If you’re pregnant, you were probably were expecting symptoms like morning sickness or swollen feet. But you’d never even thought of sciatica! But don’t worry: There are plenty of natural remedies that can provide some relief.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- What sciatica is (and what causes it)
- Symptoms of sciatica
- Plus, how to relieve sciatica pain naturally
What is Sciatica?
Very simply, sciatica is the inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a long nerve that runs from your lower back down the back of your leg, which explains why you may feel back pain when too much pressure is put on the sciatic nerve.
A 2008 study estimates that nearly up to 80 percent of pregnant women experience back pain—like sciatica—during pregnancy, but it’s possible that the actual percentage is higher due to the number of women who self-treat at home. (source)
What Does Sciatica Feel Like?
Sciatica can feel like different things to different people. It can be dull and deep, but it can also be sharp and shooting.
Because sciatica ranges from mild to severe, it helps to hear how some real mamas describe the pain:
“It always feels sharp, like lightening. And when it hits, I know I’m down for the count for a bit. I don’t want to move, I just want to stay frozen until it passes.” — Dana from Indiana
“I never felt a burning, but it was like one big cramp. I even had spasms down to my calf.” — Stephanie from Ohio
“Sciatica, for me, was like someone was pulling an invisible string inside my leg. It was really annoying.” — Carrie from Nevada
What Causes Sciatica During Pregnancy?
Sciatica can affect both men and women, and it can be a chronic condition. Outside of pregnancy, sciatica can be caused by wear and tear on your back, as well as bulging discs that put pressure on the nerve.
Sciatica due to a bulging disc is very rare in pregnancy. (source) Sciatica during pregnancy is more commonly a temporary condition caused by one, or more, of the following factors:
Being overweight can cause sciatica, because of the extra pressure it puts on your back. During pregnancy, some women can experience excess stress on their spine as the baby grows. (This isn’t a reason to try to avoid gaining weight! Continue to follow your midwife or OB’s advice for weight gain.)
Center of gravity changes
Believe it or not, something as simple as the shift in your center of gravity can affect sciatica. As your newly gained weight (aka your growing uterus) changes your center of gravity, there is extra pressure on the curve of your lower back, or your lordotic curve. When your lordotic curve is stretched out too much, your glutes and quads may become too tense and pinch your sciatic nerve.
When a woman is pregnant, her body pumps out a hormone called relaxin. The purpose of this hormone is to relax the ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for birth. The trouble? It can cause problems in other areas when other muscles become too relaxed. Specifically, if your baby puts pressure on the sacroiliac joint (the area that connects the pelvis to the lower spine), it can exacerbate sciatica and other back pain.
When tense muscles press on your nerves, you feel pain. The piriformis muscle, a small muscle located deep in the buttocks, is a big culprit here. We’ll explore a few ways to stretch this muscle later on…
Growing baby putting pressure on the nerve
Thanks to gravity, the weight of your growing baby can also put pressure on your sciatic nerve. As baby gets bigger, this pain increases.
Fluid retention is common during pregnancy (you may notice it as swollen feet or hands), but fluid retention can also put pressure on your sciatic nerve.
When Does Sciatica in Pregnancy Occur?
Because sciatica is so often related to weight gain during pregnancy, sciatica is most commonly experienced in the third trimester as your baby continues to grow.
Once you start to experience sciatica, you may notice it constantly, or it may come and go.
Symptoms of Sciatica During Pregnancy
There’s no denying sciatica when it pops up! These are the most common symptoms of sciatica during pregnancy:
- Pain on one or both side(s) of your buttocks or leg (sometimes the pain can run down to the foot, but this usually occurs down one leg—not both)
- Numbness or pins and needles
- Sharp, shooting pain
- Burning sensation down the leg
- Difficulty walking or sitting for long periods of time
- Trouble lowering yourself down to a low seat, such as your car
- Pain when rolling over in bed at night
How to Relieve Sciatica Pain
Whether you have tingly feelings or the sharp pains, you probably want to ease those symptoms pronto. Here are some great natural remedies for sciatica during pregnancy:
1. Do stretches
Earlier we mentioned how muscle tension can contribute to sciatica, and the best way to ease that tension is to stretch your muscles, particularly in the pelvic area.
The piriformis muscle, which is a muscle deep in the glute, is especially prone to tightening. See how to stretch it out and soothe your sciatic nerve in this video. Tasha, an occupational therapist, also covers four other stretches to help you: the Pigeon Pose, Hip Flexor Stretch, Glute and Hamstring Foam Roller, and Table Stretch.
2. Get a prenatal massage
Prenatal massages are not only relaxing, but they can also help ease sciatica pain. Because prenatal massages can loosen up tissue, massages are ideal for sciatic pain that is triggered by muscle tension. Read more about the amazing benefits of prenatal massage in this post.
