Sciatica During Pregnancy

A grouping of issues that commonly occur when there is either a compression or pressure put on the sciatic nerve is called sciatica. This ailment can manifest due to many reasons that range from injuries to herniated or dislocated disks in the spine.

Responsible for sending sensation to the thighs, sole and the lower part of your back, the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. Sciatica, which is also known as lumbosacral radicular syndrome can cause throbbing pain throughout the back of your legs and lower back.

What is Sciatica in Pregnancy?

Researchers estimate that fifty to eighty percent of women have lower back pain during pregnancy. Although lower back pain is a common occurrence, sciatica during pregnancy is not extremely common. The statistics show that less than five percent of pregnant women are actually diagnosed with sciatica. To be diagnosed with sciatica you must have some form of damage to the disk of your spine around the sciatic nerve causing swelling and compressing the nerve.

Lower back pain or pain in the thighs and feet is only considered sciatica if there is some form of damage caused to the sciatic nerve. It is important to note that the first step towards overcoming the challenges of sciatica during pregnancy is correctly getting diagnosed. Unless the sciatic nerve is identified as the cause of the pain the ailment is not considered sciatica.
This is the reason it is important to understand sciatica through its symptoms.

Symptoms of Sciatica During Pregnancy

Identifying symptoms of sciatica is the first step towards managing and treating this condition. Although the symptoms may vary in intensity, they do not change. Here are some of the most common symptoms of sciatica to look out for.

  1. The most common symptom of sciatica is a throbbing pain in the lower lumbar area, this extends down to the back of the thighs and the soles of the feet.
  2. A burning and stabbing pain that can be present on either one side of the body or both and comes in intervals.
  3. Minor cramping along the muscles of the buttocks and back.
  4. Minor spasms along the lower back.
  5. On occasions, some pain in and around the groin region.
  6. Numbness in the leg and foot that is caused by prolonged periods of tingling along the same regions.
  7. An extremely irregular curvature of the lower back.
  8. Extreme weakness due to pain along the sciatic nerve path.
  9. Difficulty in walking, sitting and standing.

Disclaimer: Most of the mentioned symptoms can be symptoms of other conditions as well. Please consult a doctor for a more accurate diagnosis for sciatica.

Causes of Sciatica Pain in Pregnant Women

It is important to remember that there is no reason to panic when diagnosed with sciatica. If the symptoms match then it is vital to understand what the causes of sciatica are. Commonly sciatica during pregnancy occurs around the second or the third trimesters. There are numerous reasons why you could develop sciatica during pregnancy. We have listed a few below.

  • Piriformis syndrome – This is a condition caused when there is a problem in a muscle in the buttocks. It can be a common cause of sciatica in pregnant women
  • Muscle tension – When there is heavy tension in the muscles during pregnancy you can face sciatic like symptoms.
  • Unstable joints – The instability in joints can also manifest symptoms that are sciatic like.
  • Pelvic bone pain – With the added pressure placed on the pelvic region during pregnancy, especially in the later stages of pregnancies, sciatic symptoms can manifest. This is especially common during pregnancies due to a hormone called relaxin, this hormone can cause ligaments to stretch and loosen throughout your body but does so especially in the pelvic area.
  • Baby’s weight – Your baby’s weight can add to the symptoms and causes of sciatica. This is due to the pressure the baby adds on the sciatic nerve directly, as well as on the pelvic bone and hip joint.

Disclaimer: This is an extremely rare circumstance. Most women with sciatica do not face an issue with the infants’ growth spurts. On the rarest of circumstances, the infant’s growth can cause bulging of the spinal disk which puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.

