Relieving sciatica pain during pregnancy

Nicole Galan
by Valinda Riggins Nwadike
| Symptoms | Stretches | Gentle exercise | Massage | Other remedies | Medical
treatment | Diagnosis | Risk factors | Prevention | Outlook
Sciatica is one cause of back
pain during pregnancy. People can relieve the symptoms using stretches, gentle
massage, and other remedies.

Low back pain is one of the
most common complaints during pregnancy, affecting more than two-thirds of
Sciatica is pain that irritation
of the sciatic nerve causes. The main symptom is shooting pain that starts in
the low back and radiates down the leg.
Sciatica is one of the less
common causes of back pain during pregnancy. Sciatica is more likely to arise
during the later stages when the fetus is large.
In this article, we look at
the causes of sciatica during pregnancy, its symptoms, and ways to relieve this
nerve-related pain during pregnancy with stretches, massage, and other
Sciatica is a symptom of
another problem rather than a condition in itself.
The sciatic nerve is a large
nerve that branches off the spinal cord in the low back and runs through the
buttocks and down the legs. This nerve helps the lower part of the back, legs,
and feet to feel sensations, such as pressure, pain, and temperature.
During pregnancy, sciatica can
arise if the growing uterus and fetus put pressure on the sciatic nerve,
causing inflammation, irritation, and pain.
Less often, people may
experience sciatica because of a slipped disc in the spine. Also, a spasm of
the piriformis muscle deep in the buttocks can irritate the nerve and cause

The primary symptom of
sciatica is pain in the low back, buttocks, and legs. It can start in the low
back and radiate down into the legs.
Other symptoms doctors
associate with sciatica include:

  • leg pain
  • poor bladder control
  • numbness, tingling, or pins
    and needles in the legs
  • weakness of the low back or
  • burning sensation in the lower
  • pain that worsens with
    coughing, moving, or sneezing
Women experiencing these
symptoms during pregnancy should mention it at their next doctor’s appointment.
People can usually relieve the
pain they connect to sciatica with some simple home remedies. In most cases,
the pain will go away on its own within a few weeks.
Light stretches in the back
region are a great way to loosen up tight muscles and relieve pain from
The American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women avoid exercises that
involve lying on their back. This is because when in this position the uterus
presses against a large vein that leads to the heart.
Try these stretches each day
to relieve sciatica pain within a few weeks:
1. Seated piriformis stretch

The piriformis muscle is deep
in the glutes, or muscles of the buttocks. Spasms in these muscles can cause
sciatica pain. This stretch can help ease muscle tightness and reduce spasms.
To do the seated piriformis

  • Sit on a chair with feet flat
    on the ground.
  • Lift the left leg and place
    the foot on the opposite knee.
  • Lean forward slowly, keeping
    the back straight, until you feel a stretch in the low back and glutes.
  • Hold the stretch for 30
  • Repeat the move with the right
2. Child’s Pose

Child’s Pose is a popular yoga
position for people who are pregnant. This simple, restful pose will stretch
the muscles in the lower part of the back and can help ease hip and leg pain.
To do Child’s Pose:

  • Kneel on a soft surface or
    yoga mat.
  • Touch the big toes together and
    spread the knees apart to make room for the belly.
  • Sit with the back straight.
  • Inhaling, reach the arms above
    the head.
  • Exhaling, reach the arms
    forward and place the palms on the ground.
  • Sit back, bringing the bottom
    towards the heels.
  • Keep taking deep breaths,
    stretching the arms forward a little more with each breath, feeling the stretch
    in the low back and shoulders.
  • Walk the hands back slowly and
    return to a kneeling position.
3. Standing hamstring stretch

Stretching the hamstrings,
which are the large muscles along the backs of the thighs, can release tension
in the back, legs, and glutes. This stretch will help keep flexibility in the
muscles around the sciatic nerve.
To do the standing hamstring

