As if general aches and pains weren’t enough, some pregnant women find themselves with an even more painful condition: sciatica during pregnancy. This condition occurs when the baby’s head presses against the mother’s sciatic nerve, which runs down the spine, into the pelvis and upper leg area. The symptoms are shooting pains or numbness in the lower back, sometimes radiating over the buttocks and down the thighs. The numbness can sometimes be paralyzing.
Sciatica during pregnancy can in theory, occur anytime during your term, but is most likely to appear during the second and third trimesters, when the baby’s head is largest and pressing down the most. Unfortunately, when the sciatic nerve is impacted the pain can be severe enough to be immobilizing. Because it is caused directly by the positioning of the baby, often not much can be done about it until the baby is born. The trouble is compounded because hormonal changes cause loosening in tendons and ligaments as the body is prepared for childbirth. This creates greater instability in the back and pelvic area, and a greater likelihood that pressure will be put on the nerve.
Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to prevent sciatica during pregnancy. What is known however, is that women who are healthy and in good physical condition are less likely to suffer from its most debilitating effects. This is because good muscle tone means they are better able to support the additional weight of pregnancy, and their range of motion tends to be better, even when the sciatic nerve is impacted.
Some cases of sciatica during pregnancy are severe enough that prescription medication is required, but most doctors prefer to treat pregnant women in other ways, if possible. For a bad case, bed rest is usually recommended, along with a course of deep tissue massage, and alternating hot and cold compresses on the affect area.
There are some healthy habits you can cultivate as well. Be mindful of your posture. The more you slouch, the more likely you are to put pressure on the nerve. Wear flat shoes, or keep the heel low so your weight is more evenly distributed. Sleep on a firm mattress, or even on the floor, with a pillow between your knees. When you get out of bed, first roll onto one side, and let your legs over the side first. This is when a lot of sciatic nerves are damaged, so be extra careful when getting up.
There are also exercises called “Williams Exercises” that have been specially formulated to combat sciatica during pregnancy. When done correctly, these exercises take pressure off the sciatic muscle and loosen spasms when they occur. Swimming, walking, and prenatal massage have also been shown to be helpful in treating this condition. Stretches are also helpful in keeping the muscles around the sciatic nerve from tightening up enough to cause harm.
Sciatica is an unpleasant and painful condition, but if you keep good posture, and perform the right exercises diligently, you just might be able to get it to pass you by.
You can find helpful information about sciatic nerves and everything you need to know about sciatica during pregnancy at Aha! Baby.