Pregnancy is exciting, knowing your baby is growing inside you at each moment. Even your growing body can be thrilling as your bump begins to show and your little one’s presence and movements become increasingly obvious. However, a side effect of your popping belly can be the emergence of new aches and pains. Sciatica during pregnancy can be one instance of these newfound pregnancy discomforts. Pregnancy can irritate the sciatic nerve, causing pain anywhere from the hip down the leg. If you are experiencing sciatica pain during pregnancy, you might wonder what it is, why it happens, and how to relieve it. We will examine symptoms and remedies that can provide immediate relief for sciatica pain during pregnancy, such as sciatica stretches.
Sciatica refers to pain along your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve originates in your low back, under your uterus, and runs down a leg to your foot. It assists in the movement and feeling of the lower limbs.1
When something compresses the root of the sciatic nerve in your lower back, this can cause inflammation or swelling, and pain along the entire nerve. This is called sciatica or sciatic nerve pain.1,2
Sciatica is typically one-sided pain that radiates down the leg to the foot or toes. An inflamed sciatic nerve can also cause low back pain, usually less severe than leg pain.2
Along with pain, you might experience numbness and tingling. One test for sciatica involves laying on your back and raising your leg up straight. If this worsens your pain, you might have sciatica.2
Anyone can get sciatic nerve pain, and sciatic pain not during pregnancy is often caused by a herniated disc in the back pinching the sciatic nerve root.3
Sciatica in pregnancy is particularly common for a different reason — as your baby and belly grow, your uterus can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing the same sensation of that radiating pain.1,3
The hormone relaxin also increases during pregnancy, allowing your pelvis to loosen and widen in preparation for birth. A side effect of this is a lower center of gravity, which can add to sciatic nerve pinching and pain during pregnancy.1,4
If you are looking for immediate relief from sciatica pain, you can try many sciatica stretches. While complete relief for sciatica pain in pregnancy may not be achieved until after delivery, these sciatica stretches may help. They target the lower back, hips, and thighs to loosen the muscles supporting the sciatic nerve. Some of these stretches also relieve the pressure your baby might put on your low back and sciatic nerve.5
Sit on a mat on the floor. Extend one leg straight behind you with the bottom of your foot facing up. Bring the other leg in front of you with your knee bent at a right angle. Place your hands on the floor to support yourself and gently lean forward until you can feel a stretch in the back of your hip. Repeat on the other side.
Sit on a mat on the floor or a low yoga block. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out wide. Lean slightly forward to stretch your low back and hips, groin, and thighs.
Kneel on the floor with your knees wider than your hips. Bring your toes together to touch behind you. Lower your torso, chest, and head to the ground, then reach your arms in front of you. This should release the pressure of your baby on your low back. Breathe into the release.
Sit upright in a chair. Rest your left foot on the floor and bring your right ankle to your left knee. Let your right knee fall out wide. Lean forward or gently press into your right knee. You should feel a stretch in your right hip. Repeat on the other side.
You can also do this stretch on the floor. Lie flat on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and keep your left foot flexed. Then, bring your right knee toward your chest. Reach your hands around your right thigh and pull your right knee toward your chest. Pause when you feel a stretch in your left glute muscle and hip. Hold it there for a few breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
Here are some other things you can try for immediate relief of sciatica pain in pregnancy.
Do a self-massage or enlist someone else to gently rub the muscles of your lower back, bottom, hips, and thighs. Loosening these muscles with massage can provide sciatica relief similar to the stretches above.5
Ice and Heat
You can apply an ice pack to your low back or rear hip area to reduce swelling and pain in the sciatic nerve. Use a barrier, such as a towel, between the ice pack and your skin.6
While ice reduces inflammation, heat brings blood flow to the area to promote healing. Never apply heat directly to the belly, and never fall asleep with a heating pad in place. You can alternate using ice and heat to relieve sciatica pain during pregnancy.6,7
While studies fail to demonstrate definitively that maintaining moderate physical activity helps with sciatica during pregnancy, staying active is still considered beneficial. Bed rest is not recommended for sciatic pain during pregnancy. After all, movement keeps your muscles strong and flexible, helping to support your spine and maintain your range of motion. Movement and light exercise also boost blood flow to the pain areas, speeding healing. Finally, the amount of pain you feel is lessened during movement.2,6
A pregnancy belt can help redistribute the weight of your pregnant belly and relieve some of the pressure on your sciatic nerve. This may help reduce sciatica during pregnancy.5
Acupuncture may be effective at helping to relieve sciatica. Talk to your obstetric care provider about this intervention, and if you pursue it, be sure to mention your pregnancy to your acupuncturist.8
A chiropractor may be able to manipulate your spine and decrease pressure on the low back. This may help relieve sciatica during pregnancy. Studies have not concluded that this treatment is effective, but if you find a chiropractor certified in the Webster technique for pregnancy, they may be able to help.9
If other remedies for immediate relief of sciatic pain during pregnancy are not enough, talk to your doctor about safe and effective pain medications during pregnancy. They may recommend Tylenol to provide you with some relief, but you should weigh the benefits and risks of any medicine during pregnancy.
Sciatica during pregnancy can be painful and debilitating. Fortunately, sciatica caused by pregnancy almost always resolves after delivery. In the meantime, stretches and other home remedies may provide some relief. As always, talk to your provider if you are concerned about any pregnancy symptoms you are experiencing.