When you’re pregnant, you may experience a range of discomforts because of the additional weight that your growing uterus puts on your back and legs. Some women complain of sciatic nerve pain in their legs during pregnancy, which can range from uncomfortable to extremely painful. What exactly is sciatic pain, and how can you alleviate it?
Your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, providing stimulation and movement to the lower half of your body. The sciatic nerve runs under your uterus to your legs. So it’s easy to see why, when your uterus has grown many times its normal size, it can start pressing on and causing discomfort to your sciatic nerve. Some women describe sciatic nerve pain as a sharp, shooting pain down the back of their legs.
Women who are prone to this type of pain include those who have had sciatic nerve pain problems before pregnancy, spend a lot of time on their feet, have gained excessive weight with their pregnancies, and/or are pregnant with multiples.
Most of the time the greatest relief you can have from this pain is to lie down on your side and take a load off your back and legs. When possible, lie down on the side opposite the pain – so for example, if you have pain shooting down your right leg, you should lie on your left side. However, that kind of relaxation is not always practical for moms whose job involves a lot of sitting or standing, or moms who are already chasing after little ones at home. If you must stand for a long time, try standing with one foot on the ground and the other foot lifted up and resting on a stool or box. And if you need to sit for a long time, use a donut pillow or a foam support to balance out your weight.
Other ways to relieve the pain include using warm compresses on your lower back or taking a warm bath. You could also wear a Belly Sling or other support system to help alleviate some of the pressure. And of course, even though it may be tempting to put on your favorite set of heels, you should always wear comfortable shoes, particularly if you are having lower back or leg pain.
Additionally, you can take more active measures as long as you have your doctor’s approval. Swimming is an outstanding exercise for pregnant women and has been known to help relieve sciatic nerve pain. Some women find that prenatal yoga gives them relief and helps them relax more as well. You may also find that a good massage from a licensed prenatal massage therapist can help soothe you and ease your pain. In cases of severe sciatic pain, your health insurance may pay for a physical therapist, who will help you with special exercises to strengthen your abdominal, lower back, and pelvic floor muscles.
With your doctor’s approval, you may also take acetaminophen to relieve the pain, but you only take the absolute minimum that you need, and you should not rely on it as your sole source of pain relief.
The good news is that sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy is usually temporary. It may run its course before you deliver, or it will almost certainly end after you deliver. If it continues beyond delivery, you should ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who can help you. New moms have enough on their minds already – they deserve every comfort they can get.