Back pain is one of the most common complaints among pregnant women. It is estimated that between 50% and 80% of pregnant individuals experience mild to severe back pain at some point during their pregnancy (1).
Various factors, including hormone changes, additional weight gain, stress, and posture issues, may cause the pain.
Using an inversion table is a tried and true method for many people with chronic lower back pain. But can an inversion table be an effective way to alleviate back pain associated with pregnancy?
In addition, is inversion therapy safe for both the expecting parent and the baby? Read on to learn about the benefits and potential risks of practicing inversion therapy while pregnant.
How an Inversion Table Helps Back Pain
Inversion therapy involves reversing the effects of gravity on the body (particularly the spine) by placing yourself in an inverted position with your hips higher than your head. In this position, the spine experiences decompression, allowing more space to form between vertebrae.
Without the pressure of gravity and with more room to rehydrate, your spinal discs can heal themselves, alleviating lower back pain associated with herniated discs, sciatica, and more.
An inversion table is one of many devices used to practice inversion therapy. Inversion tables allow users to safely place their bodies at the desired inversion angle for their desired length.
It’s essential to keep in mind, however, that inversion is not the best option for everyone, especially those with specific health concerns such as hypertension, glaucoma, and other eye problems.
Using an Inversion Table While Pregnant
As we just discussed, different types of back pain can be alleviated using an inversion table. Pregnant women often experience back pain throughout their pregnancy, especially in the third trimester.
It begs the question: Are inversion tables an effective back pain solution for pregnant women?
Though an inversion table may provide temporary back pain relief for pregnant individuals, it may not be the safest solution.
Therefore, at any stage in your pregnancy, you should talk to your doctor before trying inversion therapy.
If your physician determines that inversion therapy could be helpful for you during your pregnancy, only practice when under the supervision of a trained physical therapist.
Risks of Inversion Table Use During Pregnancy
Due to the effects of an inversion table on your heart rate and blood pressure (decreasing the former, increasing the latter), most physicians advise against using an inversion table while pregnant (2).
A growing baby relies heavily on the mother’s circulatory system. An expecting mother’s blood pressure may be higher later in the pregnancy.
Dealing with Back Pain Related to Pregnancy
The Mayo Clinic recommends these solutions to help alleviate back pain throughout pregnancy (3):
These factors could put the baby and the mother at risk when using inversion therapy.
- Sleep on your side with your knees bent and proper support from pillows.
- Squat down and lift with your legs instead of bending over and lifting with your back.
- Stand up straight in a wide stance to support your body.
- Make use of ice packs, heating pads, and massages.
- Practice gentle physical exercises and plenty of stretches.
- Talk to your doctor about physical therapy, such as chiropractic therapy.
Types of Back Pain Related to Pregnancy
Depending on how far along they are and the position of the baby, pregnant individuals may experience pain in various areas of the back (4).
- Lower back pain. Caused by instability in the lumbar spine and pelvis.
- Pelvic pain. Changes in the pelvis that accommodate the uterus may result in displacement of the ilium.
- Labor pain. If the baby is mispositioned, it may cause intense lower back pain between contractions.
Yoga Inversions for Pregnancy
Prenatal yoga can be an excellent way for expecting mothers to alleviate stress and anxiety during pregnancy.
A typical prenatal yoga session will involve focused breathing, gentle stretches, relaxation, and posture changes.
Combining these practices can help pregnant women sleep better, develop strength, and relieve common complaints like back pain, nausea, and headaches (5).
Yoga Poses to Avoid During Pregnancy
There is a divisive split in the yoga community concerning whether or not inversion poses are detrimental for pregnant individuals.
Some say that inversion should be avoided during the first trimester, as this is when the placenta affixes to the wall of the uterus. Therefore, practicing inversion poses during this crucial time could interfere with the process.
During the second trimester, the baby has more room to move around, increasing the risk of cord compression. In addition, straining the body with inverted postures in this part of the pregnancy may result in serious health problems for the baby.
Most yoga teachers advise abstaining from inversion during the third trimester and onward.
At this time, inverting the body could make it more difficult for the mother to breathe as the weight of the baby, the placenta, and the amniotic fluid press down on the diaphragm (6).
Adjusting Baby’s Position with Inversion While Pregnant
The main reason why pregnant women might want to practice inversions aside from relieving back pain is to change the baby’s position. “Breech babies” are positioned with the feet or buttocks facing downward, meaning they will come out first before the baby’s head.
It is not the ideal position and can cause problems for both parent and child during delivery. Some yoga poses may help gently coax a breech baby into a more optimal, head-down position.
You can try many exercises to naturally induce labor, from squats and lunges to simply walking around or climbing some stairs.
If you are attempting inversions to induce labor, support your body. Place your knees on a slightly elevated surface while keeping your arms on the ground.
