Sciatic Nerve Problems and Pregnancy: What to Do

The body experiences a lot of physical changes during pregnancy. As your baby grows, your body has to adjust. Sometimes that leads to unfamiliar aches and pains. 

A common issue for pregnant women is sciatic nerve pain. Also called sciatica, or lumbar radiculopathy, it's described as a "radiating pain" that travels from the sciatic nerve, located in the lower spine, down the back of your thigh. The sciatic nerve is the largest in your body and the main nerve in the legs. 

Symptoms of Sciatic Nerve Pain

Aches and pains that result from sciatica range from mild to excruciating. You may notice a tingling sensation in one part of your body and pain in another area. Symptoms include: 

  • A burning sensation in the lower back and buttocks 
  • Pain that travels from your pelvis down the back of your leg 
  • A sudden jolt of pain that's often compared to an electric shock
  • Pain that worsens when you cough, sneeze, or sit for long periods of time
  • Numbness, muscle weakness, or tingling in one leg or foot

What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy?

Sciatica occurs when the spine is compressed in some way. It pinches the sciatic nerve, causing inflammation, numbness, and pain. Typically, it's a result of a herniated disk or an overgrowth of bone, called a bone spur, on your vertebrae. 

Pregnancy also causes a form of spinal compression that can affect the sciatic nerve. When you're pregnant, the body releases a hormone called relaxin. It's designed to relax your ligaments and prepare your pelvis for childbirth. However, loose ligaments and a growing uterus can shift your center of gravity and pinch the sciatic nerve, leading to shooting pains down your legs. 

Sciatic sensations may increase during your pregnancy. In fact, lower back pain and sciatic problems are quite common. Sciatica will often develop in the third trimester — though it can occur at any stage of your pregnancy. 

As your baby grows, the additional weight puts pressure on unstable joints and muscles. Sometimes, the baby's position may be the cause of sciatic nerve compression. 

This pain often comes and goes, but it can be constant for some women. While it may not be comfortable for mom, you can at least be relieved to know that, fortunately, this compression and pain doesn't harm the baby. 

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What to Do If You Have Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatica takes time to heal and requires rest. Discomfort is common, but severe pain is not. If the pain is excruciating, certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help. Talk to your doctor before you take any medication to ensure it won't harm your baby. 

Dealing with constant body aches can be exhausting, but there are some simple home remedies you can try to help ease the pain: 

Take a hot shower or use a heating pad. Heat relaxes tight muscles, which are often aggravated as a result of carrying around extra weight. Putting a cold pack on your lower back and rear pelvis can also help.

Keep moving. Rest is important, and it's tempting to curl up into a ball when your body hurts. However, gentle movement is often more helpful in the long run. Sometimes simply going for a walk can help. A prenatal yoga class is also a great way to soothe your muscles and mind. Try to limit too much bending or twisting, though. Low-impact activities like swimming may also be beneficial. 

But — pay attention to the pain. Listen to your body and take note of any activities that irritate your sciatic nerve. Avoid heavy lifting and take frequent breaks if your job requires you to stand for long periods of time.

Get a massage. There's some evidence that prenatal massage can reduce stress, improve blood circulation, and even regulate hormones.

See a physical therapist. Find a professional who can evaluate your condition and provide you with stretches and strength-building exercises to alleviate sciatic nerve pain. 

Sleep on your side. When you lie down, rest on the side of your body that doesn't hurt. This takes the pressure off the compressed nerve. Use a full body pillow to support your hips and legs. 

After pregnancy, keep up these habits if your sciatica persists. Some women will experience full relief from sciatic nerve pain after giving birth, while others may develop postpartum sciatica symptoms due to weakened back and abdominal muscles. Continue to build your strength through gentle physical activity while giving your body time to rest.  If your pain continues or increases during or after pregnancy, see your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 09, 2021

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Sciatica." 

American Pregnancy Association: "Prenatal Massage Therapy." 

American Pregnancy Association: "Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment."

Cleveland Clinic: "How to Handle Sciatica During Your Pregnancy." 

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Sciatica." 

Mayo Clinic: "Sciatica." 

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