpful reminders for lifting are: Face the object that you are going to lift. Keep the object close to your body at all times to decrease the lever arm and in turn the force that is placed on your back. Bend from your knees not your back when lifting the object. If you need to bend forward to lift the object hinge from the hips do not bend at the back. Do not twist while lifting. Wait until you have lifted the object and have it close to your body before pivoting or turning.
  • Wear a good supportive bra and comfortable clothing during pregnancy. Also wearing supportive shoe wear without a heel can help relieve some of the back discomfort by keeping the spine more neutral and providing a good base of support.
  • Perform daily physical activity or exercise such as walking or swimming. This will keep your back muscles strong and can help to relieve discomfort. Always consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise program during pregnancy. 
  • Performing a few simple stretching exercises daily can also help prevent or alleviate upper back pain. The two exercises that follow can help to reduce some of the postural stresses and therefore decrease upper back pain.
    • Doorway pectoralis stretching: Stand in a door frame and place your arms on the door frame at shoulder height with the elbows bent to 90 degrees. Place one foot forward and gently lunge forward until you feel a moderate stretch at the front of the chest into the front of the shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times several times a day.
    • Scapular retraction: After you have stretched the pectoral musculature as noted above, keep the arms relaxed at your side and gently pinch the shoulder blades together as if you are trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax. Repeat 20-30 times several times a day. 

If you do experience upper back pain during pregnancy you can use ice, heat, or massage to relieve symptoms. Do not leave either on for extended periods of time (greater than 15 minutes at a time). Make sure there is proper padding between your skin and the hot pack to prevent burns and place a barrier between your skin and the ice pack to prevent skin irritation. Ask your partner to massage the area or schedule a professional prenatal massage. Also, talk to your healthcare provider about physical therapy. A physical therapist can evaluate you to determine the specific factors that are contributing to your upper back pain and design an individualized program to address these factors and facilitate your return to pain-free functioning.

If upper back pain is not relieved by the above, contact your physician. While upper back pain during pregnancy is common, it isn’t something to ignore. In some cases back pain may be a sign of pre-term labor or other obstetrical conditions, so always mention the back pain to your doctor so that they can evaluate the cause and suggest the proper treatment. Upper back pain during pregnancy can be successfully treated, which can improve the quality of your pregnancy and make your 4th trimester recovery and transition easier. Have a healthy and happy pregnancy!

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

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  1. Lana

    Thankyou so much! My upper and middle back pain is excruciating and the doctors just said there’s nothing that can be done. So unhelpful and my physio couldn’t manage to do anything for the pain either. Pain relief doesn’t work. I’m going to book into a new physio/massage therapist to see what they can do for me.
    I hardly slept well for months.

  2. Stacy Koenigs

    Depending upon where the pain is located, it can be normal for some muscular pain to be present. Your body goes through a lot of changes as the hormone levels increase and you can have neck, mid-back and lower back pain present. I would contact your physician and either discuss it at your next appointment, or if it cannot wait until then, I would make an appointment with them sooner.

  3. B

    I have found that doing prenatal yoga (at least twice a week but more is better) has kept my back pain away. I have a Shiva Rea DVD that I do. If I don’t do the prenatal yoga then the pain becomes unbearable. I hope this helps someone. I rarely see yoga as a recommendation and it saved me from going to a chiropractor.

  4. Stacy Koenigs

    Thank you for sharing with everyone! Yoga is a great way to stretch out and improve your core strength. It will help you keep you in good posture and decrease your back pain.

  5. Jessica Roberts

    Hello. I’m at the end of my 7th month and on the third baby in a 4 year span. I went through horrible upper back pain in my second pregnancy and it was even worse post-pregnancy. I have been so lucky to have avoided this pain so far in this pregnancy, but it’s here again and in full force and it has only been a week of pain. I have to do something now to help because I have two children who solely rely on my strength every day all day. I know about the exercises and have been doing them. I just want helpful pointers of websites or store who sell anything to buy for sleep and something else primarily for sitting because that’s when it is the worst. I’ll buy anything you might have in mind for relief when it’s time for me to relax because it’s always when my upper back pain starts. Any special mattresses or mattress padding, special cushions, special relaxing chairs which can be used when nursing baby? Just gotta do something now and buying something seems the best thing for me to do because I haven’t ever bought anything so far to help my body out during pregnancies and I owe it to myself to pamper the rest of this pregnancy and prepare myself for the recovery process and however long that may be.

  6. Stacy Koenigs

    Jessica, I would recommend a “Prenatal Cradle” or a “Best Cradle” brace for you. It will support your back by lifting and supporting your abdomen. This will allow the pressure to decrease on your upper back. As you have a lot of pain while sitting, I would really focus on monitoring your posture. Be sure to avoid sitting in a slumped posture which will add to your upper back pain. While feeding, I would be sure to put a pillow underneath the child to bring them up to you and avoid supporting them fully with your arms. For sleep, I would recommend a body pillow. It’s long enough to fit between your knees (to help with hip/back pain), support your belly, and wrap your arms around when you are lying on your side. This will support your upper back as well. A regular body pillow works well, but there are also ones specifically for pregnancy out there.