  • Stand upright with both feet
    on the ground.
  • Raise the left leg and place
    it on a stable object, with the leg straight and the toes pointing towards the
  • Gently bend forward to stretch
    the hamstring muscle.
  • Hold the position for 30
  • Gently place the foot back on
    the floor.
  • Repeat the stretch with the
    right leg.
4. Kneeling lunges

Kneeling lunges work by
loosening the muscles in the hips. This can ease pressure on the nerves and the
muscles surrounding the hips, including the back and leg muscles.
To do the kneeling lunge:

  • Kneel on a soft surface or
    yoga mat.
  • Step the left foot in front so
    that the thigh is parallel with the ground.
  • Exhaling, shift your body
    weight forward to feel a stretch in the hip and the leg.
  • Hold the stetch for 30
  • Repeat the move with the right
Doing gentle exercises during
pregnancy can strengthen the abdominal and back muscles to reduce the risk of
further pregnancy-related back pain.
People with sciatica can speak
to a doctor before doing specific exercises to ensure they are safe.
Brisk walking, stationary
cycling, yoga, and swimming are good options. Swimming can be especially
beneficial for people who have pain in their lower back, as the buoyancy of the
water can relieve pressure on the joints and muscles.
Learn more about how to
exercise safely during pregnancy here.
Gentle massage over the lower
section of the back can help to relieve inflammation and discomfort around the
sciatic nerve. A person should ensure their massage only involves light strokes
and stops if it feels too strong or painful.
When finding a masseuse, it is
best to choose one who specializes in pregnancy massage or has experience in this
People can also try
self-massage at home using a tennis ball. In the early stages of pregnancy, try
lying on the floor with a tennis ball under the lower part of the back, and
rolling it gently around.
In the later stages of
pregnancy, lean back against a wall or chair support with the tennis ball
between your back and the wall.
In addition to massage and
stretching, there are other things that people can do at home to prevent or
manage sciatica during pregnancy, including:

  • Avoid sitting for long periods
    by standing up and walking periodically.
  • Use heat packs on the low back
    or buttocks.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Take over-the-counter pain
    relievers, such as acetaminophen.
  • Use a foam roller on the
    buttocks and lower legs. People can choose between foam roller brands online.
  • Keep good posture when
    sitting, especially at a computer. Try placing a support pillow at the back of
    the chair.
Medical treatment

If home remedies are not
improving pain associated with sciatica, a doctor may recommend steroid
injections or a nerve block to help reduce the pain.
Doctors can recommend more
advanced and surgical treatments for sciatica, but these are not usually
appropriate during pregnancy. If the pain persists after the baby is born, a
person can talk to their doctor about treatment options.
Low back pain is common during
pregnancy. Sciatica pain is less common, however. A doctor can help work out
the cause of this type of back pain.
The doctor will first ask
about a person’s history and do a physical exam. They may ask about the type of
pain, what makes it better or worse, when it started, and about any other
As part of the physical exam,
a doctor may feel the painful area on the back or legs, or ask the woman to
perform certain maneuvers, such as walking, squatting, or raising a straight
leg. This helps to determine which nerve the pregnancy might be affecting.
Sometimes, doctors may ask for
diagnostic testing to gain more information or rule out other more serious
causes of the pain.
Imaging tests to help diagnose
low back pain can include:

  • MRI scans
  • X-rays
  • CT scans
Risk factors

Besides pregnancy, people who
are overweight or obese may also be at risk of developing sciatica from
increased pressure on the back and spine.
Other people at risk for
sciatica include:

  • people who sit for long
  • people who have jobs or do
    activities that cause a lot of twisting or heavy lifting
  • people who are older

There is no real way to
prevent sciatica. Avoiding too much time spent sitting or in the same position
can help, as can maintaining a healthy weight.
Also, protecting the back
through regular stretching and exercise, and avoiding lifting with the back,
are important.

Sciatica, though
uncomfortable, usually resolves within a few weeks. People can treat sciatica
at home during their pregnancy.
If home remedies are not
working, it is important to mention symptoms to the doctor in case a person
needs further tests or more specialized treatment to improve their symptoms.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.