Friday, 6 May 2016

In what could be good news for mums everywhere on Mother’s Day, a world-first study at The University of Western Australia is looking at the link between female reproductive hormones and lower back injuries in women in a bid to resolve chronic back issues caused in pregnancy.

Occupational bio-mechanist and PhD student Adele Stewart is urgently seeking volunteers to help with her research at UWA’s School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health.

Ms Stewart’s research has already shown that up to 90 per cent of pregnant women will have back pain sometime during their pregnancy and, alarmingly, up to 30 per cent of those women will continue to suffer years after giving birth.

Her study will now concentrate on the role that serum relaxin, a hormone that softens ligaments which surges in early pregnancy, plays in diminishing the strength of lower back joints.

“My theory is that reduced spinal joint strength and the repetitive ‘manual’ tasks involved in looking after children combine to make a ‘super risk’ of back injury which for many women can mean a life-long relationship with pain,” she said.

“We already know that new mums and child care workers are unknowingly exposing themselves to high risk of lower back injury by jobs such as repeatedly bending over a change table and using nursery equipment that may be poorly designed.

“In any other industry this would become an occupational, health and safety issue however pregnant women and new mothers in particular are frequently told ‘back pain is part of the journey and that they should just accept it’.”

Ms Stewart said understanding the link between elevated levels of serum relaxin and lower back function would help minimise the risk with the ultimate aim of preventing long term pain for women with children.

“The research has very real relevance to the way we think about back pain in pregnancy, the physical work involved in child caring and the implications of back pain and disorder for women in the work place,” she said.

“Chronic back pain is one of the most debilitating and costly health issues in Australia, with women at around 35 years of age most commonly effected – we want to help resolve this.”

The cutting-edge study is calling for women aged 20 to 40 who have never been pregnant or are within the first 12 weeks of their first pregnancy and who have had no prior diagnosed back disorder.

To volunteer or learn more about the research contact Ms Stewart at [email protected] or view her website at

Media references

David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716
Adele Stewart (UWA School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health) (+61 4) 09 947 575


Media Statements — Research — Science