Pregnancy itself can come with plenty of aches and pains — including back pain — but you may not have expected additional discomfort in your back after delivery.
And if you had an epidural, you may be wondering whether that’s the cause. Let’s take a deeper look at epidurals, whether they can cause back pain, and how to treat it.
Formally known as epidural anesthesia, this is a regional anesthetic that’s administered through your lower back. It’s designed to block pain in the lower half of your body.
An epidural is considered a local anesthetic because you’re awake when it’s given. Epidurals are usually provided by:
- an anesthesiologist
- an obstetrician
- a nurse anesthetist
If you’re considering or already had an epidural, know that they’re extremely common among people who give birth at a hospital.
There’s a common belief that having an epidural will lead to back pain. But according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, there’s no credible evidence that having an epidural will lead to permanent back pain.
Even people who don’t get epidurals may experience back pain after labor and delivery.
This is because your bones and ligaments — especially those in your pelvis — are shifting back into their original positions from before your pregnancy. As your body returns to its original alignment, it can cause back pain.
While permanent back pain is unlikely, that doesn’t mean epidurals don’t have temporary side effects.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to have temporary back pain or soreness at the injection site where the needle was inserted. The soreness usually goes away in a few days.
The most common symptom you might experience after having an epidural is localized soreness at the injection site. However, that discomfort usually goes away after a few days.
Even if your back pain is due to your joints adjusting during the postpartum period, you still deserve to get some relief! There are plenty of ways to ease back pain at home, including the following:
Getting a massage, either from a professional or a partner, is a great way to help soothe the sore muscles in your back.
Plus, it’s important to pamper yourself and allow yourself the time for much-needed self-care as you navigate your postpartum period.
Hot and cold therapy
Hot and cold therapy refers to alternating between using hot and cold compresses to minimize pain and discomfort.
As soon as you notice back pain, start with cold therapy. Place a cold compress — a bag of ice or even a package of frozen vegetables — on your lower back.
Make sure to wrap the ice or frozen package in a towel to prevent any risk of frostbite. This can happen if you leave bare skin exposed to the ice for too long.
You can ice your back as frequently as you’d like, but keep each session limited to 20 minutes.
After a few days, switch to heat therapy. To soothe your back, you can try:
- a heating pad
- a warm compress
- a warm bath
If you’re currently recovering from a C-section, though, you’ll need to wait on the warm baths until your incision has fully healed.
This might obviously be easier said than done when you’re also trying to care for a newborn! But resting your back is one of the best things you can do to ease back pain.
You may want to also invest in a supportive pillow to place under your knees when you’re lying down. This may help reduce any potential strain on your back.
You might be surprised to find that exercise can actually help reduce back pain. Keep in mind, though: You should be engaging in low-impact exercises only, especially in the early weeks as your body recovers from labor and delivery.
Core exercises that help strengthen your pelvic area and abdomen can be great options. Likewise, research has shown that yoga can be effective in helping to relieve low back pain, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
If you feel that your back pain is too uncomfortable, you might want to consider an over-the-counter (OTC) medication like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).
Talk with your doctor first before taking any medications if you’re breastfeeding.
If your back pain isn’t resolved through at-home methods, speak with your physician. They might recommend that you get professional physical therapy.
Physical therapists can:
- help you improve mobility
- teach you specific exercises that can help ease discomfort
- even show you how to maintain proper posture
Along with physical therapy, chronic back pain that interferes with your quality of life should be managed with the help of a physician.
Remedies can vary from prescription medications and cortisone injections to surgical procedures, depending on the severity of your back pain.
If you’re having temporary soreness from the epidural injection site, you can expect to feel better within a few days.
If your back pain doesn’t ease during the course of your postpartum period or gets progressively worse, make an appointment to speak with your doctor.
While epidurals can cause temporary discomfort at the injection site, they’re probably not the culprit behind your lower back pain — especially during postpartum recovery.
Your body is adjusting back to its former alignment, which can cause aches and pains. These should go away within 6 months after delivery.
Until then, lean into a little self-care with rest and massages and engage in low-impact exercise to help ease the discomfort.