During pregnancy, your body undergoes various changes that can lead to aches and pains, but sciatica stands out as one of the most intense discomforts. There are exercises you can focus on to manage sciatica. But first, let’s briefly examine the causes of sciatica so that you can better understand the recommended approaches to address it.
Sciatica is not a medical condition but rather a term used to describe irritation of the sciatic nerve. It manifests as numbness, pain, or tingling in the back of the hips, buttocks, and down the leg. The pain is typically experienced on one side and can range from dull and mild to sharp and shooting. The good news is that, like the aforementioned example, sciatica pain may be temporary and only affect you for a limited duration during pregnancy.
What Causes Sciatica
Here are some examples of factors that can cause this entrapment or irritation of the sciatic nerve:
- Spinal misalignment. Herniated disc in the lumbar spine leads to compression of the nerve.
- Imbalance in hip musculature. When the muscles surrounding the hip become excessively tight due to overuse, they can compress the sciatic nerve that passes through them. Conversely, if the gluteal muscles are weak and underutilized, the piriformis muscle—a deep hip rotator—may overcompensate and compress the sciatic nerve. This condition is often known as piriformis syndrome.
- Anterior pelvic tilt during pregnancy. The most common cause of sciatica during pregnancy is the forward tipping of the pelvis caused by the expanding belly. This forward tilt pulls the lumbar spine into an exaggerated arch, as depicted in the image below, leading to pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Understanding these causes can help in identifying the factors contributing to sciatica and guide appropriate exercise strategies.
Exercises to Focus On for Sciatica in Pregnancy
- Get in neutral alignment
- Practice your Inner Core Exercises. It activates your deep core muscles, which are critical for providing stability to the SI Joint. Master your TVA Belly Breathing and Pelvic Floor Exercises.
- Bridges. Your glutes work with your core to stabilize your pelvis, so strengthening your glutes is important for mitigating joint pain. Bridges are a great way to target your glutes because they keep your pelvis in a stable position.
- Incline Plank. A plank targets the core muscles at the front of your body, training these muscles to help you resist that excessive lower back arch we showed at the beginning. During pregnancy we must be very careful about managing intra-abdominal pressure. Full planks performed with a larger belly will create too much intra-abdominal pressure. Therefore, beginning in the second trimester, we regress these by performing them at an incline.
- Cat Stretch. It’s a yoga pose called “cat-cow”, where you should focus on a cat part only.
- Seated Piriformis stretch. Place your ankle on top of your knee and lean forward.
- Bird Dog: Like the incline plank, this is another great pregnancy-safe core exercise that targets the muscles in the front of your core.
- Hamstring stretch. Any variation of seated stretch or on your back ( depending on where you are at in your pregnancy journey)
To alleviate sciatic nerve pain, you want to focus on the following two goals:
- Alleviate pressure on the structures that are compressing the nerve.
- Strengthening the surrounding structures to increase pelvic stability.
Exercise to Avoid for Sciatica in Pregnancy
- Lower Body Single-Leg Moves. Exercises that involve bearing weight on a single leg, such as lunges or step-ups/downs, can destabilize the pelvis. It’s generally better to distribute your weight evenly over both feet, focusing on exercises like squats and bridges.
- Traditional Cardio Machines. Cardio machines like the elliptical, Stairmaster, and treadmill primarily involve single-leg activities. It’s advisable to avoid these machines to minimize stress on the affected areas.
- Single-Leg Daily Activities (with caution). Walking, stair climbing, and getting up and down from the ground are also considered single-leg activities. While it may not be possible to completely avoid these movements, it’s important to keep moving. Limit extended periods of walking or stair climbing when the pain is severe. When rising from the ground, use the leg that is not experiencing pain to step up.
- Impact. Impact activities such as running or plyometrics generate forces that travel up the body, potentially aggravating pain. During symptomatic periods, it’s best to focus on non-impact exercises to reduce discomfort.
- Any Exercise that Triggers Pain. It goes without saying, but it’s worth mentioning. Each individual may have different pain triggers, so pay attention to activities that elicit pain and avoid them accordingly.
By avoiding these exercises, you can minimize stress on the affected areas and support your recovery process. Always listen to your body and modify your workout routine as necessary. If you need more help, reach out to schedule your consultation here.