Dr. Dollinger: How Pregnancy Affects Joints & Bones

Pregnancy brings about many changes, and some of them are more obvious than others. Room is made in the home for the baby to arrive, and gifts pile up leaving the parents wondering how many rubber duckies does one kid need? Of course, the mother’s body goes through many obvious changes as well, with that prominent belly and amazing glow. However, since pregnancy has a major impact on hormone levels and the immune system, the mother also can experience other surprising, and not so surprising changes as well.

Lower back pain and joint pain (like carpal tunnel) is not so surprising. 70 – 75% of pregnant women complain of back pain, which gets worse the older you get and the more children you have. The weight of the baby in the front increases the curvature of the back, adding stress and strain to lower back muscles. Sometimes this pain can even radiate down into the hips and legs. Of course, since a pregnancy is involved, the treatment options are limited to Tylenol, bed rest, slight heat, gentle stretching, and perhaps a corset that supports the belly.

Carpal tunnel is the second most common joint pain to occur during pregnancy, affecting the wrists and causing numbness or tingling in the hands. And again, it is more common in pregnant women who are older. Conservative treatment includes a brace and ice, and under specific circumstances, maybe a shot of cortisone. Usually, however, you just have to wait it out, as much as it is very annoying.

More rare problems involve damage to the bones of the hips and legs, possibly caused by too much of one of the hormones produced by the body. If you suddenly experience bone pain, it could be temporary osteoporosis, which would require an MRI for proper diagnosis. If you have persistent hip pain that goes down the front of the thigh and you can’t put weight on your leg, there may have been an interruption in blood supply to your hip bones causing serious bone damage, which again would need a MRI for proper diagnosis.

One surprising occurrence is that many women who have rheumatoid arthritis actually feel better during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, in addition to extra hormones and a boosted immune system, the body also produces more cortisol, and the combination of these factors brings relief to pregnant women with RA. Of course, once the baby is delivered, there is a rapid rebound in RA symptoms, which can actually be more painful than before, until treatment can get it back under control again.

Of course, always talk to your OB/GYN doctor about any symptoms you experience during your pregnancy. Arnot Health also offers childbirth & maternity classes, and you can learn more by following this link.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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