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Why Do I Have Sciatica After Pregnancy?

By July 6, 2023August 22nd, 2023No Comments

Sciatica After Pregnancy

After the discomfort of the last trimester, it’s natural for pregnant women to look forward to some relief after the baby is born. But unfortunately for some moms, sciatica during pregnancy might continue as postpartum sciatica — or show up anew after childbirth.

So why would some women experience this kind of pain? One that feels like a sharp ache or burning that radiates from the lower back through the hips, buttocks, and down the legs. Or like tingling or numbness in the leg. Or even one-sided muscle weakness.

Here, Dr. Daniel Choi of Spine Medicine & Surgery of Long Island answers why some women experience sciatica after pregnancy, and talks about sciatica treatment options, including medication-free tips for how to relieve your postpartum sciatica nerve pain if you’re nursing.

Why Do Some Women Experience Sciatic Nerve Pain After Pregnancy?

Pregnancy itself doesn’t directly cause sciatica, but what happens during pregnancy can contribute to its development. The changes in your body from pregnancy can also trigger underlying issues such as bulging discs, arthritis, or spinal stenosis. The most common reasons for postpartum sciatica include hormonal changes, weight gain, changes in spine alignment or posture, and labor.

Hormonal Changes

During pregnancy, hormonal changes affect muscles and ligaments which sometimes puts extra pressure on the sciatic nerve and triggers sciatica. Your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which loosens ligaments in preparation for childbirth. In turn, this affects the stability and alignment of the spine, potentially leading to compression of nerve roots that can ultimately cause sciatica. For many women after pregnancy, their shrinking uterus and return to normal hormone levels relieves their pregnancy sciatica quickly. But for others, their sciatica can linger, causing sciatic nerve pain for a while after pregnancy.

Weight Gain

Pregnancy and weight gain go hand-in-hand. Weight from your baby bump or water retention can put undue pressure on the lower back and pelvis, compressing or irritating the sciatic nerve, leading to pain. After you’ve given birth, the additional pregnancy weight can understandably be hard to shed, which is why you might have sciatica after your pregnancy.

Changes in the Spine and Pelvis

A growing uterus can cause shifts in the spine and pelvis, moving your center of gravity, altering your normal spine alignment, and changing your posture. This misalignment can cause your muscles to tighten or pinch, resulting in compression of the sciatic nerve. After you’ve delivered your baby, your body takes time to realign so it’s possible your pregnancy sciatica might continue postpartum when sitting, standing, or walking.

Labor Difficulties

Women who had long labor, back labor, or their baby was in a breech position can be prone to sciatic nerve pain after giving birth, even if they didn’t have sciatic pain during pregnancy.

How Long Does Sciatica Last After Giving Birth?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “How long does sciatica last after giving birth?” The duration of postpartum sciatica varies from person to person. But for the most part, sciatica typically improves after a few weeks to a few months after you’ve delivered your baby — unless there was an additional injury during childbirth or a pre-existing condition. 

For some women, postpartum sciatica resolves completely, while others might experience the occasional flare-up. At Spine Medicine & Surgery of Long Island, we want our patients to find lasting freedom from back pain. So if you’re experiencing occasional sciatic pain long after your baby is born, we suggest coming in to see us for a diagnosis and treatment that will help alleviate your sciatica for good.

Postpartum Sciatica Treatment Options

Now to answer the big question of how to relieve sciatic nerve pain after pregnancy. You’ll be happy to know that several treatment options exist. The first step is consulting your primary healthcare provider or a spine specialist like Dr. Choi or Dr. Argyriou to confirm your sciatica and determine the best course of action. When you come into our Ronkonkoma or Garden City, NY office for a first visit, Dr. Choi or Dr. Argyriou will start with a conversation about your health history, pregnancy experience, and symptoms. One of the goals of our discussion is to pinpoint the cause of your postpartum sciatica.

Next, we’ll perform a physical exam which includes testing your reflexes and finding out which movements cause pain. Lastly, we might request an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI to get a more detailed look at your spine or the soft tissues that surround it.

At Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island, we approach sciatica treatment conservatively. Before we even consider surgery, we recommend minimally-invasive or non-invasive treatments to get patients back on the road to spinal health and mobility. Understand that these treatments won’t necessarily provide immediate relief from sciatica, but rather, bring you freedom from pain with time. 

Here are some common treatment approaches we suggest to our postpartum sciatica patients:

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can provide exercises and stretches that help alleviate pain and improve flexibility and strength. Central to relieving sciatic nerve pain after pregnancy is strengthening the core and pelvic muscles to provide stability and support to the spine. 

Hot and Cold Therapy

Applying a heating pad or ice pack to the affected areas in your back, legs and buttocks can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Alternate between heat and cold for better results.

Pain Medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or muscle relaxants help reduce pain and inflammation. If you’re breastfeeding, be sure to check with your obstetrician or primary care doctor first about the pain medication you want to take.

Short-Term Rest

Caring for a newborn isn’t always conducive to getting the rest you need. But if you can find moments to rest, this can go a long way in improving postpartum sciatica — perhaps when the baby is sleeping or other kids are napping or playing on their own.

Alternative Modalities Like Acupuncture

According to a 2018 study, acupuncture can help with sciatica pain after pregnancy. The study found that participants who had acupuncture treatment three times a week for four weeks had less leg pain than those who were only on bed rest. 

Epidural Steroid Injections

In severe cases when sciatica treatments like the above aren’t working, Dr. Choi or Dr. Argyriou may recommend epidural steroid injections. These injections deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to the affected area, providing temporary relief.

When to Seek Further Help from a Spine Specialist

While many cases of post-pregnancy sciatica resolve with time and conservative treatments, it’s time to seek help from a spine specialist like Dr. Choi or Dr. Argyriou if your sciatica pain persists or worsens. 

Call your Long Island, NY spine expert if you’re experiencing the following:

Numbness or Weakness

Numbness or weakness in your legs or feet despite treatments may indicate an underlying condition that requires attention.

Difficulty with Bladder or Bowel Control

It’s not uncommon for women to experience some loss of bladder or bowel control after giving birth — pregnancy results in changes to the pelvic floor muscles that hold your bladder and rectum in place. But a serious loss of bladder or bowel control may suggest a compressed nerve or other spinal cord-related issue that needs further treatment. 

Medication-Free Tips for Sciatica Pain Relief During Nursing

For nursing mothers experiencing post-pregnancy sciatica, medication-free pain relief options are a must. In addition to the treatments we mentioned earlier, here are further at-home tips to keep in mind if you’re breastfeeding:

  1. Proper Posture: With all the things you have to remember when caring for a newborn, proper posture can slip to the bottom of the list. Maintain good posture when holding your baby, whether you’re sitting, standing, or breastfeeding. It’s easy to hunch over your baby when feeding or cuddling so to encourage better posture, use supportive cushions and chairs that promote spinal alignment. 

When standing and holding your baby, it’s common to push your hips forward, much like you did when pregnant. Instead, try to pull in the belly button and align your spine, which will both retrain your body to stand correctly and strengthen your back muscles to support you properly. 

  1. Gentle Exercises: With the go-ahead from your doctor, engage in low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or postnatal yoga. And when you’re ready, try these gentle spinal exercises and stretches that Dr. Choi often recommends for back pain.

Start Healing from Postpartum Sciatica With Your Long Island Spine Expert

If you’re a Long Island resident and thinking, “I’m looking for postpartum sciatic treatment near me,” Dr. Choi, Dr. Argyriou and their team at Spine Medicine & Surgery of Long Island are ready to help you return to a pain-free life. At this boutique practice, the team takes a highly personalized approach and specialize in advanced techniques so patients can find lasting relief from back pain.

Schedule an appointment at our Ronkonkoma or Garden City, NY office to start your journey away from postpartum sciatica and towards enjoying motherhood without pain.

Dr. Daniel Choi

Author Dr. Daniel Choi

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