You’re in your last trimester, have lost sight of your toes, and simple tasks such as putting on your shoes have become a whole new challenge. The last thing you need is sciatica. While sciatica during pregnancy may not affect every woman, sciatica-like symptoms can be quite common throughout pregnancy, especially in the last trimester. Sciatica presents itself as pain affecting the lower back, hip and outer leg area. It is most commonly caused by a compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower spinal area. This can be from degeneration or pressure on the nerve, or a slipped or injured disc. While these injuries aren’t common during pregnancy, pre-existing conditions can cause the sciatic nerve to become inflamed and therefore cause pain and discomfort for an expecting mother.
Pregnant women are not more at risk of sciatica, but there are certain factors during pregnancy that may make the condition slightly worse than normal. Heavy lifting, bad posture and sitting for extended periods can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve, leading to swelling and inflammation in that area. While pregnant, the baby’s weight and position can also put extra pressure on the sciatic area, making it very uncomfortable for a heavily pregnant mom.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body releases a hormone called relaxin. This hormone is responsible for ‘relaxing’ the muscles and ligaments in the pelvic area in preparation of labour. Sometimes, this hormone can cause too much ‘relaxing’ and create lower back pain. This also adds pressure and discomfort to the sciatic nerve. Many women experience Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) during pregnancy. PGP has very similar symptoms to sciatica. However, this is usually caused by pregnancy-related conditions and doesn’t have anything to do with a damaged sciatic nerve.
The symptoms of sciatica vary slightly, but there are usually common symptoms that appear.
The symptoms can include:
- Pain down the buttocks and leg.
- Pain along the sciatic nerve path, down the buttocks, legs and all the way towards the foot.
- It can be a sharp, shooting pain that comes and goes, or it can be constant.
- Numbness or pins and needles may occur in the affected areas.
- Pain or discomfort while sitting, walking or standing.
Being pregnant, there aren’t many medical procedures or drugs that one can take. Therefore it is really handy to have some stretches, exercises and remedies at your disposal to practice in the comfort of your own home. While hard-core exercise isn’t recommended during pregnancy, certain stretches and light exercise can go a long way in soothing some pains and aches, and even fixing certain ailments.
Here are a few stretches that are easy enough to try at home, either daily or a few times a week.
Seated piriformis stretch
This stretch targets the deep buttocks muscle. If tight or inflamed, this piriformis muscle could inflame the sciatic nerve. By doing this stretch, you will decrease the irritation and feel less pain in the affected area.
- Sit upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Pick up the foot of the affected side and place it on the opposite knee (if your right side is affected, pick up your right foot and place it on your left knee).
- Keep your back straight and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your buttocks.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeat now and again throughout the day.
The table stretch works the back, buttocks and leg muscles. It is a great stretch to use to loosen all these muscles at once.
- Face a table with your feet on the floor a little wider than your hips.
- Place your hands on the table and lean forward. Keep your back flat and your arms straight.
- Move your hips away from the table until you feel the muscles in your lower back and legs stretch.
- If the stretch is not intense enough, you can gently sway your hips from side to side.
- Keep this stretch in position for 30 seconds and repeat a few times a day.
This is a very versatile yoga pose that can be altered for pregnant women. It is a very effective stretch to practice in order to relieve back pain.
- Get down on the floor on your hands and knees.
- Bring your right knee forward slowly until it is between your hands.
- Gently slide your left leg back while keeping your foot on the floor.
- Lean forward towards your right leg and slowly lower yourself towards the ground. If your belly is too big, you can place a rolled towel under your right hip for support.
- Hold this pose for a minute and switch to the other side. Practice this stretch a few times throughout the day.
Hip flexor stretch
This stretches these muscles along the front of the hip, which are responsible for leg movement. Tight hip flexor muscles can cause discomfort and pain during pregnancy.
- Get in a kneeling position on the floor.
- Place one foot in front of you for that your hip and knee is at a 90-degree angle.
- Slowly shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in your hip and leg.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Here is a very useful guide that can help you with your pregnancy stretches. This will help to relieve pain related to sciatica.
While stretches can really help alleviate some pain and discomfort during pregnancy, using hot and cold therapy can help lessen the effect of sciatica as well. Using hot and cold therapy, with a product such as the BodyICE Back and Hip pack, you can relieve the pain and swelling of the back, hip and buttocks muscles. Some women have found that alternating between heat and cold is the best way to relieve the swelling and pain, so having a product that can be both hot and cold is a great investment. You can practice hot and cold therapy while sitting on the couch, at work, or in bed. The back and hip pack is adjustable and straps on to your body, so it can even be worn while walking.
Hot and cold therapy is a very effective non-invasive pain relief, and if used in conjunction with light stretches, can drastically help improve comfort during pregnancy.
Practising safe exercise and using heat and cold therapy is the perfect way to lessen pain and discomfort during pregnancy, and is a healthy activity to be practised by the whole family. The therapy and stretches are even useful to practice post-childbirth and will help your body cope with the drastic change much better.
To learn more about how our BodyICE Back and Hip can help you manage sciatica, click here.