Sciatica During Pregnancy: What Every Expecting Mother Should Know

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pregnant woman suffers sciatica pain

Why Pregnancy Can Cause Leg and Back Pain

Ah, sciatica! It’s that tingling, sometimes sharp pain that starts in the lower back and travels down the back of the leg.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, sciatica is the result of discomfort or pressure on the sciatic nerve, which happens to be our body’s longest nerve. This nerve has a significant task, ensuring sensations in vast regions of our leg.

Interestingly, sciatica is a frequent condition during pregnancy, with a vast majority of expectant mothers experiencing its symptoms, especially as the baby starts to grow more substantially in the later trimesters.

Anatomy and Pathophysiology

The sciatic nerve isn’t just one standalone nerve. It’s like a major highway built from several roads. Specifically, it’s formed by the coming together of five nerve roots – L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3.

Once they merge, this highway, or our sciatic nerve, runs through the pelvis, moves down the leg’s back, and then further divides into smaller lanes, giving sensation to the muscles and skin in the lower leg and foot.

What Causes Sciatica in Pregnant Women?

There are several factors that contribute to the onset of sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy:

Weight Gain and Postural Changes

As the baby grows, pregnant women gain weight. This places increased pressure on the lumbar spine and pelvis. The center of gravity shifts forward, affecting posture and putting extra strain on the lower back. These biomechanical changes can compress or irritate the sciatic nerve roots, triggering pain.

Hormonal Changes

Relaxin and progesterone are hormones produced at high levels during pregnancy. They cause ligaments to become lax and loosen joints throughout the body, including in the spine and pelvis. This instability allows more pressure on the sciatic nerve and surrounding tissues.

Uterine Pressure

The enlarging uterus puts greater pressure on the pelvis and can directly compress the sciatic nerve as it exits the spine. Many women start feeling sciatic pain around the second trimester as the fetus grows rapidly.

Fetal Position

Depending on how the baby is situated in the uterus, it can press down on the sciatic nerve and cause symptoms. A breech baby is more likely to trigger sciatica pain than a baby in the normal head-down position.

Recognizing Sciatica Symptoms

Typical sciatic pain manifests as follows:

  • Radiating, shooting, burning, or tingling pain from the lower back through the buttocks and down one leg
  • Numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot
  • Lower back pain that intensifies when sitting, coughing, sneezing, or straining

Sciatica needs to be differentiated from general aches and pains of pregnancy that may seem similar at first:

  • Round ligament pain – sensed around the uterus and groin
  • Tailbone pain – concentrated in the sacral area

The severity and duration of sciatic nerve pain can vary during pregnancy.

Some women experience intermittent mild symptoms, while others suffer from debilitating chronic pain. Bring up any long-lasting or worsening sciatic problems with your doctor.

Getting a Diagnosis for Pregnancy Sciatica

Doctors diagnose sciatica based on the patient’s description of symptoms and a physical exam. They will check for trigger points that reproduce the pain, muscle weakness, and reduced reflexes.

Imaging tests like MRI are rarely needed to confirm sciatica in pregnant women. They may be considered in severe or persistent cases after the first trimester to rule out serious spinal issues.

Other conditions like pelvic girdle pain, hip bursitis, piriformis syndrome, or lumbar radiculopathy can mimic sciatica symptoms and need to be distinguished.

Conservative Treatment and Pain Relief

pregnant woman excercising

Most cases of pregnancy sciatica can be managed with conservative self-care strategies:


Light stretches and exercises specifically designed for pregnant women can bring relief. These include pelvic tilts, knee-chest position, and yoga postures like cat-cow pose. Walking and swimming are other good options.

Proper Posture and Ergonomics

Using supportive cushions for the lower back, keeping the spine aligned, avoiding twisting movements, and elevating the legs can minimize nerve compression.

Be mindful of posture and body mechanics during daily activities. Sitting for too long, picking up heavy objects incorrectly, or wearing high heels can aggravate sciatica.

Medical Pain Management

Acetaminophen is considered safe for short-term use. Other options like muscle relaxants may be prescribed after weighing risks versus benefits.

Physical therapy modalities like heat/cold therapy and TENS machines can reduce localized pain. Massage therapy may also provide temporary relief.

Alternative Therapies for Pregnancy Sciatica

Some women may find relief from alternative treatment modalities:

Prenatal Massage

Gentle massage techniques can target painful muscle knots and trigger points. Ensure the massage therapist is trained in prenatal massage.


Fine sterile needles are inserted in specific points along the sciatic nerve pathway to relieve blockages. This is considered safe if done by an experienced practitioner.

Chiropractic Care

Gentle adjustments can align the pelvis and spine taking pressure off the sciatic nerve roots. Use a chiropractor experienced in working with pregnant women.

Tips for Daily Living with Sciatica

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can help minimize symptoms:

  • Sleeping on the side with a pillow between the knees taking pressure off the low back. Avoid lying on the affected side.
  • Maintaining good posture and using correct techniques when bending and lifting objects.
  • Wearing supportive footwear with low heels. Consider orthotics for overpronation problems.
  • Sitting on a soft surface and avoiding crossing legs which aggravates nerve compression. Get up and move around periodically.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

It may not always be possible to prevent sciatica during pregnancy, but the following measures can help lower the risk:

  • Maintaining optimal weight and staying active before and throughout pregnancy.
  • Practicing stretches, exercises, and yoga tailor-made for pregnant women. These strengthen core muscles and improve balance.
  • Getting prenatal massages to relax muscles and improve circulation.
  • Using proper ergonomics and body mechanics during daily activities.
  • Visiting a chiropractor or osteopath for occasional spinal adjustments and pelvic alignment.

Impact of Sciatica on Labor and Delivery

For most women, pregnancy sciatica resolves within a few weeks after delivery. But the condition can have some impact on the labor process:

  • Pain may interfere with positioning and finding relief during contractions.
  • Epidurals may be recommended earlier for pain management.
  • Forceps or vacuum delivery may be preferable over strained pushing.
  • Severe sciatica can potentially increase the chances of needing a C-section.

Discuss your concerns and birth plan options with your obstetrician if sciatica persists close to delivery.

Dealing with Postpartum Sciatica

Sciatic pain can linger or even return with severity after childbirth when hormone levels readjust and activity resumes:

In most cases, postpartum sciatica resolves gradually over the first few months. But if it persists beyond 6 to 12 months, consult your doctor to check for underlying spinal issues.

For women with severe sciatica, the condition may return and potentially worsen in subsequent pregnancies. Discuss preventive strategies with your healthcare provider before planning another pregnancy.


While sciatica can be extremely painful and concerning during pregnancy, there are many effective solutions available.

Staying active, using proper ergonomics, trying alternative therapies, and adopting other conservative self-care measures can help manage symptoms in most cases.

Work closely with your obstetrician and other providers to find the safest pain relief and treatment plan for you. With some perseverance, you can have a healthy and relatively pain-free pregnancy!

Finding Relief from Sciatica During Pregnancy

doctor and pregnant woman consult

Pregnancy sciatica causes severe pain for many expectant mothers. Kaly connects you to top specialists like orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, and physical therapists to evaluate your sciatica and create a customized treatment plan.

Take control of your symptoms through our telemedicine visits and pregnancy care network. Kaly provides the support you need to manage sciatica and have a healthy, joyful pregnancy.