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When The Baby Gets On Your Nerves: Understanding Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy

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Pregnancy brings with it a myriad of discomforts, but one of the most painful can be inflammation of the sciatic nerve, or sciatica. Because the sciatic nerve is one of the largest and longest nerves in the body, the pain from this condition can be unbearable, especially because pregnant women are limited in the types of pain medication they can take. If you are suffering from sciatic nerve pain, there are some things you can do to help ease the discomfort.

What causes the pain?

Sciatica is classified as shooting or pulsing pain that goes from the lower back and down the back of the leg, following the path of the nerve itself. The pain comes because the nerve itself is compressed, inflamed, or irritated. During pregnancy, there can be many reason why this happens, including

  • the position of the baby. Sometimes, as baby flips to be head down or as the uterus grows, the baby places direct pressure on the lower back, compressing the very top of the nerve. The pain may continue until the baby moves. If you are only a few weeks from your due date, the pain may last until delivery, as it is is less likely that a baby will change position late in the third trimester.
  • a tight piriformis muscle. There is a tiny muscle in the butt that lies directly on top of the sciatic nerve. Sometimes, usually because this muscle is not actively worked most of the time, it can become very tight, which places direct pressure on the sciatic nerve. Pregnancy can cause a tight piriformis because the extra weight of the baby and the change in activity level can overwhelm the piriformis muscle and create tension. 
  • widening hips and uneven weight distribution. The lower back is put under intense strain during pregnancy, especially as muscles and ligaments in the pelvic area become looser due to the presence of relaxin. The pressure on the lower back can compress the sciatic nerve. 

What are some options for relief?

Because you don't have the option to use strong pain medicines, you will need to look for alternate sources to alleviate sciatica. Common treatments include

  • massage therapy. This method is especially effective for women who have sciatica due to a tight piriformis muscle. Loosening the muscles in the butt and lower back can be an effective way to prevent further inflammation of the nerve. Plan on more than one session with a massage therapist who has experience working with pregnant women. It will take a few sessions to keep the pain at bay.
  • staying active. Going out for a walk may be the last thing you feel like doing when you are in pain. But exercise helps to strengthen muscles that have been weakened, especially if you have a low activity level during pregnancy. One of the best exercises for sciatica is swimming, as it takes the weight off the nerve and allows blood to flow to the nerve and promote healing. 
  • stretching. Stretching can help to relieve sciatic pain that is caused by tight muscles. The pigeon yoga pose is one of the best stretches for this kind of pain. 
  • chiropractic adjustments. Sometimes, the relaxin hormone can cause the hips and lower back to become misaligned, pinching the sciatic nerve. You body will better bear the weight and movements of your baby if your back and hips are correctly positioned by a chiropractor, reducing inflammation overall. 
  • acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture directly treats nerves that are not functioning as they should. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of using acupuncture for your sciatica. 

You don't have to endure the pains that come with pregnancy. Talk to a massage therapist in your area, along with other alternative health professionals, for advice on how you can live pain-free as you wait for baby to arrive.