The sciatic nerve, also known as the ischiadic nerve, is a large nerve in both humans and animals.
In fact, it’s the longest and widest nerve in the human body. This particular nerve starts in the lower back and runs through to the buttocks and down the lower limbs.
As the longest nerve in the human body, it affects the legs’ skin, in addition to the muscles on the back of the thigh and the foot and leg.
The nerve essentially controls how people feel different types of sensations and move the muscles within their legs.
Even though our sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, it isn’t immune to contracting ailments. One of the most common ailments of the sciatic nerve is best known as sciatica, otherwise known as sciatic nerve pain.
About sciatic nerve pain
Sciatica describes the symptoms affecting the sciatic nerve when it’s inflamed in some way.
It mainly occurs when pressure from the back or inflammation makes the sciatic nerve feel painful. For most people, sciatic nerve pain is caused by a ruptured or bulging (also known as herniated disc) within the spine.
The pain develops when the damaged disc bears down onto the sciatic nerve roots.
Sciatica is also considered a symptom originating from other spinal conditions, including spinal stenosis, small bone growths (spurs) from arthritis or compressed/pinched nerve roots.
Sometimes, sciatic nerve pain may develop from conditions that might not involve the spine. Those conditions include pregnancy (for women) and tumor growths.
Sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy
Although sciatic nerve pain develops in pregnant women, women aren’t more likely to develop sciatic nerve pain if they’re pregnant.
Most cases of pregnancy-induced aches develop in the back and pelvis, not particularly around the sciatic nerve. Some women, however, do experience pain originating around their sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve runs underneath the uterus and throughout a woman’s legs. Due to this placement, many believe sciatic nerve pain may be associated with the pressure that the womb places on the nerve throughout pregnancy.
How sciatic nerve pain develops in pregnant women
In women, sciatic nerve pain often develops when their baby’s head presses against their sciatic nerve region. This causes pressure to build in that particular region, eventually leading to sciatic nerve pain.
Sciatic nerve pain often occurs throughout a pregnancy, though most instances happen during the second and third trimesters. It usually happens in those trimesters, since the baby is larger and often in a much lower position within the abdomen.
Symptoms of sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy
Pregnant women who have sciatic nerve pain may feel a shooting, often burning pain affecting their lower back or buttocks area.
Sometimes, women feel the pain affect just one side of their body, while others often feel the pain affect both sides.
Women with sciatic nerve pain are known to feel pain in their lower back, down the back of their legs, their feet and the back of their thigh.
Some feel a burning and/or tingling sensation within their leg, numbness and/or ‘pins and needles’ within the legs or feet. While the pain manifests in the aforementioned places of the body, it’s also known to appear ‘patchy’ on occasion.
Sciatic nerve pain is also known ‘wear down’ people with the constant pain, especially pregnant women. The pain completely limits their mobility, in some cases, since the baby’s positioning can’t be moved until their baby is born.
Sciatic nerve pain and labor
Sciatic nerve pain may affect how women position themselves during labor. To accommodate their situation, their physiotherapist, midwife or other health care provider may provide suggestions (like a birth pool) to make the birthing process much easier on women with sciatic nerve pain.
Women also have to make accommodations after labor to manage their sciatic nerve pain.
They’re advised to look after their posture, meaning they should be careful about how they position themselves with or without their child.
If breastfeeding, to provide an example, they should sit on a straight-backed chair, keeping their baby raised to their breast with a pillow or cushion.
They should also keep their feet flat to the floor. If lifting their baby, they should keep their back straight, bend their knees and avoid making any sudden twisting movements.
After birth, it’s also recommended for women to ask their health care providers for advice about managing and recovering from sciatic nerve pain.
Treating sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy
Pregnant women with sciatic nerve pain are advised to lie on their side, the side opposite of the one in pain. This is likely to help relieve any additional pressure that might be placed on the nerve.
They should also avoid any heavy lifting and standing for prolonged periods of time. If they do feel any pain when they stand for long periods of time, they should elevate one of their feet by resting it on something.
Hot and cold compresses (like ice packs or heating pads) help relieve some pain. Painkillers like acetaminophen may be recommended to help subside some of the pain.
Other anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen, also help alleviate symptoms from sciatic nerve pain. Most pregnant women, however, will be suggested alternative pain-killing medications that won’t harm their pregnancy by their doctor.
Most women with sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy end up recovering within 6 weeks of having the condition. As much as 90 percent of all pregnant women with sciatic nerve pain end up recovering within 12 weeks.
In uncommon and, sometimes, rare cases, some women end up having sciatic nerve pain for longer than 12 weeks.
Women with prolonged sciatic nerve pain from their pregnancy should seek immediate medical attention if it increases in frequency or severity.
Physical therapy, such as chiropractic and osteopathy may be recommended for pregnant women with sciatic nerve pain, especially if they have long term pain.