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Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy

The sciatic nerve runs behind your uterus to your legs. As you go through your pregnancy journey, you may experience periodic pain. Fortunately, there are ways to treat it.


Sciatica, also known as sciatic nerve pain, is common during pregnancy, says Dr. Perry Osborn, OB/GYN at The Iowa Clinic.

What Is Sciatic Nerve Pain?

The sciatic nerve supplies most of the leg’s skin and the muscles on the back of the thigh, leg, and foot. It is the largest nerve in the body, measuring about ¾ of an inch in diameter. The sciatic nerve passes out of the pelvis and descends along the back of the thigh until it divides into the nerves in the lower leg. During pregnancy, changes in posture, swelling, and prolonged rest can aggravate it, leading to pain. Sciatic pain can range from a mild ache to severe burning, or even electrical jolts with accompanying leg weakness. This is usually one sided and can be cleared up within a few weeks.

Sciatica Is Preventable

There are several ways that you can try to avoid sciatica.

  • Practice good posture while standing, sitting, and sleeping to minimize pressure on your lower back
  • Place a pillow under your knees if lying on your back, or between your legs if lying on your side to relieve strain
  • Proper weight gain or limiting weight gain during pregnancy
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time
  • Limit lifting to no more than 20-25 pounds — if you must lift, do so with bent legs and a straight back
  • Regular exercise

Early Intervention Is Key

Treatments of sciatica vary depending on your level of pain and comfort level. Early intervention is beneficial for a quicker recovery, and some can be done at home. Before starting treatment, begin with stretching exercises and massaging.

Straight Leg Exercise – Begin by lying down on your unaffected side and slowly raise your leg. Slowly stretch your knee to your chest afterwards and hold for 20 seconds to stretch the muscles in your lower back and thigh. Repeat 10 times for two sets on both sides.

Tennis Ball Stretch – Place a tennis ball between the middle of your affected buttocks and a wall. Roll the ball up and down and side-to-side between you and the wall for about 90 seconds on each side.

Heating pads and ice packs can be used to relax the piriformis muscle. Apply heat or ice for approximately 10-20 minutes as needed.

Physical Therapy can provide immense relief, as well as provide additional instruction on stretching and strengthening exercises.

When It’s Time to See a Doctor

If you continue to struggle with leg weakness, you should contact your physician to prevent any falls from a numb or weak leg. On rare occasions, a cane is needed to help prevent falls. Notify your physician if you experience any bladder or bowel weakness. Several pain relief medications can be used safely during pregnancy but should be discussed with your obstetrician.

No matter what stage you are in your pregnancy, The Iowa Clinic OB/GYN providers are here for it all. Visit our website or call 515.875.9290 to learn more.

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