Sciatica during pregnancy is a real pain in the bum – literally.
“The sciatic nerve runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, and all the way down both legs ending at your feet,” explains chartered physiotherapist Priya Dasoju. “Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain that is caused by irritation or compression of this nerve.”
But although lots of mums-to-be suffer with it, the condition isn’t actually caused by the baby pressing down on the sciatic nerve. That’s an old wives’ tale.
“Sciatica isn’t necessarily more likely to occur during pregnancy,” says Priya. “However, certain aspects of pregnancy can increase your risk of getting it.”
How will I know if I have sciatica?
Oh, you’ll know! The symptoms are pretty hard to ignore – shooting or burning pain in your lower back, in the back of your thighs or down your legs.
You may also get pins and needles or numbness in this area. The pain might be constant or come and go, and it can affect just one or both sides of your body.
Does pregnancy make it worse?
“While being pregnant doesn’t cause sciatica, a pre-existing back problem may be aggravated by increased pressure through the spine during pregnancy,” says Priya.
Natural changes to your posture can play a part too.
“As your baby grows it can cause an increase in the curvature of your spine, which causes more pressure on the surrounding joints,” says Priya.
“Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also cause ligaments which support the spine to become loose, which puts more pressure on the lower back.”
I’m in agony. How can I help myself?
Normally you could just pop a few pills to take the pain away, but you need to be careful about taking medications while pregnant, particularly ibuprofen. Instead, you should speak to your pharmacist or GP about taking an anti-inflammatory or painkiller.
Wearing flat shoes and taking warm baths can help, and you should avoiding heavy lifting.
Rest if your symptoms get worse, but don’t get too comfy on the sofa – as with any back pain, it’s important to stay mobile. Wearing a pregnancy support belt helps, as do those all important pelvic floor exercises.
“My doctor suggested I take paracetamol when I had sciatica,” says Caroline. “But the only thing to completely relieve the pain is to lay down for a minute or two.”
“A nice massage from your other half is nice,” says SpongeBobMummyPants. “I also saw a physiotherapist who said rolling up a towel and placing it in the curve of your back when you sit down really takes the pressure off – and it does. She also said to wear supportive shoes, so no flip flops.”
If you’ve tried all of these tricks and are still in discomfort, Priya advises you to speak to your GP or midwife and ask for a referral to a physiotherapist.
Will the pain go once baby is here?
“It depends,” says Priya. “It won’t disappear overnight but your symptoms may improve.”
Make sure you check your posture when you breastfeed – sit on a high and straight-backed chair, keeping both feet flat on the floor. Be careful when you lift your baby too, especially when you’re getting her in or out of the cot or car seat.
“I had sciatica when I was eight weeks pregnant,” says Saskia. “It was so painful I spent the whole pregnancy panicking about how I would cope once the baby was here. But it went away on its own about four days after the birth.
“I’m now pregnant with my second and I try to keep as mobile as possible and thankfully it hasn’t come back.”