Note: It’s always a good idea to get cleared by your OB or midwife before getting a prenatal massage.
3. Try acupuncture
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to relieve back pain, sciatica, and other conditions. Many mamas swear by acupuncture, and luckily, the research is starting to catch up with the anecdotal stories. A 2015 study found that acupuncture was indeed a suitable treatment for sciatica.
4. Go to the chiropractor
“I went to the chiropractor for my sciatica. He said my pelvis was imbalanced, and before I knew it, I was back in the game. Or at least as much as you can be 8 months pregnant.” — Patricia from New York.
One study found that people with sciatic pain found more relief if they received chiropractic care in addition to exercise and advice. (source) Chiropractic treatments are generally safe during pregnancy, but do make sure you see a Webster-trained chiropractor experienced in treating pregnant women. Find one here.
5. Get plenty of magnesium
Magnesium supplements ease sciatic pain by reducing inflammation. Believe it or not, magnesium also promotes sciatic nerve regeneration! (source)
To get more magnesium in your diet, try eating more dark leafy greens, black beans, avocado, and pumpkin. You can also spray magnesium on topically for faster relief. Pick the best magnesium supplement here.
6. Practice safe sleep
Typically, most women only experience sciatica on one side of their body. To avoid exacerbating your symptoms, sleep on the side that is not affected by sciatica. And sleep with a pillow between your legs to help relieve pressure and balance the alignment in your pelvis.
Ideally, you want to sleep on your left side, but what if your left side if affected? You can sleep on your right side—just be sure to avoid sleeping on your back.
7. Try myofascial release
Myofascial release is a therapy that relieves pain by relaxing tense and contracted muscles. Specifically, the piriformis muscle can pinch the sciatic nerve, but through myofascial release massage, your therapist can “release” the muscle, which relieves sciatica pain.
There are also a few ways to release your muscles at home with a few tools like foam rollers or even sports balls! If you can’t get in to see your therapist, try these massage techniques at home:
8. Cold and warm compress
Cold and heat therapy can help relieve sciatica symptoms, but it’s important to alternate the two.
- Cold compresses help reduce inflammation
- Warm compresses help soothe tight or sore muscles
Try this the next time you have a flare up:
- Use an ice pack for 20 minutes, about 2 -3 times per day. (Remember to wrap the ice pack in a tea towel, so you don’t hurt your skin.)
- Use a warm compress in-between cold compresses. (Don’t warm above 100 degrees, and use for less than 10 minutes at a time, for the safety of baby.)
Prolonged sitting and standing can cause a flare-up of sciatic pain. I know it’s hard, but be sure to prioritize rest throughout the day.
- If you sit at work: Make time to take a short walk around the office every hour or so. Better yet, see if you can work sitting on a medicine or exercise ball.
- If you stand at work: Sit during your breaks. You can also rest one foot at a time by propping one foot on a stool.
- When relaxing at home: Sit with your feet flat on the ground. If you have pain on one side, try crossing the ankle of the affected leg over your other knee.
10. Gentle Exercise
Gentle exercise will promote circulation, which can help with inflammation. It will also keep your muscles limber and may help with pain.
Swimming is a great prenatal exercise, because it takes pressure off of your joints. Swimming is particularly helpful when sciatic pain is caused by the pressure of your expanding uterus.
If you don’t have a pool nearby, you can also try:
- Brisk walking
- Prenatal yoga
- Gentle stretches (see the video above)
11. Reduce Overall Inflammation
Try eating anti-inflammatory foods to see if it helps calm your sciatic nerve and surrounding muscles. Foods like leafy greens like spinach and kale, spices like turmeric, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and low-mercury fatty fish like salmon.
Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars, fried foods, sweetened beverages, and red meat, since these foods and drinks can actually make inflammation worse.
12. Apply a Pregnancy-Safe Ointment
To relieve soreness, joint pain, swelling, or muscle aches associated with sciatica during pregnancy, try a homeopathic remedy like Arnica.
For maximum relief:
- Apply the oil to affected areas (do not apply Arnica to broken skin!)—your lower back, buttocks, and leg—once or twice per day. Gently massage the into skin.
- Alternatively, apply the oil to a warm compress. Then follow the steps outlined above.
How Long Does Sciatica Last?
If you have sciatica, I bet I can guess what you’re thinking: “When will this end?!” There is good news ahead, mama! Some women may notice relief as the baby starts to grow a little bit more and changes position. Sciatica tends to “flair” and then calm down so hang in there.
Even if you don’t notice this, the end is in sight. The vast majority of women report that their sciatic pain lessens, or disappears completely, within a few months of childbirth.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
While sciatica can usually be treated at home, you may need the help of a healthcare provider if:
- Your pain is severe and interfering with daily activity
- Your symptoms persist for more than a few months after the birth of your baby
How About You?
Did you experience sciatica during pregnancy? How did you find relief?