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What’s sciatica?
Q: I have a tingling pain that runs down my right buttock and the back of my thigh. Sometimes the pain shoots down my leg, making it hard to move. My friend thinks I have sciatica. Can you tell me what this is and what I can do about it?
A: Your symptoms sound compatible with sciatica, a painful condition caused by pressure on your sciatic nerve. When this nerve is compressed, either from a slipped disc or from the hormonal and postural changes that occur during pregnancy, it can generate tingling, numbness or pain radiating down your lower back, buttocks, thigh and lower leg. The pain is typically worse with sitting. Most sciatic pain is not permanent and will resolve after the pregnancy is over. If weakness or constant numbness occurs, a physician should be consulted.

There are a number of approaches to relieving the pain. The following suggestions may be helpful for you:

  1. Apply heat, a hot water bottle or ice pack to the low back area for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Avoid prolonged sitting. Get up and walk around at least every half hour.
  3. Wear supportive, flat, cushioned shoes to minimize jarring on your spine.
  4. Avoid heavy lifting, and emphasize good posture (see my article on posture in pregnancy at this website.)
  5. Seek professional help from an acupuncturist, chiropractor or physical therapist with expertise in pregnancy.
  6. Gently stretch the muscles in your hips, buttocks and thighs. Strengthen your abdominal muscles. One recommended stretch is to sit and place the ankle of the affected leg over your other knee, and gently push down the knee on your affected leg to stretch your thigh muscles. Pelvic tilts and pelvic floor exercises are also useful. A physical therapist can show you these and other stretches.
  7. Get a soft-tissue massage of the muscles around your hips, buttocks and legs.
  8. Begin a yoga class, and ask your teacher for specific exercises to stretch your thighs, hips and lower back.
  9. Try swimming for exercise. The water will support your weight, and you may have less discomfort.Use a firm mattress when you sleep.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist