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Sciatica During Pregnancy: Can I Get Rid of It?

Pregnancy is full of lots of “fun” symptoms. Each week something new seems to pop up. As the second and third trimester roll around, many women often experience some aches and pains. With how much is changing in our bodies while we grow another human, it’s not super surprising! But did you know that you DO NOT have to wait until after you have your baby to address these aches and pains? Let’s talk about one of the more common pregnancy-related pains I see as a pelvic floor physical therapist – sciatica – and what can be done to resolve it.

What Is Sciatica?

First of all, the sciatic nerve can get irritated in a few different locations. Irritation to your sciatic nerve can occur in your low back, by your SI joint (where your pelvis meets your low back), or in your deep hip muscles, primarily your piriformis. Where your sciatic nerve is getting irritated is something we figure out during a physical therapy exam. With sciatica during pregnancy, the culprit is often either the piriformis or the SI joint. (We’ll talk more about why that is in a little bit.)

When the sciatic nerve is irritated, you may feel numbness, tingling, shooting, and/or burning following the path of the sciatic nerve down the back of your leg. Sometimes these symptoms go all the way down to your foot.

When dealing with sciatic nerve symptoms, your leg acts like a temperature gauge. The more irritated your sciatic nerve is, the further down your leg these symptoms will go. As your sciatic nerve calms down, you will not feel your symptoms as far down your leg. So if your symptoms continue to go further and further down your leg, this is probably a good indication that it’s getting worse and it’s time to do something about it!

Why Is Sciatica During Pregnancy Common?

Hormonal Changes

During pregnancy your body produces a hormone called relaxin. This hormone helps all your joints and ligaments loosen in order to become more mobile for labor and delivery. Think about it – there needs to be some extra wiggle room down there for your baby to pass through the openings in your pelvis.

The joints around the pelvis are often where you may feel this change in laxity. (It’s really not THAT big of a change in laxity, but our body often perceives that it is…) Unfortunately, that extra mobility around the pelvis can lead to irritation of the sciatic nerve around the SI joint.

Muscle Changes

The muscles around the pelvis often end up working overtime to help stabilize things. Not only are they working harder to stabilize things, but your posture and center of gravity are also changing, which affects how your muscles function and how hard they have to work. (Not to mention you are also gaining more and more weight…) This all can cause the muscles around your pelvis to tighten up and become painful. Which muscle often gets the brunt of this? The piriformis, which is right next to our sciatic nerve. Thus, we get sciatica during pregnancy.

Fun fact: The piriformis is both a hip muscle AND a pelvic floor muscle. So, of course, it’s just working crazy overtime during pregnancy.

sciatica during pregnancy

How Do I Get Rid of Sciatica During Pregnancy?

Calm Your Nerves

Let’s next talk about what you all want to know – how to get rid of sciatica during pregnancy! Step one: calm down the sciatic nerve. Nerve glides are a great way to get more blood flow to your nerves and help calm them down. Here is an easy one you can work into your day.

Calm Your Muscles

Lengthening and relaxing the muscles around your sciatic nerve can help calm everything down. If your muscles are the reason WHY the sciatic nerve is getting irritated in the first place, this step is essential! Here are my favorite stretches for calming the piriformis and the pelvic floor muscles, both of which are often tight when you have sciatica during pregnancy.

Another great way to calm your muscles and loosen everything up in that deep hip and glute area is massaging the muscles. My favorite way to do this is with a lacrosse ball or tennis ball. Stand by the wall and place the ball between your outer hip/glute and the wall. You can lean into it or roll around. It hurts so good (like all good deep massages do) and can be really helpful with calming sciatica during pregnancy! Here is a video explaining it a little more.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

At what point should I reach out for help in resolving my sciatica during pregnancy? If the exercises above are not fully getting rid of your symptoms, reaching out to a pelvic floor physical therapist is a great idea! There can be so many other things contributing to WHY your sciatic nerve is getting irritated in the first place, AND there are so many other things that can be done to get rid of your sciatica during pregnancy!

You don’t have to wait until you have your baby to address your pain! If you’ve been struggling with sciatica during pregnancy, shoot us a message and let’s find the right combo of manual work and exercises to calm things down and make the rest of your pregnancy as enjoyable as possible!

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