Sciatica is a common problem during pregnancy although not all pregnant women will experience it. Many people believe that sciatica and pregnancy go together, but the fact is that a pregnant woman is no more likely to experience sciatica than the general population. The belief that the baby is pressing on the sciatic nerve actually has little scientific basis; back, pelvic and leg pain so often experienced during pregnancy is usually due to something else. Pelvic and back pain during pregnancy is frequently misdiagnosed as sciatica.
The severity of symptoms, and the length of time they last, are different for everyone and even varies between pregnancies for some women. The symptoms may come and go throughout the pregnancy or they may be present fairly consistently only during the last trimester. In most cases, sciatica symptoms disappear within the first few weeks after the birth of the baby. Whenever you experience these symptoms, you should consult your doctor.
The symptoms of sciatica in pregnancy are similar to the symptoms experienced by other sciatica sufferers. The pain is usually described as a sharp shooting pain that starts in the hip and travels down the back of the leg. Some people experience sciatica pain as a dull persistent ache, felt in the lower back or, more commonly, in the buttocks, usually only on one side.
Other sciatica symptoms include pins and needles in the feet and toes, numbness in the affected area, a burning sensation, sensitive or painful skin and loss of movement or pain on movement. In some cases, walking is impossible and trying to move at all is painful and difficult. Some women describe the pain as excruciating while others say it is uncomfortable.
The most common cause of sciatica in the general population is a herniated disc, with injury being the second most common cause. In pregnancy, the real reason for sciatica-like symptoms is not always clear. As the baby grows, your center of gravity changes and this affects your balance and how you hold your back and shoulders. This can place undue strain on the muscles and ligaments in your back, causing muscle tension or spasm.
If a nerve in the spine is constricted or impacted by this tension, pain or other symptoms will be felt anywhere along the nerve’s pathway. As the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, if this is the nerve affected, the symptoms may be felt anywhere from the lower back, hip, buttocks, back of the thigh and right down to the feet and toes.
Many of the common treatments for sciatica are not suitable for pregnant women as they involve medication. However, there are several self-help options available to you which are very effective at relieving sciatica symptoms. When the pain strikes, try applying ice or a cold compress which will have an almost immediate impact on the level of pain. After the pain has subsided a little, alternate heat packs with the cold compress for great relief of pain and muscle spasms. Rest while doing this get up and move around a little as soon as possible for the best results.
Some women find that moving about slowly helps to relieve the pain but only do this if it helps the pain; stop if the pain becomes worse. Others find that massage helps to release muscle tension which may be causing the pain; even a gentle back rub by a willing friend can help.
Exercises that strengthen the lower back are often recommended, including pelvic floor and core exercises. Sometimes it helps to lie on a firm surface, flat on your back with a rolled towel under your knees and lower back. Avoid lifting but remember to use your leg muscles, not your back, when you need to lift. When bending forward, also bend your knees to keep the strain off your lower back.
Maintain good posture when sitting, standing and walking to protect your back. Regular light exercise like walking or swimming throughout your pregnancy will help keep you fit and flexible, healthy and happy and will assist in maintaining strength in those all-important core muscles so that you don’t experience sciatica and pregnancy.