Take a Deep Breath: Stress Can Cause Sciatica During Pregnancy

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Hee hee who, hee hee who. That is one of the patterned breathing exercises you were probably taught to use during labor to calm yourself down. But you might want to start practicing it–as well as other relaxation techniques–now. Here’s why: individuals with back problems, including sciatica, are five times more likely to be in psychological distress. Stress can cause sciatica when you are pregnant.

Between your job, relationships, family, and health, life is stressful. Put pregnancy, another major cause of anxiety, on top of all that is already going on in your life and you may be looking at a future of lower back pain. Sciatica during pregnancy can manifest from maternal stress that comes from external stressors or your pregnancy itself, as the changes in your body can be not only physically exhausting but emotionally taxing. So, as you face the mental ups and downs of pregnancy, keep in mind that any sciatica pain can be a physical sign that you are under high levels of stress.

Pregnancy and Stress

Many women have elevated stress levels when a baby is on the way. Here’s why:

1) You don’t know what to expect. 

You may have read all the books and watched all the videos to mentally prepare yourself  for pregnancy, but these teaching techniques can only go so far in informing expectant mothers of what to expect. Because every pregnancy varies–depending on the mother’s health, the baby, the timing, the medical history of the parent, etc.–applying generic information to your pregnancy may fall short of telling you the full story.

As much as you can anticipate, your pregnancy will still challenge you mentally and physically. For first-time mothers, pregnancy is something they never experienced before, so everything is new–and scary. Women who have been through one or more pregnancies before know that each pregnancy has its differences. In other words, the uncertainty and unpredictability that comes with pregnancy is stressful.

2) Your routine changes.  

As soon as that pregnancy test shows a positive, your life changes almost instantly. You have doctor’s appointments to schedule, a healthier diet to stick to, and plans for the baby’s room that need to be made. This sudden burst of new responsibilities is exciting but can also be overwhelming.

3) You have another life to worry about–not just your own. 

Most of us are used to prioritizing ourselves, but with a baby on the way, all that changes. You may find that your spend a good portion of the day worrying about the health and future of the baby.

4) It’s a lot of time and a little–all at once.

Pregnancy may feel like a time when time is both moving too slow (“Get this baby out of me!”) and too fast (“I didn’t even paint the baby’s nursery yet!”). The sense of urgency this creates can give you a hefty headache.

5) Life doesn’t stop when your pregnancy starts. 

Pregnancy may just be the tipping point, an additional stressor that further overwhelms your already chaotic life. Pregnancy stress, combined with other life factors,  increase your risk of sciatica.

Although stress during pregnancy is normal, that does not mean it is good for your health.

Stress Can Cause Sciatica: A Look at Musculoskeletal Health

Because stress is not easily seen or objectively measured, many doubt or overlook stress as a probably cause or trigger of physical ailments, like lower back pain, during pregnancy. But studies suggest that stress can play a large role in your health and your baby’s during pregnancy.

Expectant mothers who have high levels of anxiety prior to or during pregnancy are also more likely to come face-to-face with musculoskeletal issues. Your body is equipped to sustain low levels of stress, with many built-in mechanisms to protect you from this silent, health-ravaging nightmare. But when the body is under large amounts of stress, especially for an extended period of time, your muscles tense up as a way of dealing with the danger  your body perceives. Tense muscles can give you a headache as well as shoulder, neck and back pain. Stress may have also have given you or put your at greater risk for other medical conditions, like osteoporosis, which can lead to sciatica flare-ups during pregnancy. When your muscles and bones–especially your spine and lower back bones–are more vulnerable due to the effects of stress on your body, sciatica is more likely to rear its ugly head during your pregnancy.

In order to reduce your risk of sciatica due to stress, you need to learn how to recognize what causes your stress levels to peak, when your stress levels get too high and how to bring them back down. There are a wide variety of relaxation techniques and activities you can add to your life while pregnant to reduce your stress levels, protecting your baby as well as preventing sciatica. See the “Lifestyle Changes” section for more detail.


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