Editors note: The information in this article should never be used as a substitute for medical advice from a doctor. Please do not put into action any tips or techniques from this article without checking with your doctor first.
Sciatica during pregnancy is an extremely common complaint from expectant mothers. However, there is hope—there are ways to relieve it to an extent.
Sciatica during pregnancy can make an already confusing and stressful time even more so! But we've got you. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this type of pain.
What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It starts at the bottom of your spine, runs through your buttock and down the back of your leg, all the way to your toes.
Sciatica occurs when the growing baby puts pressure on the spine, causing a compression of the sciatic nerve. It is most common in the second and third trimesters.
Sciatica differs from other back or leg pains that are common in pregnancy, in that the pain often feels sharp and shooting and will often run down your leg. Sometimes, sciatica affects only one part of the leg, like the buttock or calf.
How can I tell if I have sciatica while pregnant?
The people I work with often describe sciatica as being "stabbed with a hot poker." So, as you can imagine, pain from this can be severe at times.
Sciatica pain can be confusing, as aches and pains all over the body are so common when you're carrying the extra weight of a growing pregnancy! However, you can usually tell that what you are experiencing is true sciatica by the sheer severity of the pain—if it's bad pain, there is a good chance it is sciatica.
You may also feel pins and needles or numbness along with the pain. This is another indicator of "true" sciatica. The pins and needles and numbness usually occur in the feet or toes, but you might notice your calf going numb, too.
If you have any of these symptoms, it's important to speak with your provider for diagnosis, and of course, treatment options.
What causes sciatica during pregnancy?
There are so many changes that occur to the body during pregnancy, but increased body weight and changes in posture are usually responsible for sciatica when pregnant.
Do I need an MRI scan for sciatica during pregnancy?
This is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms. However, if you have any "worrying" symptoms (like pelvic region numbness or loss of bladder and bowel control), you might need to be reviewed by a specialist, and an MRI may be ordered.
You should also get immediate attention from a doctor if you notice your legs growing weaker all of a sudden. This can happen when the nerve is so compressed that the muscles don't receive the signals they need to "work" properly.
How common is sciatica during pregnancy?
So common that over 50% of women will experience sciatica during pregnancy.
I find that most women who suffer from sciatica during pregnancy are told to just grit their teeth and bear it. When you're told you need to wait for the baby to come before you're going to be out of pain, it doesn't exactly relieve the pain, does it?
You'll be pleased to know that there are things we can do to relieve some of your symptoms.
Will sciatica during pregnancy affect my baby?
The sciatica itself will not affect your baby at all. However, it's important to stay active despite the discomfort. You need to be sure that stress levels are kept under control, and you stay healthy while carrying your child.
Did I do anything wrong to get sciatica during pregnancy?
Nope, it's often just a fact of life—it occurs as a direct result of an increased load on the front of your body.
This leads to great pressure through the spine and discs. If you have a very small, usually harmless disc bulge, it could be pushed towards the sciatic nerve, causing the sciatic symptoms.
But don't worry, it usually does resolve after you give birth.
However, there are still some measures you can take while pregnant to ease your pain and improve your symptoms.
What's the best way to treat sciatica during pregnancy?
First, talk to your provider and get their recommendations. With their approval, try these four remedies:
1. Wear a pregnancy girdle
It might sound uncomfortable, but a pregnancy girdle can actually lift your bump and distribute the weight of your tummy more evenly. This will have the effect of taking the pressure off the spine, and that could help ease your sciatica.
2. Rest, rest, rest
Although I said it's important to stay active even when suffering from sciatica during pregnancy, it's important to get your down-time, too, as suffering from a painful problem can make you stressed and tired.
Try having a lay down on your side, lying on the side of your non-painful leg.
3. Try hot or cold therapy
Cold as a treatment for can be effective pain, stress and inflammation management. The question I most commonly get asked about this is: "If sciatica is coming from my back, should I put the cold on my back or leg?"
The answer is: whatever suits you, but I would begin with the back.
- Your back will likely be tight and sore when suffering from sciatica during pregnancy. The cold compress will help to dull the pain.
- The direct cold treatment may help to ease inflammation around the problematic nerve in the spine.
- Your back is a central part of your body—treating a central area of the body will have a global pain-relieving effect on the entire body.
If you opt for heat, you don't leave it on for extended periods, and you don't let it get too hot. It's best to only apply heat or cold for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time.
4. Stretch the buttock on just the non-painful side
Try the stretch shown below, only on your non-painful side. Now, this sounds strange, but it's one of the techniques I use with clients all the time to give them significant pain relief. You may notice a rapid improvement in your symptoms.
It is important to not stretch the painful side at all. Stretching the painful side only aggravates the sciatic nerve. By stretching the painful side, you're stopping the nerve from settling down and can make matters worse.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, on the non-painful side only. Repeat four to five times on that side each morning.