You may have a lot of questions about pregnancy: What causes morning sickness? Why do your breasts increase in size? Are you supposed to feel more emotional? Why do you have to make frequent trips to the bathroom? It can be a scary 9 months if you do not know what happens to your body when you are pregnant–especially when these changes could lead to medical conditions that involve sciatica pain. So here’s another you should ask: what does the relaxin and sciatica have in common? Answer: they are both associated with pregnancy.
One of the most important changes that occurs in your body during pregnancy is hormonal changes. When you are pregnant, your body releases or produces more of certain hormones, particularly relaxin and progesterone, as a way of prepping your pregnant body for its final event: birth. The pregnancy hormone relaxin is major player in preparing your body for labor; however, its softening of your ligaments and bones may have an unintentional side effect: it can make expectant mothers more prone to a herniated disk or pinched nerve, medical conditions that can irritate the sciatic nerve.
First things First. What is Relaxin?
The pregnancy hormone relaxin is the bone and ligament whisperer. During pregnancy, relaxin is released into your body, and your body, well, relaxes. As if your whole body takes a deep breath, your pelvic ligaments become looser, bones shift, and the cervix is softened by this meditative hormone. Why? Your body needs to be realigned so that it can more easily give birth. Without relaxin, pushing out the baby at the end of your third trimester would be painful and almost impossible without causing physical injury to yourself.
Next up, Relaxin and Sciatica: Relaxin-Related Medical Conditions
Relaxin and other pregnancy hormones strengthen the body for labor, but they also leave your body in a fragile state and thus vulnerable to several medical conditions. So, not only can you have a pre-existing medical condition that predisposes your for sciatica during pregnancy, but your pregnancy itself may cause a herniated disk or pinched nerve. Let’s take a look:
1) A pinched nerve, or
As ligaments loosen and bones move from relaxin, more room is created between the bones of a joint. It is now easier for a nerve to slip between a joint when it is compressed or relaxed and get pinched. When the sciatic nerve or a neighboring nerve is the one caught between bones, the resulting pinched nerve can cause sciatica symptoms.
2) a herniated disk.
A herniated disk is one of the most common causes of sciatica–and pregnancy can cause it. With the combined effort of both relaxin and another pregnancy hormone, progesterone, the muscles and ligaments in your pregnant body relax. The increased levels of these hormones can therefore shift the disks of your spine, and a disk that makes up your spine could become damaged. Although a herniated disk is usually asymptomatic, nerve pain may be felt during pregnancy, as the baby creates added pressure to your lower back, further aggravating the herniated disc.
Last but not Least: What is the Treatment?
Usually, a pinched nerve and herniated disc will heal on their own, provided you give your body plenty of rest after your pregnancy. Occasionally, more severe cases will be treated with medications and followed by physical therapy to gain back spinal strength. Exercises and lifestyle changes are recommended in all cases as a preventative measure, to reduce symptoms and to build strength in the spine.
Sciatica pain may lessen after your give birth, since there is less pressure on your lower back; however, it is important to continue with exercises and activities that strengthen your spine. You will want to support your healing disc after your pregnancy.