Pregnancy is an exciting time for anybody experiencing it — but it also comes with a lot of potential challenges. Your body goes through many shifts and changes, and some of them can cause you a lot of discomfort. While aches and pains are par for the course, sometimes pregnancy can cause sciatica, which is a whole other ball game.
What Does Sciatica Mean?
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It runs from your lower back, down through your buttocks, then down the back of your legs and reaches as far as your ankles and feet. So it stands to reason that a pain in the sciatic nerve is a pretty significant one. Sciatica is the name given to pain caused by this sciatic nerve. It’s also known as lumbosacral radicular syndrome.
Usually, sciatica is caused when there’s pressure on your sciatic nerve. This can be caused by slipped or ruptured discs. It can also be caused by arthritis, spinal stenosis, or something as serious as ruptured discs.
Sometimes, the changes and shifts that occur in your body during pregnancy can cause sciatica.
Sciatica During Pregnancy
Sciatica during pregnancy can be caused by a number of things. It can be down to something as simple as weight gain or fluid retention, which may place additional pressure on your sciatic nerve, thereby compressing it and causing pain.
The changes in your reproductive system can also result in pressure on the sciatic nerve around your pelvis. Your uterus expands and could cause this pressure, or, in some cases, your baby could place pressure on the nerve. This usually occurs toward the third trimester, when your baby is moving into its birth position.
Your posture changes during pregnancy as your center of gravity shifts. This shift can also cause parts of your body to tense or shift in a way that impacts the sciatic nerve. And any of these changes to your body could cause a slipped or herniated disc — which, although uncommon, can lead to sciatica.
But don’t worry too much. Although somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of pregnant women experience back pain, most of this isn’t a result of sciatica. And if you do experience sciatica during pregnancy, it’s likely it’s temporary. Most of the pressures pregnancy could potentially place on your sciatic nerve will be resolved with time once your baby is born.
What Does Sciatica Feel Like?
With so much going on in your body during pregnancy, you’re bound to experience all sorts of minor, temporary discomforts. Sciatica differentiates itself in a few ways.
The type of pain, far from the dull ache of usual back pain, tends to be described as burning, sharp, or shooting pain. Common complaints of sciatica pain usually start in the lumbar area and can radiate toward your legs from there. It often shows up toward the back of the leg or as pelvic pain. The pain can be followed or accompanied by an experience of numbness, or pins and needles, in your affected leg or foot. Sciatica can also lead to difficulty with doing simple things like sitting, standing, or walking.
Sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy can cause other symptoms beyond low back pain and leg pain, although these symptoms happen more rarely. Other symptoms include poor bladder control or — more than pins and needles — a feeling of burning in your legs or feet. Pain caused by sciatica can also worsen with coughing, moving, or sneezing.
If you experience any of these symptoms of sciatica, you should definitely let your care provider know. And while medical advice should definitely come from a professional — especially during a sensitive time like pregnancy — there are some safe ways to reduce pain caused by sciatica.
What Do You Do If You Have Sciatica During Pregnancy?
As we said above, you first and foremost need to contact your care provider. But if you’re waiting on treatment, or prescription medication, or just looking for some safe ways to reduce your pain, we’re here to help. There are a few things that are thought to reduce your pain.
If you’re experiencing pain or other symptoms as a result of sciatic nerve pain, stretching can help. Because your body is going through so many changes during pregnancy, all these shifts can put extra pressure on your sciatic nerve — so it stands to reason that a nice, long stretch may help relieve some of this pressure.
Stretches that work deep into your glutes can be really beneficial, as spasms in this part of your body can often lead to sciatica pain. Stretches that target your back and thigh muscles can also be extremely useful, as well as stretches that help you increase flexibility in your hamstrings, as this can make the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve more flexible, which can lead to a reduction in the kind of irritation that causes pain.
If stretching sounds like something that might help you, but you’re not sure where to start, try looking into some prenatal yoga! Prenatal yoga is full of safe, easy stretches that will help you increase your flexibility and tease out the tension in your muscles, reducing your sciatica pain in a manner that’s safe for you and your baby.
Studies show that magnesium supplements can help promote sciatic nerve regeneration and lower any inflammatory responses your sciatic nerve is having in response to irritation. You can take magnesium supplements orally. You can also get lotion or oil that contains magnesium to rub directly onto your legs, which may help in reducing pain caused by your sciatic nerve.
Although magnesium supplements are over the counter, especially during pregnancy, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or care provider before incorporating any new supplement into your routine.
Whether you see a physical therapist in person or find a physical therapist to recommend exercises to try at home, a certified physical therapist can help you in a lot of ways! A routine that incorporates the proper exercises can help you improve flexibility, reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and even aid in realigning your joints or muscles.
All of these things can be instrumental in helping to take the pressure off of your sciatic nerve and thereby bring pain relief. It’s important to consult a professional before starting a new exercise routine, however.
Pregnancy causes your ligaments to loosen to make it easier for you to deliver down the track. But while you’re pregnant, it can also make it easier for you to injure yourself doing things you normally wouldn’t have a problem with. So if physical therapy sounds like a good option for you, do your due diligence!
Get A Massage
As with everything we’ve suggested, it’s important to make sure any professional working with or on you is aware of your condition and is qualified to take it into account. It’s always important to be mindful of what’s best for your body, but it’s especially important during pregnancy when your body is so vulnerable.
A good prenatal massage can help you with sciatica. A massage can help relax your body in general — which is definitely a bonus during pregnancy! But if you’re suffering from pain caused by your sciatic nerve, a deep tissue massage around the nerve can help reduce your pain.
Things like foam rollers can also be useful for working out any tense muscles that are adding further stress to your sciatica, so if you’re not ready to spring for a massage therapist, there are more affordable, do-at-home options that can provide you similar relief.
Avoid Sitting For Long Periods
If you’re struggling with sciatica, make sure to get up regularly and take a little walk around. Staying in one place for too long, like working at a desk job or a long car ride, can aggravate your sciatica and make your pain worse.
If you must sit for a long period of time, a heating pack can help ease any discomfort you may feel and reduce irritation around your sciatic nerve. You could also use a coccyx seat cushion for your office chair or a similar cushion for your car seat to help improve your posture and reduce pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Take A Bath
If heating packs can work wonders to calm aggravated muscles around your painful sciatic nerve, imagine stepping it up a notch! Pencil in a little self-care to your day, and run yourself a nice hot bath. You could even use a bath bomb or even an essential oil diffuser (as long as you make sure the oil is pregnancy safe!) to further enrich your experience.
Having a good long soak is a good way to help relax your muscles and ease the inflammation around your sciatic nerve.
Pregnancy comes with many unexpected ups and downs and aches and pains. Sciatica can be a pretty extreme one! While there isn’t a silver bullet to cure sciatica, and you should always consult your care provider before incorporating something new into your self-care routine while your pregnant, there are ways to lessen and manage the pain, so you can get back to enjoying those magical nine months.