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sciatica pain while pregnant

Sciatic pain during pregnancy, also know as sciatica, can be a worrying pain and may not have been what you had in mind when you found out you were pregnant. Especially when that pain in accompanied by sharp and shooting pain into the buttocks and legs. That shooting pain is what we call sciatic nerve pain. It can be mild for some, and debilitating for others. Find out what sciatic nerve pain is and why it presents itself during pregnancy.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is a term that is thrown around a lot. Sciatica is a general term to describe the nerve pain you get from an irritated sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the spine, through your bum, down the back of your thigh and into the leg and foot. Pain usually occurs when this nerve is compressed at some point down its pathway, however for a lot of people, that is at the spinal level. The pain experienced can be sharp and shooting pain that may radiate all the way down your leg. Some people even experience numbness and tingling.

Symptoms of sciatic nerve pain (sciatica):

Most people experience pain as the first symptom. But this pain can be associated with other symptoms that, as a whole, may indicate sciatic nerve irritation.

  • Pain shooting/ radiating down the back of the leg
  • Nerve pain in the buttocks
  • Numbness, pins and needles, tingling in your foot or leg
  • A burning sensation in the leg or foot
  • Pain that worsens on coughing or sneezing

What causes sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy:

Some women experience sciatic pain during pregnancy. For many, this is temporary. The compression may occur due to a number of reasons, including;

  • Weight gain/ fluid

This is a normal process in pregnancy and nothing to worry about! Sometimes, the extra fluid becomes a mechanism of compression.

  • Shift in center of gravity

To accommodate for a growing baby, our bodies increase a hormone called relaxin. This hormone helps the body to prepare for birth. Ligaments stretch and your pelvis widens. This also means that a growing belly shifts your center of gravity forward. This extra pressure on the lower back and sciatic nerve causes compression, irritating the nerve.

  • Pressure from a growing fetus

Sometimes it’s the baby itself and how it is positioned in your belly causing the compression. Some even suggest that this may worsen during the third trimester, when the baby’s head positions downwards preparing for birth and subsequently compresses the spine and sciatic nerve.

  • A herniated disc

A herniated disc is commonly referred to as a slipped disc, although nothing has slipped or gone anywhere!! This is usually pre diagnosed from a previous injury, however, with lifestyle factors and in some cases, general wear and tear, you may not know you had an issue to begin with, and pregnancy exacerbates compression. There are cases where a history of low back pain and sciatic nerve irritation may be a reason for a flare up during your pregnancy (or after your pregnancy). It is likely that your low back joints and discs were compromised prior to pregnancy, but you just didn’t have symptoms. With the growing pressures on your body through pregnancy and the changes in mechanical posture, any compromised region may become symptomatic.

How to relieve sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy

Everyone is different when it comes to sciatica in pregnancy. For some, gentle mobility like small walks and stretching can be a great relief. Some simple things to try include:

  • Swimming or walking in a pool. The pressure of gravity is removed when in water, and the weight of pregnancy temporarily reduced, allowing you some comfort.
  • Using a warm compress on the small of the low back. Heat has been proven to ease some of the tension in those suffering sciatic nerve pain.
  • Use a pillow between your knees at night for a more comfortable sleep. The pillow helps to neutralize the hip and low back mechanics, taking pressure off the sciatic nerve.
  • Review your working conditions. If you are a desk worker, all that sitting just adds to the compression in your back. Compression leads to irritation of the sciatic nerve. Set yourself a timer to get up for a walk around the office and stretch your legs.
  • Alternatively, if you are on your feet a lot, scheduling in some rest time is going to be paramount! We are so good at pushing through. Your body is doing a lot through pregnancy, and fatigue is not uncommon. Allow your body plenty of rest time, especially if you are experiencing pain!

For many pregnant women, sciatic nerve pain is more complex and requires individualized care. You don’t need to push through the pain by yourself! An osteo may assist in relieving musculoskeletal pressures in the area. Often the muscles in the surrounding areas to the back, buttocks and legs need some soft tissue massage TLC, and some gentle joint mobilising may reduce other pressures on the sciatic nerve. Hands on work can do a lot for pain and discomfort, as well as reducing inflammation in the area. It’s all about allowing you to feel your most comfortable during your pregnancy.

Stretches for sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy.

Piriformis stretch:

The piriformis muscle is one of the muscles in the buttocks. The sciatic nerve runs closely with the piriformis muscle. When the piriformis muscle is tight, it may be compressing the sciatic nerve, causing you discomfort. Luckily, the stretch aimed at lengthening the piriformis muscle is pretty easy!

  • Sitting on the edge of a chair, have the ankle of the side you are stretching rest on the opposite thigh
  • With both hands, cup the knee of the problem side, and draw it up in the direction towards you opposite shoulder
  • You may not have to go far to feel a stretch
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the other side
  • You can do this a few times throughout the day, to comfort

Glute stretch:

The glutes are a group of muscles in the buttocks. They are a big supporters and stabilizers for us when standing and walking.

  • Sitting on the edge of a chair, have the ankle of the side you are stretching rest on the opposite thigh
  • Gently push the knee downwards toward the floor
  • You may not have to go far to feel a stretch
  • Keeping the spine straight, lean forward slightly to enhance the stretch. This all depends on how far along your pregnancy is and if your belly gets in the way! There’s no need to push the stretch, work to comfort.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the other side
  • You can do this a few times throughout the day, to comfort

 Spikey ball the buttocks:

If you have a spikey ball, or a lacrosse ball, you can use it to release tension in the buttocks or legs. This also works if you have a tennis ball.

  • Gently use the wall (or the floor if you are comfortable to) and place the ball along a muscle that feels tight.
  • You can hold the ball in place and wait, or gently roll the ball if it feels secure to.
  • Stay away from placing the ball directly over the spine as this will not only feel uncomfortable but may also irritate any discs that may be contributing to the compression of the sciatic nerve.

Still experiencing sciatic pain after pregnancy?

For most women, once the pressure on their pelvis and low back is relieved after giving birth, their sciatic nerve pain reduces significantly, or even goes away completely! However, for some, the pain hangs around. Once again, you may need individualized care postnatally.

Giving birth itself may also be a trigger for low back trauma. Then on top of that, breastfeeding posture and carrying a newborn around.

If you are experiencing pain after giving birth, it is essential that you speak with your health care practitioners. After you have been cleared by your medical team, hands on therapy with your osteopath will address and encourage recovery postpartum.

Do I need bed rest with pregnancy related sciatic nerve pain?

Some women experience pain so bad that their sciatic nerve pain gets in the way of walking. Bed rest is usually a last resort however, you should always discuss your symptoms with your health care team and your obstetrician if you are concerned!

Are you experiencing pain and discomfort during your pregnancy? At Boroondara Osteopathy, we have six female osteopaths who will assess, diagnose and individualise your treatment going forward. To make an appointment, call 03 9859 5059 or click the BOOK ONLINE button!