Back pain is pretty common during pregnancy—you are, after all, carrying a lot of extra weight on the front of your body. Sciatica is one of the most severe types of back pain you can get, but there are several ways to ease the aches and pains that come with it. Stretches, gentle massage, and other remedies can help.
What is Sciatic Nerve Pain?
Sciatic nerve pain is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve; the nerve branches off of your spinal cord in your lower back and runs through your buttocks and down your legs. This very large nerve helps the lower part of your back, legs, and feet feel sensations like pressure, temperature—and yes, pain.
During pregnancy, sciatica can arise if your growing baby and expanding uterus put pressure on your sciatic nerve; pressure on this nerve can cause inflammation, irritation, and pain. You’ll know it’s sciatica if you’re experiencing shooting pains that start in your lower back, and radiate down your legs. Sciatica is most likely to occur later on in your pregnancy as your baby gets bigger; the extra weight puts pressure on the nerve.
Sometimes sciatica is caused by other conditions such as a slipped disk or a spasm of the piriformis muscle deep in your buttocks.
Symptoms of Sciatic Nerve Pain
The primary symptom, as mentioned above, is pain that starts in your lower back and radiates down your legs. Some other symptoms could point to sciatic nerve pain, though:
- Leg pain
- Poor bladder control
- Numbness, tingling, or pins and needles in your legs
- Burning sensation in your lower extremities
- Pain that worsens with coughing, moving, or sneezing
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should let your doctor know at your next appointment. They’ll be able to provide some safe ways to relieve your pain or some over-the-counter pain medicine. Until then, here are some great stretches you can try at home to ease the pain.
Stretches for Sciatic Nerve Pain
Light back stretching is a great way to relieve sciatic nerve pain. If you’re further along in your pregnancy, remember to avoid any stretches that involve lying on your back—this causes your uterus to press against a large vein that leads to your heart, which can make you feel lightheaded or weak.
Seated Piriformis Stretch
The piriformis muscle is deep in your glutes, and spasms in these muscles can lead to sciatica pain.
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground
- Lift your left leg, and place your left ankle on your right knee
- Lean forward slowly, keeping your back straight
- You’ll start to feel the stretch in your lower back and glutes
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
- Repeat with your right leg
This yoga pose is popular for a reason—it’s meant to be restful and restorative, as well as to give your back and thigh muscles a good stretch. Prenatal yoga in general is an excellent, low impact way for you to stay active, and relieve pain, while pregnant.
- Kneel on a soft surface, like carpet or a yoga mat
- Touch your big toes together and spread your knees apart to make room for your belly
- Keep your back straight, and rest your forehead on the floor
- Reach your arms out straight, past your head, while you inhale
- Sit back on your legs, bringing your bottom towards your heels, while you exhale
- Keep taking deep breaths, stretching your arms farther forward with each breath
- Walk your hands back slowly to return to a kneeling position
Standing Hamstring Stretch
This stretch will help you maintain flexibility in the muscle surrounding the sciatic nerve, which will reduce irritation.
- Stand upright with both feet on the ground
- Raise your left leg and place is on a stable object, like a bench, footstool, or chair
- Keep your leg straight and your toes pointed upward
- Gently bend forward until you feel the stretch in your hamstring
- Hold this position for 30 seconds
- Repeat with your right leg
Other Remedies for Sciatic Nerve Pain
A gentle massage over the lower section of your back can do a lot to help relieve inflammation and discomfort around your sciatic nerve. It’s best to go to a professional masseuse, who’s experienced in pregnancy-specific massages. A lot of spas even offer special mom-to-be massages to help relieve all of the aches and pains that come with pregnancy, while also making sure you and baby are safe.
You can also use a tennis ball to give yourself a massage at home. If you’re early on in your pregnancy, you can lay on your back with the tennis ball under your lower back to roll out the tension. As your pregnancy progresses, we recommend you do this while sitting against the back of a chair.
Make sure you avoid sitting for long periods—if you have a desk job get up and take a walk regularly. It’s also a good idea to use heat packs on your lower back or buttocks while you’re sitting, to help keep tension from forming in those muscles. Being mindful of your posture while sitting will also help reduce irritation around your sciatic nerve. Taking a warm bath, using over-the-counter pain relievers, or using a foam roller on your buttocks and lower legs are all great ways to ease the pain.
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