Lower back pain that radiates to the hips, buttocks, thighs and down the legs and feet is a common symptom of pregnancy. The sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body, provides sensory function to the lower extremities and allows for their movement. When the nerve is compromised in any way, the result is pain.
The sciatic nerve is like a bridge between your lower extremities and spinal cord that relays sensory and motor input. Sciatica is not a medical diagnosis. Rather, it is a set of symptoms that occurs when the nerve is damaged or compressed. Because the sciatic nerve runs beneath the uterus, sciatica in pregnancy is thought to result from the expanding organ exerting pressure against the nerve.
The most prevalent sciatica symptom is pain. You will most likely experience a sharp pain or burning sensation that begins in the lower region of the back and affects your hips, buttocks and thighs. The pain may feel like a jolt of electricity as it extends the length of your leg and calf to the sole of your foot. Numbness and tingling in your toes and feet are also common indications. Standing exacerbates these symptoms, so the pain usually fades somewhat once you sit down. A rare, but more serious, sciatica symptom is the loss of bladder or bowel control.
You can manage sciatica during pregnancy to reduce associated symptoms. When the symptoms are at their worse, rest on the side opposite of where the pain is. For example, if the pain is in your right leg, lie on the left side of your body. However, do not stay immobile for too long. Ron S. Miller, P.T., of the Spine Health website, says staying in bed for an extended amount of time can actually worsen the problem. Use a heating pad or water bottle for comfort. Gentle stretching exercises can also alleviate some discomfort. If these at-home remedies do not work, talk to your health care provider about over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Miller recommends regular exercise to prevent sciatica pain from worsening and to strengthen the muscles of the lower back. Swimming is especially beneficial at easing back pain while toning muscles. You can also prevent a recurrence of sciatica by minimizing stress to the lower back. Sit with support; use your knees when lifting. Finally, pay special attention to your posture while sitting and standing.
If you experience sciatic pain during pregnancy, chances are it will go away with delivery. In the cases of severe sciatica, however, long-term nerve damage is possible. Speak to your health care provider if you experience a loss of feeling or movement in your lower extremities, or if you cannot control bladder or bowel function.
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