Add sciatica to the list of common aches, pains and discomforts of pregnancy. As your center of gravity shifts and ligaments loosen in preparation for labor, you may experience the shooting lower back and leg pain of a pinched or stressed sciatic nerve. What a joy!
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A burning, radiating pain
Sciatica is a condition that feels like a shooting pain down your lower back and legs. It’s caused by a pinched or inflamed sciatic nerve, which runs the length of your lower back, down the leg and into your toes. The pain can range from mild to severe, but it often goes away with treatment. (And don’t worry, it usually goes away after pregnancy too!)
Most women experience some sort of back pain during their pregnancy (but we know that doesn’t make it any less frustrating right now).
It’s very common in pregnancy and often develops in the third trimester, but it can really occur anytime throughout the pregnancy, says ob/gyn Rebecca Starck, MD.
Pain grows as pregnancy advances
During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin increases, which helps prepare the pelvis for childbirth by relaxing the ligaments, says Dr. Starck. As ligaments loosen and the body’s center of gravity shifts, the sciatic nerve can shift and get pinched, which results in a shooting pain sensation down the buttocks and back of the legs.
Your baby’s weight can also put extra pressure on your sciatic nerve. And with the addition of new weight on already tense muscles and unstable joints, it can really cause some discomfort. Occasionally, the position of your baby might also add pressure to the nerve.
But take heart, although sciatica pain can be very uncomfortable for mom, it’s not harmful to the baby.
“As a result of the weight gain, there can be a lot more aches and pains. And sometimes in a second pregnancy, there are even earlier and more exaggerated symptoms than before,” Dr. Starck says.
Sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy usually comes and goes, but it can also be constant.
Remedies for relief
It’s important to listen to your body and discontinue any activities that agitate the sciatic nerve. Remember to talk to your doctor before you try any new treatments for sciatica. Discomfort during pregnancy is normal, but severe pain is not.
Dr. Starck suggests several approaches to ease the discomfort of sciatica during pregnancy:
- Take warm showers.
- Use a heating pad.
- Practice yoga.
- Try massage therapy.
- See a chiropractor.
- Take medicine for pain relief. Dr. Starck recommends Tylenol® to help relieve the pain and soreness.
- Go to physical therapy. Get an evaluation and learn stretches and strength exercises to help ease pain.
“Physical therapy can do a lot to relieve all sorts of pain during pregnancy,” says Dr. Starck. “The good news is that sciatica almost always goes away after pregnancy, so try not to stress to much about it now.”
And when it comes to sleeping during pregnancy with sciatica pain, Dr. Starck recommends using a full body pillow to support the pelvis and the lower extremities.