For an expecting mother, sciatica during pregnancy can be one more uncomfortable aspect of their 9-month term. That being said, sciatic pain in pregnant women is quite common, and there are a number of effective ways to treat this painful and annoying condition.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the more formal name for sciatic pain, which can originate when one of the discs in your back begins to herniate. As the soft center of these rings pushes out past the hard outer ring of the vertebrae, it can put pressure on nearby nerves, resulting in pain. The sciatic nerve happens to be the longest nerve in the body, running from the feet all the way up through both legs and hips, then rejoining in the lower back. When a disc herniates, it puts pressure on this nerve and can result in pain through the buttocks, legs, back, and feet.
During pregnancy, sciatica affects almost every woman at some point or another. This may not mean that one of your discs has herniated, but it does mean that pressure is being applied to this key nerve in your body. All women will experience some sort of back pain during pregnancy, due to inflammation or the strain of rapidly putting on pregnancy weight, but sciatica pain is slightly different and more focused.
Symptoms of Sciatica During Pregnancy
The symptoms of sciatica during pregnancy are similar to the symptoms of sciatica for normal people, and include the following:
- Sharp, shooting pains in the lower back, buttocks, hips, thighs, and feet
- Numbness in the buttocks or parts of the leg
- Dull, constant pain on one side of the body and leg
- Pain when standing or sitting for extended periods of time
Causes of Sciatica During Pregnancy
Sciatica during pregnancy can be caused by a number of things, including weight gain, piriformis syndrome, a herniated disc, and joint problems, among others.
Weight Gain: Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal, natural and healthy, but with that extra weight gain comes extra stress and strain on your joints and bones, some of which can create inflammation that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Piriformis Syndrome: This particular condition affects the muscles in the buttocks, and is due to the fluctuation of hormones in the body during pregnancy. When muscles, ligaments, and joints loosen, it can result in unexpected nerve pain, like sciatica during pregnancy.
Herniated Disc: This is quite rare during pregnancy, as most physical movement is done more carefully, but excess weight and impact on the vertebrae can result in a herniated disc causing sciatica pain.
Joint Problems: If you have joint disorders or other injuries in the past, inflammation in the lower back may be more common, resulting in a higher risk of sciatica during pregnancy.
Treatments for Sciatica During Pregnancy
Fortunately, given how common sciatica during pregnancy is, there are many treatments for potentially chronic sciatica pain, including pregnancy stretches, yoga, elevating your feet, swimming, standing less, hot and cold therapy, prenatal massage or certain pain medications, among others.
One of the most basic causes of sciatica pain is extended periods of sitting during pregnancy. It can be easy to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle when you are carrying around extra weight, but a static body position like that can put more pressure on the nerve, so stand up and walk around to get the blood flowing!
There are specific stretches for women who are struggling with sciatic nerve pain, including the child pose, performed on your back, table stretches, toe touches, and mild lunges, all of which can increase the flexibility of your lower back.
Yoga is becoming more and more popular with pregnant women, as it can help to increase blood flow and flexibility, reduce nerve pain and lower stress levels, all of which can help relieve sciatica during pregnancy.
Try lying down on the couch or bed with your leg elevated, particularly if the pain is centered on only one side of the body. This will increase blood flow and hopefully reduce pressure on the nerve.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Alternating cold compresses and hot packs can help induce circulation to the affected area and eventually lower inflammation of the nerve.
Getting a prenatal massage can be an excellent way to reduce tension and stress in your lower back, which can eliminate tissue inflammation and the consequent pressure on your sciatic nerve.
Word of Warning
While these home remedies and treatments can be effective at relieving discomfort, if the sciatic nerve pain is chronic or debilitating, be sure to see a doctor ensure that something more serious hasn’t occurred. A herniated disc may be uncommon during pregnancy, but it is not impossible and would require more specialized treatment.