Sciatica and Pregnancy

Sciatica and Pregnancy

Vector illustration of pregnancy process in six stages.

Vector illustration of pregnancy process in six stages.

Have you ever heard of sciatica? Well, chances are you have, seeing how almost 40% of Americans suffer from it at least once in their life. That means that, in the US, there are more people who get diagnosed with sciatica than there are people who have passports.

Sciatica is a medical term that describes a series of symptoms rather than a single disease – sharp, stabbing pain running from the lower back down to your leg. It can present itself both as a chronic condition and as a temporary symptom of a minor spinal injury. But, whatever the cause is, it can seriously mess with your life as it can be quite painful and significantly reduce your mobility. It’s hard enough for a healthy adult, but imagine suffering from sciatica during pregnancy?

When it comes to lower back and leg pain during pregnancy, there are much more likely causes of it than sciatica. However, if pregnancy sciatica does occur, it can be quite a debilitating condition.

What Causes Sciatica in Pregnant Women?

Most cases of back pain during pregnancy can be linked to your baby and the position it’s in. The baby’s head can press on your spine and damage a nerve, which then stiffens and hurts. Your baby can also squeeze a nerve while it changes its position in the womb, but the pain usually stops when the baby turns again.

However, full-on sciatica in pregnant women is almost never caused by a just a damaged nerve. Instead, it occurs as a result of a spinal disc injury or misalignment which in turn affects the nerve. Heavy lifting is the number one cause of sciatica, and it doesn’t have to be anything particularly heavy or hard. Your body is in a fragile state and lifting just a few pounds can compress the spinal disc that holds the sciatic nerve. You should be able to identify this type of injury easily, as it immediately presents with sharp, stabbing pain in the lower back, followed by a tingling sensation that goes down one leg.

Pregnancy sciatica can also be caused by things other than injury. During pregnancy, your body experiences significant metabolic changes. That means weight gain and water retention. If either one of those become severe enough, it can put additional pressure on the sciatic nerve, resulting in uncomfortable pain. Another thing that can lead to sciatica is your growing breast and belly. As they grow and gain weight, your center of gravity slowly starts to shift forward. This change of posture makes your lordotic curve stretch, which in turn make your butt and pelvis muscles stiffen and pinch the sciatic nerve.

Most of the time the pain you experience is tolerable and shouldn’t stress your body out more than pregnancy already did. Despite that, there are a number of cases where the pain presented is so severe it requires therapy and medication.

Sciatica Pain Relief During Pregnancy

Depending on how far along are you in your pregnancy and how severe the pain is, there are a number of things you could do to help you manage it.

If the pain is constant and throbbing, try putting a warm compress on the most painful place. If the pain is all over your lower back and pelvis, you can also use a heating blanket. The heat will help relax the tense muscles and alleviate the pressure on the nerve. If the pain persists, you can try to switch between warm compresses and ice packs. The difference in the temperature increases the blood flow to the muscles and numbs the area to reduce the pain.

I also suggest investing in a pregnancy pillow, or even two, as lifting your knees and pelvis when you rest can significantly reduce the pressure on your spine. And if you want an immediate relief, you could ultimately resort to medications. Avoid over-the-counter painkillers as they’re dangerous for your baby, and opt for homeopatic medicine. There are a number of natural remedies for pain relief which have almost no side-effects, so both you and your baby can stay safe and healthy. But, whatever your method of choice is, always consult with your doctor first. He can help you choose the righ medications and refer you to a physiotherapist that specializes in pregnant women. The therapist can then recommend a number of other things to do such as specific sleeping positions, a level of activity you should maintain and stretches and exercises you can do on your own to manage the pain.

Pregnancy Sciatica Stretches

If your condition is not serious and the pain is not overwhelming, your musculosceletal physiotherapist can recommend a few stretches you can do to help you relax and relieve the pain. All of those stretches are safe to do during pregnancy and won’t affect your baby in any negative way. Not only will they alleviate pain, but they’ll also help you destress, strengthen your core and pelvic muscles and get better posture. I would also recommend getting into a good yoga routine for Sciatica.

One of the best stretches you can do is called a table stretch. Stand next to a table with your feet apart and lean forward while putting your hands on the table. Arch your back outward and move your hips as far from the table as you can. To increase the stretch even more, try swaying your hips from side to side to really get your entire back working. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds and repeat several times a day.

Another great stretch is the piriformis stretch. The piriformis is a rotator muscle located deep in your buttocks. To reach it, sit on a chair with your back straight and your feet on the floor. Put your right anke on your left knee, and lean forward as much as you can with your back straight. You’ll feel the stretch in your buttocks and notice how the pain almost immediately gets reduced. Repeat for each leg as many times per day as neccesary.

If you have a foam roller, you can use that as well. Put it on the floor and slowly start moving your body back and forth over it until you find a painful spot. Reduce the pressure and keep rolling on it until the aera is no longer tender and painful. These rollers can work for pain and aches all over the body, but give the best stretch when used on the lower back and buttocks.

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