Pregnancy can be filled with all sorts of new sensations – that moment when you first find out you’re pregnant, experiencing what it’s like to grow a new life, or the feeling of your baby kicking for the first time. Of course, along with these, come the less-pleasant sensations: nausea, heartburn, the discomfort of a changing body, joint pain, back pain, and for some, sciatic pain.
Sciatic pain differs from regular pregnancy back pain in that it is a distinctly sharp and shooting pain, tingling, or numbness that radiates all the way from the back down to the back of your legs. This can happen for multiple reasons during pregnancy, but in general, it is because of the body’s changing shape and the position of your baby.
While sciatic pain during pregnancy tends to be temporary, it can be intense, so it’s important to find ways to relieve this pain and know when to speak to your doctor.
What is Sciatic Pain?
Sciatic pain, also called “sciatica,” is a type of nerve pain that results from irritation, injury, or pressure on your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is actually a bundle of nerves that branch off from the spinal cord, running from the hip area on each side of the body, down each leg, to just below the knee. From there, the sciatic nerves split into other nerves that go as far down as the toes.
This means when you experience sciatic pain, you can feel it anywhere from your lower back, hips, or buttocks, and then down to your toes; however, most commonly, it is felt from the back down into the legs.
Sciatic pain tends to feel like burning, tingling, numbness, or an electric shock that radiates down the leg, (or less commonly, both legs. It can be triggered by some small movement like coughing, sneezing, or lifting the legs upward, and unfortunately, it can also be triggered by pregnancy.
Causes and Symptoms of Sciatic Pain during Pregnancy
There are several main causes of sciatic pain during pregnancy. These causes most commonly occur during the third trimester, which is when your baby and your body are at their biggest. This change in weight and body shape causes a shift in your body’s center of gravity. Some theorize this alone can cause sciatic pain.
At the same time, your body will be producing more of the hormone relaxin, which causes the ligaments in the body to loosen in preparation for labor. This, combined with your heavier weight, may increase the likelihood of pinching a nerve or slipping a disc, which would lead to sciatic pain.
The final reason behind sciatic pain during pregnancy may be your baby specifically. As your baby gets bigger, their weight and the weight of the uterus can press down onto the sciatic nerve, especially when the baby is positioned in certain ways. This pressure can lead to sciatic pain.
No matter the cause of sciatic pain during pregnancy, the symptoms tend to be the same: a tingling, a dull ache, a burning sensation, or shooting pain, usually occurring on one side of the body. It can start somewhere around the hip and go down through the leg or even into the sole of the foot. Sometimes the affected leg will feel weak or numb. These symptoms can range from intermittent to constant or from mild to severe.
Luckily for most people, these symptoms should naturally subside after a few months post-pregnancy. In the meantime, though, there are things you can do on your own to relieve sciatic pain.
Read More: A Guide on Sleeping While Pregnant
Tips for Relieving Sciatic Pain during Pregnancy
- Do some gentle stretching – Walnut Hill OBGYN recommends a few specific, gentle stretches to help relieve tension around the sciatic nerve: pigeon pose, bound angle pose, a wide child’s pose, and warrior two pose. These stretches should gently open up the hip and hip flexors, and relieve pressure on the lower back.
- Use hot and cold therapy – For the first seven days of sciatic pain, experts recommend that you use ice on the area to reduce inflammation. After that first week, you can start to use heat on the area to increase blood flow and relax the muscles.
- Take warm showers – Warm showers or baths can help relax the muscles and increase blood flow to the area.
- Get a massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic adjustment – All of these types of treatment can help relieve sciatic pain by working at the source of the issue. Just make sure you’re seeing a licensed professional who does prenatal work.
- See a physical therapist – If your sciatic pain is impacting your life or ability to sleep, you may want to make an appointment with a physical therapist. Physical therapists can guide you in specific exercises for your body and type of pain. Again, make sure you’re seeing a licensed professional who does prenatal work.
- Engage in low-impact exercise or prenatal yoga – Bedrest is actually one of the last things you should do when you have sciatic pain. Therefore, maintaining movement throughout your pregnancy will be important. However, both sciatica and late pregnancy demand a lower-impact workout, so focus on activities like walking, cycling, pilates, or prenatal yoga, which can help strengthen the core and lengthen the back muscles.
- Swim – Not only is swimming great exercise, but the buoyancy of the water can take some of the pressure off of the painful area, providing relief.
- Do some pelvic tilts – Lie down on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Lift your hips gently off of the floor, and then gently scoop your pelvis upward toward the ceiling. Hold this position for about five seconds, then return your hips to the floor. Repeat this process about 10 times. This should help strengthen your core and tighten your pelvic floor.
- Use supportive devices – Pregnancy pillows and belly bands can provide comfort and reduce pressure on the lower back. Pregnancy pillows are typically used for sleep but can also be used while sitting. Belly bands are usually used while standing or moving.
- Sleep on your side – Side sleeping is the most recommended sleeping position for pregnant people anyway, but if you’re also having sciatic pain, it should provide some good relief. Be sure you’re lying down on the side of your body that isn’t in pain. If you are experiencing sciatic pain, check out our list of best mattresses for sciatica pain.
Lifestyle Modifications for Sciatic Pain Relief
- Maintain a healthy pregnancy weight – The amount of weight that you should gain during pregnancy is completely dependent on your own unique body and body type, so be sure you talk to your doctor about this. The important thing is to try to gain within the range your doctor advises and to gain it at a steady pace. Getting plenty of exercise and eating a healthy diet will be essential in maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight.
- Avoid prolonged periods of standing or sitting – Sitting for long periods can cause a myriad of lower back issues, including sciatic pain1, and when carrying extra weight during pregnancy, standing still for long periods of time can be equally bothersome. If you need to stand for a long time, it may be helpful to lift one foot and rest it on a stool or something similar, to relieve some discomfort.
- Use proper body mechanics – Make sure you’re using proper body mechanics when moving from sitting to standing, or when lifting objects. In general, it is recommended that you stand with your feet apart to create a sturdy foundation. You should also bend at your knees rather than your low back or waist and keep your neck, back, hips, and feet aligned and facing forward when you move. When you lift something, be sure you’re lifting with the strength of your legs rather than your lower back, abs, or arms.
Final Word of Advice
To help manage sciatic pain during pregnancy, we recommend trying some combination of stretching, hot and cold therapy, massage, low-impact exercise, prenatal yoga, swimming, and sleeping on your side with a supportive pregnancy pillow. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re gaining the recommended amount of weight for your body during pregnancy as well as moving your body often and safely.
If you’re experiencing intense or consistent sciatic pain, be sure to see your doctor. They can help guide you to what will work best for your unique body, to get you feeling better, faster.
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- Bonati, Alfred O. “Tips on Relieving Sciatica after Childbirth”. Bonati Spine Institute. 2017.
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