Forward Leaning Inversion
Forward-leaning inversion can help move the baby into a more optimal position.
For example, you can utilize the effects of gravity to untwist ligaments and create more room in the pelvis, allowing a breech baby to turn around.
Open Knee Chest Position
Like forward-leaning inversions, the open knee chest position uses gravity to give babies more room to back up and turn around. To enter this position, start by sitting on your heels.
Then, slowly lower forward onto your elbows and rest your head on your forearms.
Alternating between open knee chest and cat-cow positions is also helpful. To perform the cat-cow position, start on your hands and knees.
Inhale as you drop your belly towards the floor (cow pose), then exhale as you arch your back upward (cat pose).
The Trendelenburg position is similar to inversion therapy, though the degree of elevation is not as drastic.
The goal is to raise the pelvis higher than the head, usually accomplished by lying on a tilted table.
This position can be helpful for both rotating breech babies around into a better birthing position and dilating the cervix.
Women with a swollen cervix may need to use the Trendelenburg position to achieve a safe amount of dilation during labor.
Supporting the Baby’s Position
As we’ve already mentioned, the ideal position for a baby in the womb is head-down with its back towards its parent’s stomach.
If your baby is already in this position, there is no need to encourage movement to a different position. Instead, you can support the baby’s current position by sitting with your hips higher than your knees (7).
Prenatal Support Courses
Many in-person and online prenatal support courses are available for expecting parents. However, depending on your unique pregnancy and your health goals for yourself and your baby, you may find some courses more valuable than others.
For example, those who experience back pain or frequent stress may want to sign up for a prenatal yoga class.
Exercises for Pregnancy
Aside from just yoga, expecting parents have a range of exercises available to stay active and build strength during pregnancy.
One example that many people find engaging in is swimming or other water workouts. The water helps support the baby’s weight and eases joint and muscle strain, particularly for the lower back.
If you don’t have time to hit the pool, however, you can do gentle exercises and stretches in the comfort of your home instead. Here are some examples to help you get started:
- Wall pushups. Stand and face the wall with your knees a comfortable width apart. Lean against the wall and slowly lower your chest until your chin touches the wall. Repeat.
- Pelvic tilts. Lie on your back with your knees relaxed. Tighten your stomach and gently shift your pelvis upward. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
- Backstretch. Position yourself on your hands and knees. Keeping your arms straight, slowly shift your body back toward your heels. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds before going forward again and repeat.
Is it OK to do handstands while pregnant?
For healthy individuals who frequently practice handstands outside of pregnancy, it may be safe to continue doing handstands during the first trimester.
However, it would always help to use caution when performing any inverted exercise while pregnant.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before attempting any strenuous activities on your own.
Can you do downward dog during pregnancy?
Healthy parents experiencing a healthy pregnancy with no complications may be able to do downward dog without any adverse effects.
However, it is essential to remember that just because a pose is technically safe, it may not be what’s best for your body.
Therefore, if you try the downward dog pose while pregnant, you may want to modify the pose, such as widening your stance or keeping your knees bent.
Can you do yoga inversions in the first trimester?
It may not be wise to try yoga inversions during the first trimester, as this is when the placenta affixes to the uterus wall.
The strains of inversion on the body could interfere with the process and cause problems for both parent and baby.
Can you use a back stretcher while pregnant?
During the first trimester, it should be safe for most parents to use a back stretcher usually. However, in the second and third trimesters, it may be best to use it at an incline, as lying flat could affect blood flow to the baby (8).
- “Back Pain During Pregnancy.” Cedar-Sinai, 2022, https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/b/back-pain-during-pregnancy.html.
- Herman, Jeff. “Do Inversion Tables Work for Back Pain?” Healthfully, 14 August 2017, https://healthfully.com/271718-do-inversion-tables-work-for-back-pain.html.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Back Pain During Pregnancy: 7 Tips for Relief.” Mayo Clinic, 20 November 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy/art-20046080.
- Nwachuku, Adaku. “Types of Back Pain in Pregnancy.” Veritas Health, 17 September 2020, https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/pregnancy-and-back-pain/types-back-pain-pregnancy.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Prenatal Yoga: What You Need to Know.” Mayo Clinic, 3 February 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-yoga/art-20047193.
- Lasater, Judith. “Poses for Pregnancy.” Yoga International, 2022, https://yogainternational.com/article/view/poses-for-pregnancy1.
- “Maternal Positioning.” Spinning Babies, 2022, https://www.spinningbabies.com/about/maternal-positioning.
- Robles, Brittany. “The Best Pregnancy Stretches for Upper Back Pain [How To Get Relief].” Postpartum Trainer, 8 July 2021, https://postpartumtrainer.com/pregnancy-stretches-upper-back-pain.