Sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy is a pain in the behind. Sciatica will most likely occur in the third trimester and typically it affects and shoots pain down one side only. While a lot of mothers-to-be experience some sort of dull, throbbing, or aching back pain during pregnancy, sciatica is sharp, shooting pain, tingling or numbness that extends from your back, butt, and radiates down the leg. This sensation I do not wish upon my worst enemy, especially while pregnant. If you want to hear a whole lot more about back pain during pregnancy, causes of sciatic nerve pain, and back pain relief listen to Pregnancy Pukeology Episode 31: Sciatica during Pregnancy.
Sciatica during Pregnancy
The most common cause for sciatica is that the nerve gets compressed by buldging, slipped, or ruptured discs, arthritis, or a narrowing of the spinal cord (medical term: spinal stenosis). Your sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, thru the sacrum, down your butt, into the back of the leg, and branches even to the ankle. Hence why you feel a zing or shooting pain whenever it is compressed. Sitting is not good for sciatic back pain, hence why I see a lot of back pain sufferers who are truck drivers, sitting desk workers, or other professions where sitting is their main job. Pain is sometimes associated with nausea or vomiting when not controlled, hence why you should always keep a NoMo Nausea Band (the same medical wristband that instantly stops upset stomach and is used in thousands of hospitals) in your car just in case your back pain acts up.
5 Sciatic Nerve Pain Pregnancy Reasons
Sciatica while pregnant can be caused from various reasons:
- Weight gain and increased fluid retention
Remember we said that pregnant women will increase their blood volume naturally by almost 1 Liter to compensate for the blood loss that occurs during delivery. This excess can put pressure on the sciatic nerve where it passes thru the pelvis causing a compression.
- Big uterus
As your tummy gets larger and the baby fills up your uterus, it can press down on the sciatic nerve in the lower part of the spine.
- Shift forward your center of gravity by your belly and boobs
As your front gets heavier your back/butt stretches out to compensate. The lordotic curve (lordosis think of L profile where the booty acts like a shelf…example Kim K) can cause your muscles in your butt and pelvic area to tighten up and pinch the sciatic nerve
- Your baby’s head
Their pretty little noggin can rest directly on the nerve when they get settled in the birthing canal. Head down is the proper position during the third trimester.
- Herniated or slipped disc
If you were a gymnast, cheerleader, or extreme skier like me, you probably have suffered a back injury in the past. A slipped disc is when one of your vertebrae slips and is out of alignment or a herniated disc when the jelly gets squished out of a doughnut. This can happen by the extra pressure of the growing uterus, but is less common versus prior injury that is aggravated by pregnancy.
10 Pregnancy Back Pain Relief Tips
- ICE ICE baby
When you feel the flare up initially make sure you are using ice on your lower back and on the butt cheek affected. Sciatica is an inflammatory process so anything that can help you reduce inflammation the better.
- Sleep on the side of your body that’s pain free. Make sure you have a large pillow in between your legs to keep your pelvis aligned
- Sciatica Exercises
Do some pelvic tilts with your kegel exercises to help strengthen your core. Remember exercise is like the bodies natural lube, so the more you move the less inflammation will stay. Swimming is great because it takes pressure off of your back and relieves the spine.
- See a chiropractor
Chiropractic adjustments or therapeutic prenatal massage (by a licensed practitioner) can give you customized physical therapy. If your hips are out of alignment
- Watch your weight
The ideal pregnancy weight gain is about 25 pounds for your pregnancy. I have an entire podcast episode 12: Pregnancy Weight Gain dedicated to how much weight everything accounts for and healthy snack options to keep you on track.
- Use a brace
- Foam roller over your hip flexors
- Heating pad or rubs to loosen your muscles
Icey hot, capsin, or cayenne derivatives in a rub or cream are great ways of helping ease the pain topically. Remember pain, temperature, and touch receptors are close to each other so they can help distract your brain from the pain.
- If the pain gets too severe please talk to your OBGYN or Midwife. Remember you can take Tylenol but that’s it.
- Stretch daily and try these 5 stretches
Sciatica Stretches for Pregnancy
- Piriformis muscle stretch. While seated cross one leg (the affected side) with your ankle bone touching your knee and press down on your bent knee. Some women may be more flexible and can lean forward too (just be careful).
- Table stretch. Lean forward on a table with your butt sticking out. Feet should be shoulder width apart and feel the stretch down your back, butt, and hamstrings.
- Pigeon Pose. Roll up a towel or use a foam roller and place under your affected butt cheek while the leg goes thru your arms and lowers down from an all 4 position to one leg forward and one leg back. You should look like a pigeon if your doing it right.
- Hip flexor stretch. On your knees, place one foot up like a runners stretch and really sit into your hip flexors. You will feel a stretch in your lower hip and upper quadriceps.
- Glute and hamstring foam rolling. Do the same piriformis stretch but on the ground with the foam roller underneath your butt.