Before you were pregnant, you knew your body would experience a lot of changes, and that not all of them would be “fun” changes. However, you might not have been counting on nagging lower back pain, constant pain under your ribs during your 3rd trimester, or even a sore tailbone. While these aches and pains are typical, and most mamas experience at least one of them at some point during their pregnancy, other mamas are unfortunately affected by the sharp pain of sciatica during pregnancy.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a sharp pain, often accompanied by numbness or tingling, that starts in the lower back or buttocks and travels down one or both legs. Usually, the pain is described as a “shooting pain.”
Causes of Sciatica
Sciatica is a result of pressure on the sciatic nerve (the largest nerve in the body running from the lower back, through the buttocks and down both legs). Sometimes sciatica is caused by bulging, herniated discs, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord), or arthritis. In pregnancy, however, these are not typically the causes of sciatica pain.
During pregnancy, your body experiences many hormonal changes. One of these changes is the increase in the hormone called relaxin. Relaxin causes the joints of the pelvis to loosen in order to accommodate your growing baby and eventually to be prepared for childbirth. (Our bodies truly are amazing!) This hormonal change, however, can also lead to lower back or pelvic pain which might lead to the radiating pain of sciatica down one or both legs.
Other possible causes of sciatica in pregnancy include:
- Weight gain and increased fluid retention–all that extra weight in your abdomen can put pressure on your sciatic nerve where it passes through your pelvic area. This pressure compresses the nerve and causes pain, numbness and tingling.
- A growing uterus–as your uterus grows, it pushes everything else out of the way and can put pressure on your sciatic nerve in the lower part of your back.
- Change in posture–as your belly (and breasts) grow, your center of gravity is shifted forward and your lordotic curve (or the curve just above your buttocks) is stretched, which then causes the muscles in your buttocks and pelvic area to tighten. This tightening can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and result in pain.
- Growing baby–baby can be to blame as he grows and starts to drop lower in your pelvis as delivery draws closer. His head may end up resting right on your sciatic nerve.
Should I be concerned about sciatica during pregnancy?
First, rest assured that even though you are feeling pain, your baby is not. Second, more likely than not, your sciatica pain will significantly decrease or completely go away after delivery. For some mamas, the pain may even lessen during pregnancy as baby grows or moves off of the sciatic nerve.
Your sciatic pain might be intermittent, meaning that it comes and goes, or constant, and it might be felt down one leg or both. Usually, sciatica pain develops during the 3rd trimester, but it might occur sooner for some women. There are some things you can try on your own to help relieve the pain, but if your symptoms worsen or the pain is severe, it is always smart to seek help from your doctor or a physical therapist. A physical therapist can help by assessing your pain and then by prescribing specific daily exercises to help. There are even physical therapists who specialize in both prenatal and postpartum physical therapy.
How to Relieve Sciatica Pain
Things like maintaining good posture, avoiding prolonged positions and staying active, can help with managing the symptoms of sciatica. Ensuring that you are using proper body mechanics when bending over, or lifting an object (or small child), is also important to help prevent back pain which may lead to sciatica.
There are five specific stretches that can help to ease the pain of sciatica during pregnancy.
- Seated piriformis stretch
- Table stretch
- Pigeon pose
- Hip flexor stretch
- Glute and hamstring foam rolling
You can learn more about these stretches here.
Other ways to help with easing sciatica pain include:
- Sleeping on the unaffected side and using something like a pregnancy pillow to help with positioning and alignment while sleeping.
- Keep doing those Kegels, but add in some pelvic tilts too–this can help to strengthen your core.
- Swimming! Many women report less pain and discomfort all around while swimming.
- Get off your feet when you can, and find a comfortable position to rest in.
- Apply a warm compress to the area of pain.
- Get a prenatal massage, or as mentioned previously, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist.
Pregnancy is tough! Our bodies go through a lot, and by no means is it easy. Just remember that it will all be worth it in the end! You’ve got this, mama!
We’re here to help mama! If you have any questions, reach out to a Mama Coach in your area.