Sciatica is the term for pain which stems from the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body. This pain can occur anywhere along the lower back, down the thighs and even behind the knee. Sciatica is often referred to as a “pinched nerve.” Sciatica may develop gradually, and may be experienced as mild, intermittent pain. Other times, it can occur more suddenly, with intense radiating pain that, in rare cases, causes the knee to become stiff and immobile. There may be tingling or a sense of numbness down one or both legs. Some may complain of feeling the sensation of “pins and needles” being felt in a centralized location of the body, such as the lower back.
There are several different conditions which may trigger sciatica, including a slipped disc and spinal stenosis, however, the occurrence of sciatica in pregnancy is quite prevalent, and may affect as many as 80% of women at some point during their pregnancy. Sciatica is prevalent during pregnancy, due to the stress that the extra weight gain of the baby, the placenta and additional pounds, may put on the lower spine. The intense pressure that pregnancy weight gain places on the lower back, also causes the sciatic nerve, which is located underneath the uterus, to become compressed. Subsequently, intense leg and back pain may occur as a result of the extra pressure.
If one is experiencing sciatica during pregnancy, the best thing to do is to identify which side the pain is primarily located on, and lie down on the opposite side. This should relieve some of the pressure placed on the sciatic nerve. Wearing a maternity belt may also help support the weight of the growing fetus and take some of the pressure off of one’s back. Applying hot or cold compresses to the area may alleviate the discomfort as well, however, be sure to speak with a primary care physician before applying heat, as this may be detrimental to the health of the fetus. Always consult a physician before taking over the counter pain relievers during pregnancy.
Although it is always advisable to gain some weight during pregnancy, the amount of weight gain may have a direct impact on the severity of sciatic nerve pain. For women who gain much more than the recommended amount, they may experience more severe sciatic nerve pain. To alleviate sciatica, and to decrease the chances of developing it in the first place, always take care to follow dietary guidelines in order to gain a healthy amount of pregnancy weight. Swimming has also been known to be especially helpful for women who experience sciatica during pregnancy. It is also a great way for pregnant women to stay in shape.
It is always important to keep in mind that contractions, which signal the beginning of labor, may also be mistaken for sciatic nerve pain. If the intensity of the pain increases over time and is not diminishing, or comes in in predictable waves, contact a physician, as this may signal impending labor.