I’d never heard of sciatica until I was pregnant. I started getting low back pain – which is perfectly normal in pregnancy – but it soon escalated to a burning sensation in one leg, followed by pins and needles. As I moved on with the pregnancy, this got worse and worse until I was referred to a physiotherapist to help identify and manage my pain. I found out that whilst it’s not that common, several percent of women have pressure on the sciatic nerve during pregnancy due to weight gain, a shifting center of gravity, hormone issues and core muscles being under pressure. I was told the main reason for sciatica in pregnancy isn’t the weight we’re carrying – but simply hormonal changes in the ligaments and joints of the pelvis, which in some cases can lead to sciatica.
If you have sciatica during pregnancy, trying to lose weight or eat less will not help and is something you should not do unless you’re being advised by a health professional. Instead, here’s my list of things that can help sciatica in pregnancy that I learned whilst experiencing the issue.
As with any advice, remember I am not a medical professional and you must talk to your midwife, doctor or physiotherapist.
Wear a Pelvic Girdle
Supporting the lower back by wearing a pelvic girdle (also called a support belt or maternity belt) is highly recommended during pregnancy for anyone suffering from back problems. You can buy these online, or in some situations the hospital may be able to provide you with one. These comfortably go around your lower back and cradle the bottom and top of your bump, supporting the extra weight and shape
Check your Shoes
Shoes can cause problems during pregnancy, especially shoes with heels. It might be worth replacing your every day heels (if you wear them) with a pair of flats for pregnancy, as heels put pressure on the lower back and change your posture, which in turn can cause havoc with sciatica. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and well-fitting so the time you spend on your feet isn’t damaging your back.
Even though it seems like walking is making it worse, walking is actually helping your muscles which in turn can help with lower back problems. Don’t push your limits too hard and have a chat with a physiotherapist if walking is causing problems. Some women can even end up needing walking aids or even a wheelchair towards the end of the pregnancy with severe sciatica. I could walk for about 10-15 minutes before I would get shooting pins and needles all the way down my right leg. I was encouraged to walk until that point and then make sure I had somewhere to sit and rest up – so little and often can be key.
Swimming and any aquatic exercise are incredibly low impact whilst relaxing and working the muscles so can really help with sciatica as it can strengthen the lower back and help muscles relax without putting any pressure on your spinal nerves at all. You could also look for aquatic antenatal classes which are often offered and can help show you water exercises that will strength your core and help during birth as well as beforehand.
Not all stretches will be easy to do as you get further along in your pregnancy, but here is a video that I found helpful whilst pregnant, which mimicked the exercises that I was given by a physiotherapist.
If you ask your midwife for a referral to a physiotherapist they will get you in to the local hospital and it’s worth doing in my opinion as it really helps to have a demonstration, and for the physiotherapist to give you any new ideas or adjustments to stretches and exercises that will help you specific body shape at the time.
Pregnancy yoga is a thing! If you can’t find a class new you or just want to do it at home then grab a mat and try this video.
10 minutes of yoga a day could really help strengthen the core and also help us relax, something that I definitely needed when pregnant.
Check your posture
As our body changes shape we can start to sit or stand in different positions. It can be entirely subconscious, adjusting to both what’s comfortable and to a shifting center of gravity. Even early on in the second trimester you might find your posture has changed and as the months go by, this can have a knock on effect to your core and back. If you’re on your feet all day at work or if you’re sitting at a desk all day this could really impact you.
Make Adjustments at Work
Ultimately if you have sciatica pain you may need to make early adjustments at work. Have a chat to your boss about what can be done to make you more comfortable. Sometimes sciatica becomes so severe that you need to begin maternity leave early – I started mine two weeks earlier than I’d planned due to the amount of pain I was in.
I hope that this has given you some ideas for managing your sciatica pain during pregnancy. Let me know how you’re getting on in the comments.