Sciatica is when you get pain and/or inflammation along your sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve starts at your lower back and travels down the back of your legs and then into your feet. It is possible to suffer from pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve. You may also suffer from backache.
In the past, if a woman was suffering from back pain during pregnancy, people would suggest that it was due to sciatica. However, being pregnant does not increase the risk of you suffering from sciatica. Sciatica is also not caused by your baby pressing on a nerve whilst in the womb. The cause of sciatica is usually a slipped, prolapsed or injured disc. If you are pregnant and think you may be suffering from sciatica, you should talk to your midwife as you may actually PGP (Pelvic Girdle pain). It is possible to get sciatica during pregnancy but chances are that you would have suffered from it even if you were not pregnant.
The main symptom of sciatica is a painful, burning sensation which affects one side. It is likely to come and go and likely to affect your lower back, the back of your thigh, down the back of your calf and your foot. Some people also experience a tingling sensation in their leg or suffer from pins and needles in the foot or leg. It is also possible that you suffer with a numb feeling in your leg too. The pain when suffering from sciatica is more constant, continuous and wearing than normal back pain.
If you do have sciatica whilst pregnant, your midwife or doctor should refer you to a physiotherapist. You will also be advised to practise your pelvic floor exercises to help strengthen you tummy muscles. It is likely that they will offer you a pregnancy support belt to wear which helps your back when coping with your bump and new posture.
Some women find that visiting a chiropractor can help or trying osteopathic therapies can aid sciatica and the pain. However, you must make sure that you only visit a fully qualified practitioner and ensure that you tell them you are pregnant. For other techniques for easing the pain, please see Backache during Pregnancy.
The majority of people with sciatica recover within three months although some do suffer for longer. Unfortunately, if you suffer from severe sciatica during pregnancy, it is possible that symptoms may continue for up to six months after you have delivered.
If you are suffering sciatica, you may be concerned about how it will affect your labour and the delivery of your baby. You should consider using a birthing pool as the warm water can ease the pain from sciatica. You will also need to discuss with your midwife and physiotherapist which positions they recommend for you to use during labour.
After the birth, you will need to consider how you to do everyday activities with your baby. You may need to use a changing top or table rather than bend onto the floor and try not to place your baby on the floor or bend over a very low cot. You may need to help to pick her up if she is on the floor. You should also keep in contact with your physiotherapist and ask for exercises that can help your recovery.
by Jenny, mum to William and James