A single, pain-relieving shot meant to assist with the ease of delivery – this is an epidural. This shot is administered into the outside of the membrane that protects your spinal cord. Once you have been given the epidural, your spinal nerves should be numb in the lower half of your body and unable to send pain signals to your brain.
As it can be imagined, the precision and thickness of the needle going into your back have the potential to create pain not only while receiving it, but also after you have given birth. While receiving the epidural is a personal decision, it is important to remember the impacts that it may have and the ways to handle your pain management when you are postpartum.
Do Epidurals Really Cause Back Pain?
Although short-term pain largely isolated to the site of injection is normal, widespread back pain associated with the administration of an epidural injection alone is viewed as unlikely. Some research into the question has been conducted and the general consensus is that if a woman develops back pain after receiving an epidural analgesia, it is usually as a result of poor or stressing birthing positions.
The truth is that there is no credible link between having an epidural and back pain. So, if you opt for an epidural, it is important to be aware that it does not raise your risk of having chronic back pain. If you do have any back pain after giving birth it is likely due to other physical changes your body goes through during pregnancy that are quite natural and unrelated to an epidural. The injection site from the epidural can also be expected to feel tender and sore for a short time since it causes minor trauma to the layers of tissue it goes through when inserted into the catheter. This is a normal occurrence, and healing time can vary depending on the individual.
Ultimately, some postpartum pain is going to be inevitable. With your body undergoing the miraculous task of childbirth, it is expected that you are going to need at least a few weeks to months in order to get back to normal. While those who were prone to back pain prior to getting pregnant are naturally going to need more time to recover.
What Causes Back Pain after an Epidural?
The injection itself – In the most obvious sense, the pain comes from the physical act of being injected with the epidural. The needle is much bigger than the standard injection that you are probably used to. It is also administered into your lower back, a generally sensitive area.
Physical changes – After giving birth, your uterus will have been expanding and then contracting suddenly, putting a strain on your back. In addition, during pregnancy your stomach muscles are under strain and can become weakened, resulting in a poor posture which can also contribute to back pain. Joints and ligaments are also under excess strain during pregnancy- your body is going to need to adjust to no longer being pregnant.
Hormonal changes – During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone aptly named relaxin that causes joints to become soft and flexible in preparation for delivery. This can impact all joints, muscles, and ligaments in the body and as a result, cause some mothers to feel unsteady and in some cases feel a variety of aches and pains. Again, during the postpartum period, it’s going to take your body some time to readjust.
A tough labor – If you had a particularly long and arduous labor then you may have put a strain on your lower body in a variety of different ways with muscles, joints, and tendons all being affected. So keep in mind that the longer you were in labor, the longer you are likely going to need time to heal.
What Can You do to Ease the Pain?
Walking: This is one of the easiest ways to incorporate exercise into your life again, post-epidural. It can be done almost instantly after your delivery, and it is great for getting the blood circulating through your body properly again. You can start with walking up and down your street, and as you regain strength, you can go for longer periods of time. Taking a nightly walk around the block will be great for your recovery.
Swimming: Another good activity to turn to when looking for a fitness outlet is swimming. It can be both beneficial and fun. Movement in the water will not put any further stress on your back or the rest of your body. Of course, it is wise to check in with your doctor before beginning any form of an exercise routine.
Yoga: An all-around wellness experience, yoga classes are great for getting you back where you need to be (physically and also mentally). Some studios even offer classes that are tailored to those who have just given birth. The gentle stretching will allow your back to regain its strength. Remember to advise your instructor that you are postpartum to avoid being overworked. If you are taking a class and you experience any sharp pain, avoid that particular exercise and do what feels good to your own body.
R&R: Often undervalued and overlooked – Resting up is important! As much as you would like to jump back into the swing of things, your body has just carried a baby for 9 whole months. Taking the time for adequate rest is very important. While it can be hard, especially with a newborn, make sure that you are getting some time to yourself daily.
Other Postpartum Recovery Tips
Diet: In addition to physical activities, you should also be paying attention to what you are putting into your body. Just as you watched what you were eating while you were pregnant, it is important to note what nutrients you are receiving post-delivery. You do not need to deprive yourself of having junk food and giving into your cravings, but maintaining a healthy diet is ultimately going to put you in the best state for the quickest healing.
Pain medication: If you need some medication to help ease the back pain from your epidural, you can ask your doctor for a prescription. Alternatively, you can also resort to over-the-counter meds such as Tylenol, Advil, or any other ibuprofen of your choosing. This can provide quick and temporary relief that will make it easier to get through your daily activities.
Complementary therapies: Acupuncture is another safe and effective pain management technique. It is very low impact and can relieve the pressure that you are feeling in your back. Acupuncture is also known to be great for your mood and overall mental health. Many studies have shown a wide range of positive outcomes regarding postpartum acupuncture. There have even been times when mothers reported needing less pain medication because they were able to rely solely on the acupuncture instead.
Solid Support network: Above all, make sure that you are rooted in support. Your partner, doctor, doula, and friends are essential to help with the healing process. If you need help, do not be afraid to ask someone for it. If you feel any kind of sharp, unwavering pain in your back, make sure that you consult a professional. Otherwise, you should just be able to listen to your body and allow the healing to fall into place.