With aching backs, bladders that need emptying every 15 minutes and swollen everything, the last few months of pregnancy are never comfortable. But dealing with the fiery, breath-stealing pain of sciatica made my second pregnancy extra challenging.
What is sciatica anyway?
According to the American Chiropractic Association , the term sciatica isn’t a diagnosis; it’s a description of the symptoms that occur when the sciatic nerve is irritated. The sciatic nerve is the body’s largest and widest nerve, beginning in the lower back and running through the butt and down the back of the leg all the way to the soles of the feet.
Ranging from mild tingling to an intense burning sensation, sciatica pain typically shoots from the lower back, through the butt and down the back of one leg. While any sudden movement can send it flaring, the exact symptoms vary depending on the cause and location of the nerve irritation. Web MD explains that sciatica has many causes, including, but not limited to, bulging or ruptured discs, narrowing of the spinal canal, bone spurs, pinched nerves, tumors — and pregnancy.
So how is sciatica diagnosed?
Like most people diagnosed with sciatica, I saw my doctor for help. Being heavily pregnant, the cause was easy for him to identify in my case. Others who suspect they’re dealing with sciatica should expect a thorough medical exam, which may include x-rays or other imaging tests.
How is sciatica treated?
Because many cases of sciatica will resolve on their own, initial treatment focuses on relieving the pain. Patients are advised to identify the positions that they find uncomfortable — like sitting or standing — and avoid them, use over the counter pain medications, take short walks, and try icing or heat therapy.
Ultimately, treatment for sciatica depends on its exact cause. Web MD suggests that this may include physical therapy, steroid injections and surgery.
For me, sciatica would strike when I least expected it. Simply shifting my weight could send a bolt of stinging lighting searing down my left leg that made standing or walking impossible. Since my issues were caused by the weight and pressure of my pregnancy, getting off my feet helped. Uncomfortable with taking too much medicine, I’d sit with my foot propped up and a heating pad under my thigh until the pain eased. I learned to lay on the side opposite my pain with my knees bent and a pillow between them. I also found that sitting with my knees equal or slightly higher than my hips helped. Both positions are demonstrated here.
Sciatica pain is both debilitating and disruptive. I’m grateful that my encounter with sciatica ended when my child was born. If you suspect you may be dealing with sciatica, I strongly encourage you to visit your doctor for help.
“Sciatica” — American Chiropractic Association
“What is Sciatica?” — Cleveland Clinic
“Sciatica” — Web MD
“Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy” — American Pregnancy Association
“Sciatica” — Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center