Shooting leg pain in pregnancy

Lower back ache and shooting leg pain in pregnancy is no fun, but what can you do about sciatica?

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Shooting pains in your legs during pregnancy (sciatica) – rather than dull aches, back pain or cramps – can be particularly unpleasant when you’re expecting.

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They differ from the dull ache of pregnancy back pain, and aren’t quite the same as pregnancy leg cramps, as mum White Sparkles says:

“I think baby is on a nerve as every time I get up, sit down or walk this awful pain shoots through my inner thigh.

“Has anyone had this? It had me in tears this morning as it happened 6 times in quick succession!

“Ouch! Any idea what I can do to stop it or at least make it less painful?”

What is sciatica?

Ahhh, poor White Sparkles isn’t the only one who knows this feeling – sciatica is fairly common in pregnancy (you can have it if you’re not pregnant, too) – but what’s going on? Dr Philippa Kaye explains:

“In sciatica the large sciatic nerve in the lower back is irritated and can lead to shooting or stabbing pains down the legs, or a more constant burning, gnawing deep type pain which may be from the lower back, down into the buttock and into the leg.

“You may also get pins and needles or numbness in the leg.”

It can feel like a shooting pain, as White Sparkles mentions, or like a nagging discomfort gnawing at your hip and leg area, that you wish you could shake off.

The main nerve going down into your leg is the sciatic nerve. Pain manifesting itself here might be caused by pressure on the nerve, or by tissue damage around the joint in this part of the body.

Th pressure put on your hips, lower back and your feet and legs as your bump grows, may cause you to adjust your posture when sitting, standing and/or lying, which can accumulatively stress parts of your lower body. This can bring about sciatica.

What can you do about sciatica in pregnancy?

Having a strong core and being fit and healthy before and during your pregnancy may help prevent sciatica starting, Dr Kaye advises.But if it does develop in pregnancy there are things you can do to ease it.

You can take paracetamol for the pain but should avoid ibuprofen during pregnancy.

If paracetamol isn’t enough to control the pain then see your doctor who will be able to prescribe painkillers which are safe in pregnancy.

Your GP or antenatal team may also be able to refer you for physiotherapy to give you exercises and stretches as well as some gentle massage or manipulation to help with the pain.

She also suggests having warm baths, positioning yourself on the sofa with cushions to support your back, using cushions at night to support you to lie on your side, – and wearing well fitting shoes (avoid high heels).”

If you are tossing and turning in bed, you might find that without realising it, you have been twisting your body. Read about getting comfortable in bed as sleeping in bad positions can really affect your long term posture health and comfort.

The good news here is that sciatica does tend to improve in the period after birth as your body returns to normal as the pregnancy hormones go away.

And if it doesn’t then please see your doctor for a referral for a physiotherapist.

If you’ve had sciatica for one pregnancy are you likely to have it for subsequent pregnancies?

Having pains in one pregnancy can mean it is more likely in another pregnancy but not necessarily, and doing any exercises given by the physio may stop it happening again.

Dr Philippa Kaye is a London GP who has written several books on pregnancy and childcare including The First Five Years. See www.drphilippakaye.com and follow her on twitter @drphilippakaye

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