  7. Jeruto Josphine

    I have been suffering upper back pain seens 2013 may after delivery i have gone for madication but there is no change how can i do?

  8. Stacy Koenigs

    I have included another blog article below for you to look at which discusses the back pain in both the lower and upper back after delivery. There is a lot of stress on the upper back following delivery as you are now carrying, holding and feeding your infant. Everything we do brings us into a forward hunched position while caring for the little ones and this will lead to increased upper back pain. I would guess with some work on body mechanics (how you do everyday things), strength in the upper back, and perhaps some massage to release the tension in the muscles, you could get some relief. Ask your doctor for a prescription for physical therapy to get some help.

  9. Kate

    I have been suffering with back ache since 7 weeks of my second pregancy (now 25 weeks). It started with chronic spasms mid to upper back which also came round to my abdomen – this eased after 6 weeks or so (whilst seeing a cranial osteopath). My pain is now mainly on the right hand side in the mid rib area (including spasms) and mid to upper back (ache). I am struggling to sleep and find most things painful/uncomfortable.

    I have been told I have a problem with my pelvis (probably from the 1st birth and associated weakness in my right leg).

    What can you recommend in terms of exercises and is there a type of specialist I can tell my doctor I want to see who can help me? I am starting to reach the end of my tether and I have another trimester to go! Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

  10. Akanksha

    I m suffering from upper back pain like thoracic spine pain and i missed my periods for 10 days. I also have lower abdominal pain just like during menstrual cycle and from 2 to 3 days i m suffering for higher acidity too. All this symptoms , which i mention above can be pregnancy symptoms?

  11. Mohuya Nath

    I’m in my last stage of third trimester. Suffering from upper back pain and chest pain mostly while sleeping. Kindly help.

  12. Ebony

    Thank you! I’m in my 3rd trimester an couldn’t figure out where this upper spinal pain was coming from. Now I know! Very helpful

  13. Jennifer

    hi there,

    can someone please help me.

    I have this upper right back pain for about 2 weeks now and struggling to sleep at night as. What can I do to prevent this pain. I am now 28 weeks pregnant and have this stabbing pain in my back. I get my hsband to rub it out but only last for that minute then pain comes back.

    Please can someone tell me will this pain go away.

  14. Cedricka

    I think I have this pain but I don’t know if I’m pregnant but if I move a certain way is causing pain to my back by my blade… I catch cramps

  15. Kelly

    I am only having the upper back pain when I wake up in the morning. About 20-30 min after I get out of bed I can finally take a deep breath with out terrible pain. But if I happen to wake up early to go the bathroom the pain is there and it’s so bad that I can’t fall back asleep. I have to just get up out of bed for the day, even it that means 5am!! Today it started at 4am and I tired a heating pad and it took the sharpness of pain away but the dull ache is just so bad I had to get up. This started about 2-3 weeks ago and is getting worse everyday, I’m 25 weeks along. Should I go see a chiro or do you think PT would be better? I’m very active, a wellness manager and a yoga teacher as well as mama to a wild energetic 3 year old.

  16. Kendra henery


    I am 15 weeks and 4 days pregnant and my back pain only hurts when I lay down. It hurts to the point were I can not breath. Could this be my bed or is it because of the baby? Someone please help me

    Thank you

  17. Upper Back Pain during Pregnancy

    This is one of the great article who clearly described about back pain during pregnancy. There are other causes and factors about back pain.

  18. john

    My girlfriend is 32 weeks an 3day an she’s having a lot of pain in her back every where an she been throwing up red stuff an she eat like three pizza rolls at 5 an she just went to bed what can I do to help her plz get back to me

  19. Tiff

    I am 22 weeks and five days pregnant and my upper back has just recently started to hurt. I can not sleep it feels like something is pushing down on my back when I lay down … I tried the heat it did not work for me. Is there anything I can do until I go to the doctor to relieve this pain ?

  20. Jesika Black

    I’m 30weeks with baby number 6. I have never had back pain is severe it started a couple weeks ago it is approximately my T5 to T7 area and it burns and it’s circles around my rib cage to the sternum. My doctor is at a loss it is everything from burning stabbing sharp pain and causes shortness of breath and lack of sleep I cannot get comfortable no matter what position I’m in. none of my other children are small so I don’t do any lifting. This pain is unbearable I cannot find a chiropractor physical therapist or massage therapist that will care for me. Yoga, massage, heat, ice, and even medications are not helping I’m already having preterm labor and trying desperately to not have my baby too early. Anything that anyone can suggest is greatly appreciated. I’m desperate.

