Pregnancy is often a season of firsts – the first time you feel your baby flutter inside of you. The first time you feel your baby kick. The first time you feel those precious baby hiccups. There are many firsts pregnant women know to expect, but some, like sciatica, are unpleasant – and often unplanned.
What is sciatica?
Most pregnant women logically know that some back pain is to be expected during pregnancy – after all, you’re gaining weight, and your body is adjusting to it. But sciatica goes just beyond average back pain and escalates to a sharp, shooting, or burning pain, tingling, or numbness that starts in the back or the buttocks and radiates all the way down the backs of your legs. It may be difficult to walk, stand, or sit; the sudden jolt of pain has been compared to an electric shock. It can worsen when coughing or sneezing and can even lead to poor bladder control.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and starts in the lower back, runs down the buttocks, and then down the back of the legs to the ankles and the feet. Sciatica happens when the sciatic nerve gets compressed by bulging, slipped, or ruptured discs, arthritis, or a narrowing of the spinal cord and, in some cases, it is a short-term side effect of pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. It can be constant or intermittent, and it might even stick around after birth for a few months as your body readjusts.
What causes sciatica during pregnancy?
- Weight gain and increased fluid retention can put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Your expanding uterus might also press down on the sciatic nerve. Also, the pressure from your growing uterus can cause a herniated or slipped disc – although this is less common.
- As your belly and breasts grow, they shift your center of gravity forward and stretch your lordotic curve – identified as “the dip just above your backside” – which can cause the muscles in your buttocks and pelvic area to tighten up and pinch the sciatic nerve.
- Your baby’s head can rest directly on the sciatic nerve as he or she begins to settle into proper birth position in the third trimester.
What are some tips and treatments you can do to help relieve sciatica?
- Sleeping on the side of your body that’s pain free and using a firm mattress with plenty of back support. Put your useful pregnancy pillow between your legs to help keep the pelvis in better alignment and help take pressure off the sciatic nerve.
- Striking a balance between taking a break off of your feet when you can, but also not sitting for long stretches of time.
- Using a warm compress on the spot where you feel the pain. Try a hot shower too.
- Exercising, like swimming, prenatal yoga, or doing pelvic tilts with your Kegel exercises.
- Experimenting with acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, or a therapeutic prenatal massage. To give yourself an at home massage early in your pregnancy, lay on your back with a tennis ball under your lower back to roll out some of the tension. As you get deeper into your pregnancy, switch to doing this while sitting against the back of a chair.
- Try to gain weight at a steady pace – roughly between three to four pounds in the first trimester, up to 14 more pounds in the second trimester, and around 10 more pounds in the third trimester, adding up to about 25 to 35 pounds of weight gain total.
- Purchase a pregnancy girdle, which some women depend on to help with sciatic nerve pain – it helps with posture and evenly distributing pregnancy weight.
- Talk to a Southlake Orthopaedics Rehabilitation Specialist about different stretches you can do to relieve tension on the sciatic nerve.
- Know you’re not alone – between 50 and 80 percent of women experience back pain during pregnancy.
When to seek help
If your sciatica is severe, please reach out to your doctor. Always listen to your body and stop any activity that causes your sciatica to get worse. If you experience symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or bleeding, please seek medical help immediately.
At Southlake Orthopaedics, you can trust us to provide personalized and compassionate care for every patient, utilizing the most advanced medical technology available. We specialize in the field of orthopaedics, an area of medical practice that focuses on the musculoskeletal system which provides form, support, stability, and movement to your body. If your sciatica is severe, schedule an appointment by clicking here – we’re here to help you be pain free so you can enjoy this special time of firsts.