How I Got Relief from Unbearable Sciatica Pain During Pregnancy

Here is one individual's experience with unbearable sciatica pain during their third trimester of pregnancy.

Pregnant woman getting up out of bed and holding her lower back

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As a mother of two small children, I spent about 90% of my waking hours sitting on the floor or cleaning it. But at 34 weeks pregnant, getting back up to a standing position had become a particularly painful feat that involved wincing, whining, and an occasional shriek of pain.

The culprit? Pregnancy-induced sciatica.

Like many pregnant people in their third trimester, I experienced sharp pain that radiated throughout my rear end, lower back, and right thigh whenever I tried to do anything exciting, like getting out of the car. It felt like the fetus was pressing directly against the nerve.

Besides other third trimester symptoms, including overwhelming fatigue and charley horse leg cramps, sciatica made for a miserable final stretch.

As I lay floundering on the floor, I sought answers and relief about lower back pain during pregnancy.

Is It Really Sciatica?

"Often back pain in pregnancy is due to loosening of the otherwise fixed joints in the pelvis—the symphysis pubis and sacroiliac joints," Charles Lockwood, MD, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale-New Haven Hospital and senior vice president for USF Health, told me.

If that was the source of my pain, I wished I could send a memo to those separating pelvic joints: "Hey, fellas! No need to loosen up down there; we're having a C-section!"

However, my healthcare provider believed we were dealing with a sciatic issue. In which case, Dr. Lockwood said that there is a three-part cause: change in posture induced by pregnancy (called lordosis) which stretches the nerve, increased pelvic pressure (from the fetal head, enlarging uterus, et cetera), and an actual change in the pelvic bone alignment.

Great! So how do I cure this pain so I can lift my children out of the bathtub without hollering in pain?

"Delivery is the best cure," said Dr. Lockwood.

That was truly depressing, but I knew Dr. Lockwood was right. I had experienced the same sciatic nerve symptoms with my prior term pregnancies, and the pain completely evaporated after the baby was born.

Finding Relief

I tried acupuncture and prenatal massage during my last pregnancy, which helped me sleep, but the effects only lasted a few days.

Some pregnant people I know have had success going to a chiropractor, but something about having my body manipulated while pregnant feels wrong.

Instead, Dr. Lockwood suggested an interesting solution: switching my mattress. Dr. Lockwood advised me to use a harder mattress if I had been sleeping on a soft one or try a feather mattress if mine was hard.

After studying our mattress, I discovered that my pregnant body had made a large indentation. Though it isn't cheap to buy a new mattress, I was able to activate the warranty on our current one. So I replaced it with a brand new, extra-firm mattress, and after a few days, the difference was remarkable.

My lower back snapped, crackled, and popped when I lay in bed at night, then finally relaxed onto the hard surface. By morning, I was ready for another day of tackling toddlers.

The symptoms were still there—the fetus' head was still pressing against the nerve—but getting off the floor involved much less wincing. I got by with Tylenol and warm (not hot) showers or baths to maintain this less painful state.

In some cases, said Dr. Lockwood, a healthcare provider will prescribe a narcotic for a pregnant individual whose sciatica is excruciating. Luckily, that shouldn't be necessary. And I've counted down the days until the pain will be cured forever.

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