A Patient’s View – 5 Things New Moms Need to Know about Chronic Low Back Pain

As I rocked my three-month-old to sleep, I couldn’t help but wiggle in the chair. A throbbing pain low in my back nagged at me. It’s a pain many new moms are familiar with—one that I call the “curse of the Sherpa”.

In addition to carrying around my 10-lb bundle of joy, I found myself lugging the car seat bucket, diaper bag and milk cooler. Add that to my already heavy work bag with my laptop and hand bag—and I felt like I carried the weight of my world on my shoulders.

I tried to be careful, but with a baby, a job, two dogs and a house to run, I suffered through.

Chronic Pain a Burden on Patients and Employers

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for three months or more. It affects about 100 million U.S. adults and is estimated to lead to nearly $635 billion in lost productivity and treatment costs. Low back pain is the most common cause of job disability and missed work.

“Leading organizations like the American College of Physicians, the Veterans Health Administrations and others have found traditional treatments for pain to be insufficient. They have begun to advocate for adding more tools into the provider and patient’s tool bag to improve pain care.” – Dr. Wayne Jonas

Traditional low back pain care usually relies on medication, injections and surgeries. These may always be a part of a patient’s care plan, but Dr. Jonas advocates for an approach that also takes the patient’s goals, lifestyle and environment into account.

Innovation in Chronic Pain Care

A program in line with Dr. Jonas’ approach to pain care is called PACT [Personalized Activated Care and Training]. It was developed by an innovative pain specialist who has created a successful training program for patients dealing with chronic pain including low back pain. The specialist, Dr. James Fricton, shared with me 5 back-saving tips for new moms like me that I’ll share with you.

Dr. Fricton is based in Minneapolis, MN, and offers online training for both patients and doctors, with more than 50,000 people already completing his online course.

“Innovators like Dr. Fricton have seen the impact small daily changes can make on a person’s quality of life and ability to cope with their low back pain,” said Dr. Wayne Jonas. Dr. Jonas advocates for approaches to chronic pain like Dr. Fricton’s that empower rather than blame the patient—engaging them in their own ability to heal and thrive.

An Integrative Health Approach to Chronic Pain

Integrative health lies at the intersection of traditional medicine (such as medication and injections), complementary and alternative medicine (such as massage and acupuncture) and self-care including posture, stress management and lifestyle.

When taking an integrative health approach, the goal is the pursuit of personal health and wellbeing foremost. Disease is addressed as needed, with the support of a health team dedicated to all proven approaches – conventional, complementary and self-care.

Self-care is critical because only twenty percent of health comes from medical care. The other eighty percent is due to three factors largely outside of medical care –  social and environmental factors, lifestyle and behavior, and complementary approaches to healing.

5 Tips for Baby-Toting Sherpas

After 30 years of working with chronic pain patients, Dr. Fricton has seen it all—myofascial, arthritic, neuropathic pain—and even baby-toting low back pain like mine. So Dr. Fricton generously shared with me the following five tips for new moms, dads or any caregiver.

  1. Ditch the one-shoulder diaper bag. A backpack is more ergonomic, allowing the weight to spread across your back, which is stronger.
  2. Beware of the side preference. Switch between holding baby using your right and left arms.
  3. Let baby look out. Once the baby’s neck is strong enough, hold baby forward and outward so the weight of the baby is close to your body. Baby can see the world and mom or dad can reduce the strain.
  4. Don’t hold the phone! With one hand on baby and another on the bottle, it can be tempting to cradle the phone between your head and neck. This distorts the neck and can cause disk and nerve problems. Try using earbuds or headphones instead.
  5. Lift with your legs, not your back. Federal safety standard in effect since 2011 have outlawed drop-side cribs, making it safer for babies but more challenging for parents to lift baby in and out of the crib. Hold baby close to your chest, stand with your feet approximately hip-width apart. Squat slightly, bending your knees to gently lower the baby down. Protect your lower back by tucking your tailbone under and tilting your pelvis so you engage your abdominal muscles.

After hearing these tips, I began to be more aware of my actions. How I slept awkwardly perched over the bassinet. How my shoulder ached when I held the bottle in certain ways. How I held the car seat (New mom and chiropractor shows us a better way). How I did “lazy man’s loads” toting everything I could carry all in one trip rather than taking two.

Gentle Movements and Stretches Key to Lower Back Health

Being aware of how you lift and carry baby is important. Next, there are also some proactive and protective movements and gentle stretches that can help keep you healthy and strong. Although you may prefer to stay still when coping with low back pain, it can cause more harm to stay immobile.

Talk to your primary care physician, a therapeutic yoga teacher or chiropractor. They may be able to recommend some exercises and help you find the right amount of movement for you.

Start with These 5 Exercises

Here are 5 to get started. Always talk to your own care provider before starting something new. Watch this video to learn how:

  1. Hip flexor stretch
  2. Knee to chest stretch
  3. Hamstring stretch
  4. Lumbar rotation with flexed knees
  5. Glute/ piriformis stretch

Once you’ve mastered these, you may be able to add more to your routine. See what your pain allows you to do as you work to improve function and flexibility. Those familiar with yoga may recognize the cat/cow pose and cobra. Abdominal curls focus on strengthening.

A recent study out of Boston Medical Center found that gentle yoga can ease pain as safely and effectively as physical therapy. The study’s results and pose guidebook are available.

Healthy Parent, Healthy Baby

Early in our parenthood, a new dad joked to my husband that the value of a parent was in the amount of stuff he or she could both carry and pack into the car. Yes, children come with heavy gear to tote, but maintaining your health and wellbeing must be a priority.