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Sciatica during pregnancy

By Editorial Team (2)
January 31, 2022

Pregnancy can be a wonderful time in a person’s life especially if it is your first time, and there are sensations that you get to feel for the first time, such as the first movement or kick of a baby. This sensation is probably one of the most priceless feelings in the world. But there are also other less appealing sensations that can happen during pregnancy, and one of this is a certain feeling of back pain that just won’t go away.

More or less, having a constant back pain is not how most women imagine their pregnancy would feel. Although a few future mothers will most likely experience only a dull throbbing pain in the middle of the back that radiates to the buttocks and thighs occasionally, a few unlucky mothers will experience a searing pain in the back that is less than pleasant. This condition is known as sciatica during pregnancy and can be a painful bout to go through, but fortunately, it is only temporary.

What is Sciatica and why is it more likely to happen during pregnancy?

The sciatic nerve is known as the largest single nerve in the human body, and it runs from both sides of the lower spine, and runs all the way through the buttocks and into the back of your thighs, ending all the way down into your foot. The sciatic nerve serves a vital role in the connection of the spinal cord with the foot and leg muscle and is also responsible for feelings related to touch and pain, as well as the movements of the muscles in your legs.

Sciatica, also known as a lumbosacral radicular syndrome is a medical term for a group of symptoms that is due to the compression and irritation of the aforementioned sciatic nerve of the body. Sciatica during pregnancy can also happen when there is an inflammation or pressure from your back that can make the sciatic nerve pain. Other times, it can be caused by an injured or slippage of a disc in your spine.

Why is Sciatica Common in Pregnant Women?

Sciatica during pregnancy, as mentioned before, happens when a disc slips from your spinal cord or a disc ruptures that causes the gel inside to leak out, in which case it is known as a herniated disc. These phenomena happen when there is an additional pressure that is being carried by the sciatic nerves and the spine by the growing uterus of a pregnant woman.

However, a slipped disk and the pressure caused by the growing uterus is not the only cause of sciatica during pregnancy. This is because in the third trimester when the baby starts shifting into another position, there is additional pressure on the sciatic nerves caused by the baby’s position applying direct pressure.

Sciatica during pregnancy isn’t at all that common, but there are sciatica-like symptoms that are more common in pregnancy, specifically low-back pain that can lead to people concluding that the condition is sciatica. Approximately over 50-80 percent of women will experience back pain during pregnancy.

What are the Causes of Sciatica During Pregnancy?

Probably the main cause of sciatica during pregnancy is the additional pressure that is caused by the growing baby in your uterus. But most of the time, pregnancy doesn’t necessarily cause sciatica. What it does cause however is a searing pain in the back, which you can blame on various factors, some of which are:

  • Expanding Uterus – the uterus, during pregnancy is bound to increase in size to accommodate the growing baby that you are carrying. This expansion of your uterus, coupled with the baby’s weight will most likely expose your spine and sciatic nerve to constant pressure. This phenomenon will likely cause sciatica during pregnancy.
  • Weight gain – Pregnancy is sure to mean that you will put on weight to accommodate your baby. There will also be increased fluid retention, and this, along with your weight gain will put pressure on your pelvis where the sciatic nerve passes and will likely cause sciatica during pregnancy.
  • Growing Belly and Breasts – what happens when your belly and breasts grow during pregnancy is that the weight of your body will be shifted forward. This causes a stretch in the curve or dips just above your butt which is also known as the lordotic curve. This will most likely cause the muscles in your pelvic area and buttocks to tighten which may cause a pinching of the sciatic nerve.
  • A position of the Baby during pregnancy – as mentioned before, the baby will constantly shift positions during pregnancy, and the position it will shift to in the third trimester will most likely cause sciatica during pregnancy. This is because the position the baby will be in is that his/her head will rest directly on the nerve.

Sciatica Symptoms During Pregnancy and Diagnostic Procedures

What are the most common Sciatica symptoms during pregnancy?

The most common sciatica symptoms during pregnancy will vary indefinitely from one pregnant woman to the other, but more or less, they are the same. Some people may notice similarities between the signs and symptoms of sciatica to that of pelvic girdle pain, another symptom associated with pregnancy that causes pain in the front and central pelvis. However, the symptoms of sciatica may tend to be just a little bit more severe than that of pelvic girdle pain, and sciatica symptoms during pregnancy will most likely affect only one part of the body.

Some of the most common sciatica symptoms during pregnancy include:

  • Pain is perhaps the first and most immediate thing pregnant women will notice when it comes to sciatica. The pain in sciatica is described as either occasional or constant pain in one side of your buttocks, or in your legs. Pain can also be felt along the usual path of the sciatic nerve, namely from the lower back down to the buttocks, the backs of your thighs and all the way down to the foot. The pain will also sometimes be sharp, shooting, and even burning pain that comes and goes.
  • Tingling numbness – there will most often be a tingling numbness in the area affected by sciatica or in the path where the sciatic nerve is located. This sciatica symptom during pregnancy will feel like a patchy or widespread tingling that will sometimes gradually transform into a stabbing pain or a burning sensation.
  • Muscle cramps – muscle cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions of one or more muscles in your body. In the case of sciatica symptoms during pregnancy, the muscle cramps can be felt in your lower back, to your buttocks and even in the back of your thighs. 
  • Difficulty in using the legs – most actions that involve using the legs such as walking, standing up or sitting, will be difficult to do if you are experiencing the aforementioned sciatica symptoms during pregnancy. This is because there will be pain and numbness in your legs that may be triggered when you are standing up or walking.