  • Problems along the sacroiliac joint- This is also a known cause for sciatica amongst pregnant women.
  • Increased fluid retention – It is common for women to retain excess fluid during their pregnancy. This can at times put pressure on an exposed sciatic nerve that runs through the pelvis. The pelvic region may act as an access path to sciatic nerve compressions in this case.
  • Growing uterus adding pressure – If the growth of the uterus is abnormally high it can put excessive pressure on the spine leading to the disk herniating. This means the spinal disk dislodges and allows the spinal gel to leak out. This can put a lot of pressure on the sciatic nerve causing it to compress.
  • Change in the center of gravity – The development of a woman’s belly and breasts can alter their center of gravity. This in turn leads to the tensing of muscles around the region like the hamstrings and quadriceps as well as muscles in the pelvic and buttocks regions. Additionally, this can cause an abnormal curvature of the Lordotic curve – the arch right above the dip of the buttocks leading to a lot of pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Diabetes during pregnancy- This can lead to sciatica in rare cases
  • The baby’s positional shift– During the third trimester the baby shifts into a birthing position. This means the baby’s body is positioned in a manner where the head rests close to the sciatic nerve, in some cases the head rests upon the nerve leading to sciatica.
  • Tumors and Abscesses– During pregnancy identifying a tumor or an abscess in the regions of the sciatic nerve with the addition of the baby’s weight can add immense pressure on the nerve.
  • Excessive bleeding– Always a risk during pregnancy, excessive bleeding can be a root cause of sciatica.

Knowing the causes and symptoms of sciatica will help identify and start a routine towards managing the condition, it is also critical to know who is susceptible to sciatica during pregnancy

Women Who are at Risk of Getting Sciatica

Since sciatica is not extremely common among pregnant women, it is an important aspect of fighting this condition to understand who is at risk of getting sciatica and why.

  • Being overweight– Being overweight before pregnancy and during pregnancy can lead to a huge amount of pressure being put on the disk and spine, this can cause the disk to herniate and swell. This swelling can lead to a compression of the sciatic nerve. It is important to maintain weight standards recommended by doctors to avoid this from happening. Consult doctors during the pregnancy period and follow their weight recommendations.

Disclaimer: Self-diagnosing and over compensating by losing excessive weight should be avoided at all costs, this can deprive the baby of essential nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy. It is important to stick to weight guidelines, being underweight during pregnancy can lead to dangerous outcomes for both the mother and baby. Rapid reduction of weight and an imbalance diet can cause blood sugar and blood pressure problems.

  • Pre-existing lower back issues– Having a pre-existing lower back issue can increase the chances of getting sciatica. This is due to the lack of stability along the lower back and the increase of pressure along the pelvic region during the pregnancy. It is important to keep in contact with your attending physicians and get accurate reports during this time to help quickly identify sciatica. When a pre-existing condition already exists in the region of the lower back it can also make the sciatic nerve sensitive and the added pressure on the nerve during pregnancy can cause sciatica.
  • Tobacco– It is believed that there are links to consumption of tobacco and sciatica during pregnancy, it is recommended that pregnant women venture away from tobacco due to its ability to interfere with the pregnancy cycle.
  • Osteoporosis– This condition is known to have adverse effects on the sciatic nerve, and during pregnancy may cause sciatica.

Can Pregnancy Cause Sciatica?

Sciatica is not limited to pregnancy but can be found in women who are pregnant, this brings us to the important question: Can sciatica be caused due to pregnancy?

The fact is that pregnancy is not a primary cause for sciatica and while pregnancy can add to a condition or add to other factors that lead to sciatica, it cannot cause sciatica by itself. Pregnancy in most circumstances does not put intolerable amounts of pressure on the sciatic nerve nor does it directly cause any bulging or damage to the disk surrounding the nerve.
Pregnancy cannot damage tissue surrounding the nerve directly even if the baby grows in an abnormal manner.

It is important to note, that pain relief for sciatica during pregnancy is a different routine than sciatica pain relief techniques when not pregnant. Sciatica is not preventable as such but most specialists recommend that mothers-to-be follow a regime where:

  • A healthy and balanced diet with sustainable nutrition is maintained so that the baby gets the proper nourishment while the mother keeps her energy levels up and stays well-nourished, ensuring a safe delivery.
  • Over eating during the first trimester is avoided so that the body doesn’t put too much unnecessary pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • A safe and fluid exercise routine is followed so that the muscles do not tense up.

