Sciatica During Pregnancy: What You Need To Know

Back pain in pregnancy is pretty common; although frustrating and uncomfortable, it is usually put down to general aches and pains that come with growing a tiny human! 

However, if you’re experiencing sharp, shooting pains down your back, into your hips and the backs of your legs, it may be something more. 

If you are experiencing the latter, you may be suffering from sciatica. 

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica usually only affects one side of your body, and pain usually originates in the back or your buttocks and travels down through the back of your legs. 

The sciatic nerve is the largest in your body. It starts in your lower back and travels through your buttocks, down the backs of your legs and branches off into your ankles and feet. 

Generally, sciatica occurs due to the nerve being pinched, irritated or compressed by slipped, ruptured or bulging discs—as well as arthritis or spinal stenosis (spinal cord narrowing).

What Does Sciatica Feel Like?

Pain levels due to sciatica can vary in intensity for each individual. Some expectant mothers may experience a mild ache down one side of their lower body, and others may liken the feeling to that of a sudden electric shock. 

Other symptoms can include muscle weakness in your leg or foot, burning, shooting / stabbing pains, numbness and/or a tingling sensation. 

If the pain you’re experiencing is severe or is getting worse and starting to impact your day-to-day activities, it’s a good idea to speak to your midwife or GP for advice. 

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What Causes Sciatica in Pregnancy?

Sciatica in pregnancy can develop as a result of the following: 

  • A herniated/slipped disc: although rare, this can be caused by the extra pressure as a result of your expanding uterus. 
  • Your baby’s head rests directly on the sciatic nerve: this usually occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy as your baby settles into the head-down position.
  • Your expanding uterus: your uterus may press down on the nerve in the lower part of your spine. 
  • Your centre of gravity shifts as a result of your growing belly and breasts: your growing breasts and belly cause your centre of gravity to shift forward while stretching your lordotic curve (the dip just above your buttocks). This may cause the muscles in your pelvic area and buttocks to tighten, pinching your sciatic nerve in the process.
  • Weight gain and increased levels of fluid: Weight gain and increased fluid levels can put pressure on the sciatic nerve around the pelvic area, compressing it. 

How To Relieve Sciatic in Pregnancy

Sciatica in pregnancy usually gets better in around four to six weeks, or it may take a bit longer. The following can help to relieve symptoms of sciatica: 

  • Swimming: Being in water can help take some pressure off of your sciatic nerves, as the buoyancy of the water will provide temporary relief. 
  • Acupuncture, prenatal massages or chiropractic adjustments: These can offer you some relief from the pain. (It’s important that you only book with a fully licensed practitioner).
  • Avoid sitting in one place for too long: Try to take frequent walks to keep your body moving, and alternate the places you sit: at a desk, on the sofa, on a birthing ball. 
  • Take regular rest breaks: Resting in a comfortable position when you can will help to take the weight off of your lower body (your legs and lower back).
  • Try not to stand for long periods of time: If you need to stand for long periods, to help avoid discomfort, try lifting your foot off of the ground and resting it on a footstool, a low chair, or a box.
  • Lay down on the side opposite of the pain: This helps to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. It’s a good idea to try to sleep this way, too (a pregnancy pillow placed between the knees can be really helpful for this when sleeping on your side).
  • Have warm showers and/or use a warm compress to help relieve pain: If you feel the warmth doesn’t make a difference, try applying a cold pack to the painful area.
  • Avoid lifting, pushing or pulling heavy objects.

What Else Do You Need to Know About Sciatica in Pregnancy?

Sciatica will usually develop during the third trimester. It can develop earlier on in pregnancy, however it’s not as common. 

Depending on the pressure that is being placed on the sciatic nerve, sciatica can either be intermittent or it can be continuous. You may notice the pain getting worse towards the end of your pregnancy as you and your baby bulk out. 

Sciatica can sometimes stick around for a little while post-birth while your body sheds the extra fluid and weight that is pressing down on your sciatic nerve. 

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