Being pregnant should be a joyous time filled with many unforgettable experiences – like feeling the flutter of your baby moving around inside your tummy. And although aches and pains are to be expected while pregnant, experiencing persistent back pain may not have been what you had in mind when you first envisioned your pregnancy timeline.
If you are feeling a sharp bolt of pain that radiates down your lower back into your legs, it could be a condition known as lumbosacral radicular syndrome – or sciatica for short. Some expectant mothers experience such significant sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy that they can’t even walk. Thankfully, you can usually work through pregnancy-related sciatic nerve discomfort once you understand the underlying causes and take these steps.
What is Sciatic Nerve Pain?
The sciatic nerve is the largest one in the human body. It starts in the lower back, runs down the buttocks, and then branches down the back of the legs to the ankles and feet. This large nerve provides motor and sensory function to the back of the thigh, the lower part of the leg, and the foot.
In most cases, sciatica occurs when this nerve gets compressed by bulging, ruptured, or slipped discs. Sciatic nerve pain can also be caused by arthritis or spinal cord narrowing (spinal stenosis). In some instances, women experience sciatica as a short-term side effect of pregnancy during the latter months.
Causes of Sciatica During Pregnancy
As a female your sciatic nerve runs under your uterus to your legs. In the first trimester of pregnancy, sciatic nerve pain is rare, as most pregnant mothers who experience sciatic nerve pain present with symptoms during the second or third trimesters.
Possible causes of sciatica during pregnancy may include:
- As you experience weight gain and increased fluid retention, excess pressure placed on the sciatic nerve where it passes through the pelvis compresses the nerve tissue.
- As your uterus expands, it can also press down on the sciatic nerve in the lower region of your spine.
- Your growing belly and breasts will shift your center of gravity forward, stretching the dip just above your buttocks (lordotic curve). These changes can cause muscles in your buttocks and pelvic area to tighten up and pinch the sciatic nerve.
- Your baby’s head could rest directly on the nerve once they start to settle into the proper birth position during the third trimester.
- A herniated or slipped disc created by the added pressure of your expanding uterus can cause sciatica, although this phenomenon is rare.
Symptoms of Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy
If you do experience it, sciatica will most likely occur during the second or third trimester when both you and your baby are putting on weight more rapidly. Most women experience sciatic nerve pain only on one side, although you may feel discomfort in both legs. Symptoms of sciatica while pregnant may include a sharp, shooting pain that radiates into your posterior and legs or pain that feels deep and dull.
Sciatica symptoms range from mild to severe and can also be constant or intermittent depending on the amount of pressure placed on the nerve. Sciatic nerve pain tends to increase as you put on more weight and retain more fluid during the third trimester. The resulting discomfort can stick around for a few months or even longer after you’ve given birth and then gradually start to subside as you shed excess pounds and retained fluid that had been pressing on the nerve.
How to Find Sciatica Relief While Pregnant
If this is your first baby, it’s important to know how to get rid of sciatic nerve pain while pregnant if it does rear its ugly head. Thankfully, you can find sciatica relief by practicing these self-care tips:
- Apply a warm compress on the spot where you feel pain.
- When you can, give your feet a break while resting in a comfortable position.
- Sleep on the side of your body that’s pain-free. Use comfortable pillows to support your body weight.
- Get a massage.
- Maintain good posture while sitting or walking.
- For added comfort at night, use a firm mattress with extra back support.
- Try to avoid sitting for extended periods of time.
- Try to gain pregnancy weight steadily, as a significant jump in pounds could put excess pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Wear maternity support garments (for example, a pelvic girdle).
- Start a customized physical therapy regimen under your doctor’s supervision.
- If the pain is severe, tell your doctor about it.
How to Prevent Sciatica During Pregnancy
In addition to gaining weight at a steady pace and getting plenty of rest, the best way to prevent sciatica nerve pain while pregnant is to stay fit and build your core and lumbar muscles. Some of the best moderate, pregnancy-safe exercises you can do are:
- Low-intensity aerobics
- Pelvic tilt Kegel exercises
- Light stretching
- Swimming or water aerobics
When to Call Your Doctor
Mild sciatica will go away with time and typically resolves itself after childbirth. However, you should call your doctor when self-care and home remedy measures fail to alleviate symptoms or whenever the pain gets worse, becomes severe, or lasts more than a week.
Seek immediate medical attention for sudden severe pain in your lower back or leg that’s accompanied by muscle weakness of the leg or if you have problems controlling your bowels or bladder. These might be signs of a condition called cauda equina syndrome, which is a medical emergency that usually requires surgical intervention.
How the Spine Center Can Help
At The Spine Center, we’re dedicated to providing you with high-quality, personalized back and neck care. We strive to offer efficient and professional services to our patients, delivered with integrity and honesty in a cohesive, family-like environment. We have a strong commitment to excellence in diagnosis and treatment of spinal injuries and conditions spanning all age groups.
As fellowship-trained physicians with over 50 years of experience treating spinal conditions, we offer patient recommendations for treatment, including conservative care, non-operative treatment, and sophisticated, customized surgical solutions. Our physicians serve as innovators in technology, actively participate in national and international research studies, and are at the forefront of medical knowledge. If you or a loved one suffer from back or neck pain, call The Spine Center today at (847) 628-8147 to schedule a consultation.