Treatment for Sciatica During Pregnancy

Unfortunately, there is no complete cure for sciatica when pregnant. During normal circumstances doctors could recommend various methods of treatment that include pain medication and if serious enough then surgery. These techniques can be risky for pregnant women. There are, however, alternative techniques for pain relief for sciatica during pregnancy. These include the following:

  • Visit a musculoskeletal specialist who specialises in woman’s health and in pregnancy related skeletal conditions like sciatica.
  • Attend mild physical therapy sessions with a physiotherapist who has an expertise in pregnancy care.
  • Visit a chiropractor to help correct posture related issues.

  • Get pre-natal massages from experts in sciatica during pregnancy, these massages not only help alleviate the pain by boosting blood circulation throughout the body, it will also improve the quality and quantity of sleep you get.
  • Acupuncture is known to help in some cases.

Disclaimer

It is recommended you see a specialist after consulting your doctor, Chinese medicine and acupuncture are not known to be sure fire treatments for sciatica during pregnancy.

  • Doctors may prescribe mild pain medication in the form of paracetamol or ibuprofen if the pain becomes unbearable. They may also suggest osteopathy in some cases. It is highly recommended that you follow the instructions of a specialist before combining two or more types of treatments. All treatments help alleviate pain and manage the condition but none are complete cures during pregnancy.

Managing Sciatica When Pregnant

The treatment for sciatica pain relief during pregnancy varies from the treatment of those who aren’t pregnant. It is important to remember the limitations of physical movement for those who are pregnant. Another point of consideration is the condition of a woman’s body when she is pregnant. There are immense hormonal and physiological changes that take place during a pregnancy. Keeping in mind these changes and the required precautions for both the baby and the mother is vital to any routine while treating sciatica.

It is also important to remember that sciatica is a temporary inconvenience and that you should not panic when diagnosed. Sciatica is not a lifelong condition with fatal consequences. If the pain is manageable, then a visit to the doctor can be avoided, treating the symptoms of sciatica can also alleviate a major portion of the discomfort. This can be done through over the counter pain medication or through other home remedies. Here are a few ways to help manage and treat sciatica at home:

  • Alternate between a heat pack and an ice pack over the regions with pain, this will help relax muscles and increase blood flow in those areas.

Disclaimer: Do not leave a heat pack on for too long as raising the body temperature too high can prove dangerous for the baby.

  • Lift with your legs, and be extremely careful when lifting heavy weights. Make sure the weigh is distributed off the back as much as possible. Avoid lifting heavy weights completely if possible.
  • Maintain good posture, so that your body weight can be evenly distributed throughout the muscles in your body. This will help ensure the sciatic nerve regions have no extra pressure placed on them.
  • Remain active, and stay moving. Remember to stay within your capabilities, but exercise and remain active, this will ensure good blood circulation which helps manage the pain.

Disclaimer: Some pain is expected during activities, it is recommended you consult a physician before and during any activity cycle. If the pain is unnatural or unbearable visit the closest hospital or physician for help.

  • Use the proper type of mattress when sleeping. A soft mattress can aggravate the pain, while a firm mattress can alleviate it. Go with how you feel on each mattress.
  • Arch your back while standing, if it begins to hurt standing straight. This is your body telling you the muscles around the nerve cannot take the pressure, try balancing that out by distributing as much weight as you can to other muscle groups.
  • Use pregnancy pillows between your legs when sleeping, as this will support the pelvic region.
  • Use the correct kind of support, whether standing or sitting down. Try sitting on comfortable cushions, and raise your legs above your waist to ensure better circulation.

