With motherhood fast approaching, there are a lot of new and exciting changes happening during pregnancy, but sciatica shouldn’t be one of them.
Frequently pregnant patients come in complaining about sciatic pain pointing accusingly at their low back. Whilst we know that roughly 1 in 2 pregnant women will suffer from back pain during their pregnancy (1), sciatica isn’t back pain. Sciatica actually refers to an irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is a large round nerve, about the size of your middle finger. It begins at the spine and runs down the back of the leg supplying most of the tissues in this area. If you have a compression of this nerve, you know about it! There maybe sharp shooting pain down the back of the leg, muscle weakness or pins and needles.
Why sciatica during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a fine example of the bodies adaptability. The body changes in order to accommodate the growing fetus and as the baby grows, a bigger belly means more weight is distributed to the front. So you don’t topple over, the curve in your lower back increases. Clever huh? This can narrow the space for nerve roots which make up the sciatic nerve to become irritated leading to sciatic pain.
Pregnant women are unsteady on their feet. In fact 27% of women will fall at least once during their pregnancy (3). It’s no surprise really. The hormones released during the latter stages of pregnancy cause a softening of the ligaments around the hips and pelvis. The change in shape of the pelvis also causes the hips to rotate out which conveniently also widens the base of support and stability. Unfortunately it also shortens the piriformis muscle. This becomes a problem because the sciatic nerve runs underneath this muscle and is vulnerable to being a bit squished.
Can osteopathy help with sciatic pain during pregnancy?
Osteopathic treatment can help to support the normal physiologic changes during pregnancy (4). Treatment directed to the low back and hip can help relieve tension in these areas and create more space for the sciatic nerve to run unimpeded. Osteopaths can use gentle technique to balance the tension around these changing ligaments and help to reduce the protective muscle spasm in these areas.
We know that staying mobile during pregnancy is really beneficial (5), but it also helps in recovering from sciatic pain. So there may also be some exercise or lifestyle factors your osteopath may advise you on to complement the treatment.
Sciatica doesn’t have to be a part of pregnancy. Make an appointment with an osteopath to see how they can help you!