In my practice, I see a lot of women who are experiencing either sciatica or lower back pain in pregnancy. It’s a very common condition, and it’s actually one of my favorite things to treat using acupuncture because it works so well! Acupuncture can help you to take the focus off of being in pain, and instead enjoy the last few months of pregnancy while gathering your strength for the birth.
Sciatica refers to pain which is usually in the glute and to some extent radiating down the back of the leg. The pain can travel partway down the leg or all the way to the toes, and can be constant or come and go. It sometimes leads to pins and needles or numbness, and can be a sharp pain. It’s usually worse with sitting. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the entire body, beginning in the lower back and running through the glutes and down the back of the leg. It’s often irritated in pregnancy due to the positioning of the baby or from generalized tightness in the lower back. A very tight muscle in the glutes called the piriformis muscle can also impinge on the sciatic nerve. Normally just one side of the body is painful, though it’s possible for both sides to be affected.
If you have lower back pain in pregnancy that does not radiate into the glutes or legs, acupuncture can still be very helpful.
Acupuncture can help via relaxing the muscles of the lower back and changing the nervous system’s perception of pain. During acupuncture in pregnancy, I typically have the woman lie on her side so that I can access the lower back and the more painful side. I sometimes will use moxibustion or cupping as well. Acupuncture once to twice weekly is usually recommended, depending on severity of symptoms.
I also recommend my pregnant patients do stretching, prenatal yoga and in some cases use of a tennis ball or other self-massage tool to release tight muscles. Some women come to me very discouraged, because their doctor has said there’s nothing they can do for the pain and it will go away once they give birth. In my experience there is quite a lot that you can do to decrease the pain before birth! In some cases it’s not possible to get rid of the pain 100%, but at least a 50% reduction is a good expectation. Another piece of good news is that many insurance plans cover acupuncture for lower back pain and sciatica.
Medical Disclaimer: If you have lower back pain and are pregnant, it is important to rule out other causes such as kidney stones, a bladder infection or early labor. Please see your healthcare provider for a complete diagnosis.