Sciatica during pregnancy can be painful, find ways to support and relax muscles to alleviate as much pain as possible. Here are a few tips to help:

  • If the pain is isolated to one side, try balancing it out by putting more pressure on the other, sleep on the side with less pain, lean against a wall to lift the weight off the side that hurts.
  • Do not lie down for too long, take short walks, and take breaks in-between. This will not only ensure activity, but will also ease pressure off the sciatic nerve and improve blood flow.
  • Take breaks, and listen to your body. No matter the type of exercise remember to take a breather.
  • Sit down between any physically excruciating exercises.
  • If you spend long hours in front of a computer take a break and take a small walk. Sitting for too long can add to the pain.
  • Nap during the day.
  • Take short walks during long sessions of sitting down.
  • Wear comfortable footwear. Light and flexible footwear is the way to go, as they help alleviate pressure from the lower back and the sciatic nerve.
  • Consult a doctor about a healthy diet plan, as sudden weight gain can add pressure to the sciatic nerve, try working within the guidelines for weight your physician has provided.
  • Try moving in a fluid motion, as jerky and rigid movements can aggravate the pain by putting a lot of sudden pressure on an already weak sciatic nerve.

Disclaimer: If none of these techniques help, consult your physician immediately. Also, consult your doctor before attempting any type of treatment.

Exercises for Pregnant Women to Ease the Sciatica

We have already discussed the importance of staying active to combat sciatica, it is important to know what that means. When attempting exercises for sciatica in pregnancy cycles it is important to consider the condition of your body. When you are pregnant there are a lot of activities and exercises you cannot participate in for a number of reasons including the change in body condition during each trimester. Understanding this means recognising the change in approach towards exercise. Here are a few exercises for sciatica during pregnancy.

  • The piriformis stretch– This exercise works a muscle that is found deep inside the buttocks and close to the sciatic nerve. It requires no equipment and can be done while seated. Sit on a chair with your back straight, feet planted on the ground
    Lift your left leg off the ground, place the left ankle atop the right knee. Keeping your back straight bend forward as far as you can until you feel a stretch in your buttocks
    Hold the pose for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat multiple times through the day
  • The table stretch– This is an extremely active stretch, it works to alleviate the muscular tenseness in the entire lumbar region. It stretches the entire back, thighs, calves and feet. This requires no equipment but must be done standing up. Stand straight with your legs in line with your hips. With your back flat, lean towards a table. Keep your arms straight, maintain a straight and flat back. Pull your hips in the opposite direction from the table till you feel a stretch in your lower back, thighs and calves. Maintain the position for 30 seconds. Repeat throughout the day

We recommend consulting a doctor and physical therapist before doing any exercises for sciatica during pregnancy. It is also advised that no exercises be done alone, having a partner is essential for safety purposes. Please follow guidelines provided by your physicians. If exercises become too difficult to execute at first, work with a physiotherapist during the initial stages and consult them physiotherapist at regular intervals. Do not attempt exercises that are not cleared by your primary care physician.

Disclaimer: Attempting any form of exercise without clearance can be dangerous to both the mother and baby. If the pain is excessive, stop all exercise immediately and visit your closest hospital or doctor.

FAQ’s

1. Will Sciatica Affect My Labour?

Sciatica will not affect the health of the baby. Women who suffer from sciatica maybe susceptible to severe pain during labour. Doctors can provide epidurals during the procedure to help ease this pain. Under normal circumstances, sciatica should not affect the overall health of both the baby and mother.

2. How Long Does Sciatica Last?

If the symptoms of sciatica are mild they usually can last between 4-8 weeks, this differs from person to person. Consulting a doctor is recommended for further information.

3. Does Sciatica Make It Difficult To Care For My Baby?

Depending on the course of action taken to manage the pain caused by sciatica, child care can be almost normal. Unfortunately, sciatica can impact certain types of activities involved with child care. It is recommended to take the guidance of a medical professional during this period. Long term child care should not be impacted by sciatica.

Conclusion: Sciatica can be a painful experience, and being informed is the first step to managing this disease. We hope this article helps you understand and manage this condition throughout your pregnancy and that you have a safe and healthy child with as little pain as possible.