Sciatica in pregnancy

Find out all you need to know about the symptoms and treatment of sciatica in pregnancy.
What is sciatica?

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. Running from your lower back all the way down to your feet it's the nerve primarily responsible for providing sensation and movement in your legs.

The term sciatica is used to describe any sensation of pain, discomfort or numbness in your lower back, legs or feet that is caused by the inflammation or compression of the sciatic nerve.

Most commonly sciatica is caused by a slipped disc, however, other back problems can also cause the condition by applying pressure to the nerve as it leaves the spine.

What are the symptoms of sciatica?

Generally, sciatica is only experienced as pain or discomfort in one leg either with, or without lower back pain. Common symptoms include:
  • Shooting pains down the back of the leg and buttock

  • Aching or pain in the lower back

  • Pins and needles in the leg and foot

  • Numbness in the leg and foot

While some who suffer with sciatica find themselves in excruciating pain, others experience it as occasional discomfort.

Why do you get sciatica in pregnancy?

Contrary to popular belief you're no more likely to develop sciatica during pregnancy than at any other time. In fact, the idea that your baby causes this often excruciating pain by weighing down on your sciatic nerve is simply a myth.

Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain is frequently misdiagnosed as sciatica during pregnancy and this is likely to gradually ease once your baby is born.

How long will it last?

As with any medical condition there's no 'one size fits all' description. However, most suffers find that it passes by itself within 6 weeks. If your sciatica symptoms are more severe, or if they persist for longer than 6 weeks you should visit your GP for further advice.

What can I do to relieve the symptoms?

It's generally recommended that you stay as active as possible while suffering from sciatica as this is said to help the condition ease. Your GP may also recommend that you practice gentle exercise such as walking and swimming, as well as pelvic floor and core strengthening exercises to help strengthen and support your lower back.

Many women find that wearing a support belt which fits around their back and under their bump helps to give their lower back the extra support it needs. Placing a pillow under your bump when lying down is also a good idea.

To alleviate more acute pain a heat pad or ice pack can also prove to be effective and while anti-inflammatory drugs are normally recommended, most are not suitable for consumption during pregnancy.

Avoiding heavy lifting and focusing on good posture when sitting and standing is also recommended.

How is sciatica treated?

If you suffer with a particularly severe or prolonged case of sciatica your doctor may recommend that you see a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor who have been specially trained in treating pregnant women. They may be able to re-align your spine so as to remove pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Only in the most extreme cases is a more invasive measure such as surgery ever needed.

Whether you have a question about sciatica in pregnancy or just fancy a chat, why not visit the AskBaby forums to meet other members.

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