Everything You Need To Know About Pregnancy Sciatica

by Kelly Mullen-McWilliams

Aches, pains, twinges, and stings — pregnancy is a collage of so many unpleasant symptoms, it's sometimes tough to keep track. (My own personal favorite? The week my tongue went completely numb.) So what is pregnancy sciatica? (Besides a total pain.)

According to the American Pregnancy Association, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the low back, through the butt, and into your thigh. It's responsible for nerve signals to and from the thighs, lower leg, and feet. Pregnancy sciatica likely occurs because the sciatic nerve just happens to run beneath your uterus, and the weight of your growing belly puts more pressure on the nerve than it's used to. Baby Med reported that the sciatic nerve also becomes inflamed in pregnancy, and that swelling as a result of water retention further exacerbates this deeply unpleasant situation. According to What to Expect, sciatica shows up most often in the third trimester, when you're at your heaviest and most miserable. Most women experience sciatica pains on one side only, but a lucky few might find both legs affected.

Symptoms of pregnancy sciatica, Baby Med noted, include numbness in the feet or legs, pin-prick feelings, shooting pains up the leg, low back pain, and grumpiness (OK, I made that last one up). If you think about it, though, it only makes sense that this nerve would suffer during pregnancy, because your belly and your baby make for a pretty heavy load to carry around all day.

As for treatment, What to Expect suggested pelvic tilts, warm compresses, and swimming for sciatic pain. Also, Kegel exercises, because there's literally nothing Kegels can't do. Personally, I'd like to put in a plug for swimming, which leaves you feeling weightless when you weigh the most.

Sciatica came and went throughout my pregnancy, often rearing its ugly head in the middle of the night, and messing with my sleep. The European Spine Journal found in a 2007 review study that 50 to 70 percent of pregnant women report back pain. Not surprising, considering pregnancy is such an event for the musculoskeletal system. Nerve pain is especially fun, however, because it tends to come and go. One day your baby's literally getting on your nerve, and the next, she's a perfect angel. One question I've been meaning to crowdsource for a long time — would you rather get pregnancy sciatica, or a swift kick to the cervix? Chances are, you'll get both.

It gets expensive, but for me, prenatal massage was an important healthcare expense. If you never get a massage at any other point in your life, get them during your third trimester — especially if your leg keeps falling asleep. If you start the day with sciatic pain, it may well be gone by the time you peel yourself off the massage table.