Simple Stretching Techniques to Ease Back Aches and Pains During Pregnancy

Melissa Herbst of Bloom Therapeutic and Prenatal Massage answers frequently asked questions about massage and pregnancy, as well as offers easy tips and techniques for stretching.

Pregnancy is a beautiful experience that we wouldn’t pass up for anything, but the physical toll it takes on our bodies is enormous. From expanding waistlines, thighs and hips, to heartburn, acne, and swollen feet, this happy experience sure puts us through the ringer. Body aches and pains are also fairly common throughout pregnancy, and may even increase as the trimesters inch onward. Thankfully, Melissa Herbst, LMP, of Bloom Therapeutic and Prenatal Massage in Bellingham, Washington has some tips for helping to ease those prenatal pains.

According to Herbst, back and hip pains are the most frequent issues she sees with her pregnant clients. Many of her clients also experience neck and shoulder pains as their postures change to accommodate their growing bellies. “Some women get rib cage pain as the baby grows further into the upper torso. Leg cramps, general swelling, and carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are also somewhat common due to the increased blood volume and changing circulation in a pregnant body,” Herbst says.

As with all things pregnancy-related, we each experience each differently, and the key is to try and find soothing, non-invasive ways to help ease these aches and pains, wherever they might occur. Regular massages are a great way to help alleviate a lot of the pain and discomfort. Try enlisting your partner to help rub kinks out at the end of a long day, or treat yourself to a prenatal massage from a licensed massage therapist. Stretching is another tool—many women enjoy yoga throughout their pregnancies. For those of us who do not, or cannot, there are some basic stretches that help achieve realignment of the spine and ease the tension that builds up in common areas. Herbst was kind enough to walk us through a few of these simple stretches that you can easily do at home, as well as provide us with basic tips for stretching.

STRETCH # 1 – Cat/Cow

“The very simple cat/cow stretch can be so helpful throughout your pregnancy,” Herbst says.

  • Start out on all fours. As you inhale, round your back up as you tuck your chin into your chest. Imagine that you are curling around your baby. IMG_4818
  • Then as you exhale, let your navel ease toward the ground as your lower back dips and your head lifts to gaze at the horizon in front of you. Be mindful not to overextend on the exhale, as that could actually cause more strain to the lower back. IMG_4824


STRETCH # 1 – Piriformis Stretch

“Because relaxin is softening your structure, sometimes the soft tissue (muscles and tendons) ends up spasming to create more balance and stability with the pregnant body’s new found flexibility,” says Herbst. “However, this can sometimes lead to uncomfortable, tight hip and gluteal muscles, and even sharp, shooting pain down the legs as the tight muscles compress the nerve bundle that innervates the lower body. The Piriformis stretch can be very beneficial for this.”

  • Stand in front of a surface that is level with your hip or slightly little lower (I found my dining room table was perfect when I was not at work with the massage table). IMG_4829
  • Place one leg out in front of you on the surface and lean forward. You should feel the stretch right in the center of your glute. We are actually trying to target a hip rotator called the piriformis, which is a muscle deep in the glutes. IMG_4830
  • After your initial bend forward, move your torso to the right of your leg and bend forward again. IMG_4831
  • Repeat to the left and then switch legs.

STRETCH # 3 – Pectoralis Stretch

“A good stretch for your chest can help keep balance in your upper back as your posture changes in pregnancy,” says Herbst.

  • Stand in a doorway and hook the inner part of your elbow in the frame at about shoulder height. IMG_4837
  • Start to move your torso away from the doorframe. This stretches your pec major.
  • Next, slide your arm up closer to ear height and repeat the stretch to target the pec minor. Switch sides.IMG_4840


“Be gentle with all stretching during pregnancy. Never force a stretch and be sure to hold for several breath cycles before you attempt to stretch further,” Herbst cautions. “The hormone relaxin is present in your body at all stages of pregnancy and for about eight weeks after delivery. If you choose to breastfeed, it will remain in your system for even longer. This hormone causes your joints and ligaments to soften and loosen to help make space in your pelvis during delivery. For this reason, you just want to be a little more gentle with stretching and some activities.”


Q: Is it safe for me to get massages while pregnant?

A: Women often wonder about the safety of massage during pregnancy, especially the first trimester. There are very few instances that massage would be unsafe and I would urge a client to talk with their health care provider about it. Because we specialize in prenatal and postpartum massage at Bloom, we have had advanced training to further ensure our client’s safety.

Some wonder how they will get a massage with a baby growing. We use a special support system and some pillows that allow for your maximum comfort. I often have clients fall asleep during the session and lament that they can’t even get that comfortable at home. I would caution clients against going to a place that offers a table with a pregnancy cut-out feature. You would likely have no harm if you are having a healthy pregnancy, but they put a lot of strain on the uterine ligaments and stress the lower back.

Lastly, clients want to know when it is okay for them to get massage after delivery. Barring any major complications, you can get a massage as soon as you are up for it. Of course ask your healthcare provider if you are uncertain. It can help expedite the healing process and you might be surprised how sore your muscles are after labor. It can be very difficult to leave your baby when you are just figuring out all the new routines, so at Bloom we invite you to bring your newborn with you to your postpartum massages! Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your body during this time of transition.

Q: How can I stay comfortable throughout my pregnancy?

A: Staying comfortable during pregnancy can be challenging, especially toward the last stages. Changing your position often can help. Getting reasonable exercise and activity every day can help alleviate many discomforts. If you have a desk job, try to go for a simple walk after dinner. If you are on your feet all day, put them up when you get home. When you are standing and walking, try to maintain a neutral, upright position. We often lead with our chins as our gait changes with pregnancy posture. Imagine you have a balloon attached at the very top, crown of your head that lifts you straight and lengthens your spine. Sleeping on your side can also pose some challenges. Make sure you have a pillow in between your knees to help support your lower back and hips. It is also nice to “hug” a pillow so your top shoulder doesn’t collapse down. Specialty pregnancy pillows can be helpful, but you can also just use regular pillows and still get the support you need.


MelissaAbout Melissa Herbst, LMP

Melissa has been practicing massage therapy since 2008 and has always specialized in prenatal and postpartum massage. She received her training from the Brenneke School of Massage in Seattle, WA, and also received certification in advanced prenatal and postpartum work from the Cortiva Institute. During this time she also had the honor of supporting families as a birth doula. She lives in Bellingham with her husband and two sons.




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