What is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body; it runs from the lower back, through the pelvic and hip area, and down the back of the leg. Anytime this nerve becomes pinched or irritated it can get inflamed and cause sciatica—symptoms of sciatica tend to occur on one side of the body. Signs might include:
- Shooting pain in the lower back, legs, ankles, and feet
- Weakness of the lower extremities
- Numbness in the leg(s) and bottom
- Tingly sensation in the legs
What Causes Sciatica During Pregnancy?
Right around the 25th week of pregnancy, a number of factors can contribute to sciatic pain. Your baby is growing rapidly during this time, and the ligaments in your pelvic area begin to loosen in preparation for childbirth. These changes can cause the baby's head to press on your pelvic bone and compress the nerves.
Additionally, the increased weight on the front of your body becomes much more obvious. The change in posture and uneven pressure on the lower back and spine can increase your risk for a herniated disc. A herniated disc can press on the nerve root, leading to sciatic pain.
What Can I Do For Sciatica While I’m Pregnant?
Sciatic pain typically eases after a couple of weeks and almost always disappears completely after giving birth. In the meantime, there are several methods you can use to manage the pain.
- Avoid one position for too long.
Try not to stand for long periods of time. Prop one foot up when you sit down to relieve pressure on the nerve. Lay down on the side opposite of the pain and place a pillow between your knees to ease discomfort.
- Use natural pain management.
Hot and cold packs are great for painful areas. Cold packs reduce inflammation and pressure on the sciatic nerve, while heat packs improve circulation and relax painful spasms. You should also avoid hot tubs, as they can be dangerous for pregnant women.
- Get a prenatal massage.
A nice massage can help reduce muscle tension and relieve all kinds of pain, including sciatic. Just make sure you choose a licensed masseuse who is trained in prenatal massage; your masseuse should have specialized knowledge and equipment to keep you and Baby safe. It wouldn’t hurt to chat with your obstetrician beforehand.
- Keep weight gain at a healthy level.
Weight gain is unavoidable during pregnancy, but the more you gain, the greater the pressure on your lower back. Avoid dieting; instead, work with your doctor to come up with a healthy meal plan to minimize unnecessary weight gain during your pregnancy.
- Get moving.
Activities like prenatal yoga can improve pliability of the spine, reduce pressure on the nerves, and help control weight gain. You don't want to put your unborn baby at risk, so talk to your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough for exercise. You should also only take prenatal yoga from instructors who are qualified.
- Talk to your doctor.
Normally, you wouldn’t think twice about taking a few NSAIDs, but being pregnant really does change everything. Talk to your obstetrician before taking any medications—she may recommend acetaminophen or other, appropriate medications. Constant or severe pregnancy-related sciatica may mean you need to rule out infections or other serious conditions.