Sciatica during pregnancy is usually painful and sometimes downright unbearable. And you may wonder with all these sciatica symptoms during pregnancy, how will your baby deal with it? Will your baby be affected by all of these sciatica symptoms? Fortunately for you, sciatica during pregnancy will not affect your baby at all, so you can rest assured that your baby will be fine throughout the ordeal.

How is Sciatica during Pregnancy Diagnosed?

With all these sciatica symptoms you will be feeling throughout the course of your pregnancy, you may think to yourself: What are the medical procedures that my physician will use to diagnose sciatica during pregnancy? It is important to know what the diagnostic procedures your doctor will use in case you want to find out if what you are experiencing is sciatica and not pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain.

Here are some of the diagnostic procedures your doctor will likely use in terms of sciatica during pregnancy:

1. Questions– Your doctor will likely ask you a bunch of questions first before doing anything and will examine your medical records as well as some basic exams. It is important for the doctor to do this so that he or she might be able to develop an ideal treatment plan for you. Some of the questions the doctor will ask are:

  • When exactly did the pain start?
  • Where are you specifically feeling pain? Is it isolated only in your lower back, or does the pain radiate all the way down to your buttocks, thighs, and feet?
  • Can you rate the pain that you are feeling on a scale of 1-10? 10 being the worst pain imaginable.
  • Is there a weakness or tingling in your legs?
  • Did you do any physically strenuous activity as of present?
  • It is important that you answer these questions as honestly as possible and as best as you can so that the doctor can prescribe you an effective treatment.

2. Physical Exam–  a physical exam may then ensue, in which the doctor will test for your range of motion, physical condition, as well as your posture or any actions that will cause you pain.

3. Neurological Exam– Sometimes a neurological exam will be prescribed by your doctor, in which the doctor will test for reflexes, and your general muscle strength.

4. Imaging tests– the doctor may also subject you to various imaging tests to get a better view of the condition of your spine, as well as to examine the condition of your sciatic nerves. Some of these tests include x-ray, CT scan, and MRI. 

Sciatica during Pregnancy: Treatment and Pain Relief and Management

What are some of the most common sciatica during pregnancy treatments available for you?

The best course of action as far as sciatica during pregnancy treatment is concerned is to approach your general physician and ask him or her to recommend you to a physiotherapist, probably someone who specializes or has worked on a lot of cases involving pregnant women before.

Physiotherapy and exercises for Pain Relief and Management

When consulting a physiotherapist, he/she will show you a bunch of exercises that will strengthen your pelvic floor, as well as your tummy muscles and lower back muscles. A physiotherapist will also show you a few ways you can do to relieve the sciatica pain you are experiencing through improving your posture.

A physiotherapist may subject you to repeated consultations while you are still pregnant, or she may visit your home so that she can keep an eye on you throughout your pregnancy, to ensure you experience as less sciatica pain as possible.

Physiotherapy is a proven sciatica during pregnancy treatment because in most cases of sciatica during pregnancy, about 50% of people that undergo physiotherapy feel better within 10 days to 2 weeks. About 75% then recover after four to twelve weeks.

A few exercises that you can do at home to help treat sciatica pain are exercises that help stretch the muscles of the hip, lower back, buttocks, and the legs. Some of these exercises that can help decrease the pressure on the sciatic nerve include:

1. Table stretch– this simple exercise can help stretch the muscles of the buttocks, your back and the back of your legs. It is simple enough to not put too much stress on the body of pregnant women and will only need a table.

  • Start by standing and facing the table, planting your feet wider than your hips.
  • Then, while keeping your arms straight on the table and your back flat, lean towards the table.
  • You should then pull your hips away from the table and moving it side to side in a circular stretching motion.

2. Seated Piriformis Stretch– this exercise helps stimulate the muscles deep in your buttocks and can effectively decrease sciatic pain.

  • This exercise is done by sitting on a chair and depending on the side affected by sciatica, place the right or left ankle on the other leg’s knee.
  • Then, while keeping your back straight, lean forward until you feel a stretch in your buttocks.

3. Hip Flexor Stretch – The hip flexors are stimulated in this exercise, which can help relieve pressure on your sciatic nerve. This exercise is done by:

  • Kneeling on the floor on your hands and knees.
  • Then, put one foot in front of you, keeping your hip and knee at a 90-degree angle
  • You should then shift your weight forward, so that you will feel a stretch in your hips, in front of your back hip and legs.

4. Pigeon Pose– the pigeon pose is a popular yoga exercise that can help effectively relieve sciatica during pregnancy. You can use a rolled up towel to do this exercise, or if you have a yoga-block, much better. This exercise is done by:

  • Putting your hands and knees on the floor like you are on all fours, and sliding your right or left knee forward until it is in your hands.
  • You can then slide your left leg back while keeping your foot on the floor
  • Then, place the rolled up towel or yoga block under the hip of the outstretched leg and then relax your body on your leg and the towel.

These are just some of the few exercises you can use to effectively manage and treat sciatica pain during pregnancy while in the comfort of your own home.

Anti-Inflammatory Medication and Painkillers

Your doctor may choose to prescribe you with painkillers such as acetaminophen or paracetamol for sciatica during pregnancy treatment. But an important tip before doing so is to consult your doctor or the local pharmacist on how much you should take and for what duration. Ibuprofen is not recommended for pregnant women, especially if they are in their third trimester.

Other Sciatica Pain Management Techniques During Pregnancy

There are other small steps you could take which might actually provide a big difference in terms of managing the pain you feel due to sciatica during pregnancy. Some of these tips for sciatica during pregnancy treatment are:

Having bed rest but not forgetting to do occasional light exercises

  • Swimming exercises
  • Wearing flat shoes
  • Practising proper posture
  • Keeping the back slightly arched as you stand or walk
  • Using a small pillow or cushion for the back when sitting.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects

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