  21. Dana Ortega

    I am 23 weeks and this is my second pregnancy. I recently started having severe, really full body, pain and it is especially severe in my mid back on both sides of my spine. It makes sleeping almost impossible. Even with a prescription for a strong sleep aid, I am not getting more than two to three hours of sleep a night because the pain is so severe and getting comfortable is impossible. I am at a loss as to what is going on and how to find relief and sleep. The pain, when at its worst, is not limited to my back, but really encompasses my whole body and at times I am unsure if the back pain may be stemming from my kidneys or if it is muscular as it sometimes seems to be hurting in my general kidney area and at other times it seems like it is too high in my back to be my kidneys. I don’t know what the root is. All I know is I am miserable! Any suggestions, recommendations, or insight would be greatly appreciated!!
    Thank you!

  22. melani smith

    I am 19 weeks and am having severe mid back pain (around the kidney area) my doctor tells me is probably a musculoskeletal issue and should get better within a week. it’s been 7 days now and the pain is the same, if not worse! I can hardly sleep through the night and Tylenol only helps for an hour or so. is there really nothing to he done about this pain?

  23. Enih Fortu

    Am in my last trimester and have been having this upper back pain that made me felt like I was getting into labour. Thanks very helpful .

  24. Luna

    Hi , I’m 5 weeks pg and been feeling fluttering feelings in my stomach and sitting here I just got this sharp pain close to my shoulder blade was executing laying on the floor pain and after that I stressed my shoulder blade and back I heard a lot of popping …. the pain went away but I’m scared it’s ecotopic I’ve read bout them I have an appointment next week

  25. Anup Soni

    I liked this information very much useful. My wife is pregnant 19 weeks. she started having upper back pain at night time. I hope this will help.

  26. Shalini

    Iam 7th month pregnant and I am getting upper back pain since last 15 days daily at’s too severe that I cannot be able to bear it save to take any medicine in this ?

  27. Nelo

    I am five weeks and six days today. Got up this morning and observed a severe upper back pain. Went to the bathroom for a quick shower and realized I can’t even help myself. Seriously in pains now. What should I do pls?

  28. Josie

    Nearly 28 weeks pregnant and experience bad upper back pain that also seems to effect the chest bone as well. I will try some of these tips and hope it relieves some of the pain. My 1st pregnancy was so different. Didnt have much pain with that one, easy pregnancy. This one is not so fun with all the painful kicks I receive (again, never had painful kicks and my baby was born 8.66 lbs) but this one is 2 lbs and packs a powerful kick! Then the back pain, and running after a 2 yr old on top of it all 😥

  29. Stacey Fee

    5wks pregnant with my 3rd and I’m so scared as I have an old compression fracture T5&T6 + a syrinx (fluid filled cyst, although doc assured me that in itself giving where it is wouldn’t be an issue) so frightened as this pains are intense to the point of vomiting when it flares which is a few times in a day. I don’t care what pain I am in or will be in so long as my baby is ok. Anyone reccomend anything to help relieve myself, i.e tens machine/massage machine, heat pads like, brands of pillows etc? Dear bless us someone help!.

  30. Christina Christie

    Hi Stacey,
    Congratulations on your third pregnancy! In the first trimester, hormones and fluid levels increase so this potentially could cause a pain response and nasuea/vomitting. My first suggestion would be to see you doctor and discuss these symptoms. If the doctor clears you medically then I would suggest requesting an appointment with one of our Physical Therapists who specializes in Women’s Health. A variety of manual therapy and exercises specific to your needs can greatly help to reduce your symptoms. Please let me know if you have further questions and if I can assist you in scheduling a Women’s Health Assessment.

  31. Faith

    I had my last period on the 3rd of january and it ended on the 7th of january, how many months pregnant am i now? And am also feeling a serious pain under my left lower abdomen and my upper right chest which makes my baby unable to kick well for sometime now. The nurse tried so much to position the baby well but its not working. And i do have a serious headache and fever Please what should i do?

  32. Athletico

    Hello Faith, we recommend reaching out to your OBGYN or physician to assist you with problems occurring during your pregnancy.

  33. Mike

    My wife is 33 weeks and 3 days pregnant. Her first 31 weeks couldn’t have been better. She was able to be somewhat active, comfortable, healthy sleeping patterns, etc. Over the past 2 weeks she has been in agonizing pain. So much so that we have gone to the ER twice in the past week to rule out more severe causes. The pain itself is between her shoulder blades and the pain is 10x as soon as she lays down at night. So much so that she doesn’t get much more than 2-3 hours per night and I’m genuinely worried about her headspace if she doesn’t find relief. Any guidance or advice that you have would be greatly appreciated.

    I should also note that we have used or currently using Norco, Tylenol, Benadryl, Lidocane Patches and BioFreeze with zero benefit.

  34. Alice

    I am 27 weeks and my shoulder blades and upper spinal cord to the neck they are very painful. I can’t even lift my head in from the pillow. I start to hate night times. Can you please help me. I was taking grandpa for pain killer but nothing is changing

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