Sciatica pain during pregnancy

Sciatica During Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Treatments for sciatic pain during pregnancy include massage, chiropractic care, and physical therapy. Self-treatment of sciatic pain during pregnancy includes exercises to help stretch the muscles of the leg, buttocks, and hip to decrease the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Some people also find nonweight-bearing exercises, such as swimming, to be helpful. This is because the water helps to support the weight of your baby.

Try these five stretches to help ease sciatic pain and discomfort during your pregnancy.

1. Seated piriformis stretch

The piriformis muscle is deep in the buttocks. When tight, it can irritate the sciatic nerve. This stretch will help relieve tightness in the muscle. This can help decrease sciatic pain.

Equipment needed: none

Target muscle: piriformis

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. If your left side is affected, put your left ankle on your right knee.
  3. Keeping a straight back, lean forward until you feel a stretch through your buttocks.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat throughout the day.

2. Table stretch

This feels great during pregnancy. It helps stretch the muscles of the back, buttocks, and the back of the legs.

Equipment needed: table

Target muscles: low back, spinal stabilizers, hamstrings

  1. Stand facing a table with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
  2. Lean forward with your hands on the table. Keep your arms straight and your back flat.
  3. Pull your hips away from the table until you feel a nice stretch in the lower back and back of the legs.
  4. You can also move your hips side to side to increase the stretch in the lower back and hips.
  5. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat twice a day.

3. Pigeon Pose

This popular yoga pose helps relieve sciatic-like pain during pregnancy. With a few small changes, it can be practiced comfortably while pregnant.

Equipment needed: rolled-up towel or yoga block

Target muscles: hip rotators and flexors

  1. Get on your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Slide your right knee forward so it’s between your hands.
  3. Slide your left leg back, keeping your foot on the floor.
  4. Place the rolled towel or a yoga block under your right hip. This will make the stretch easier and allow room for your belly.
  5. Lean forward over your right leg. Slowly lower yourself toward the ground, putting a pillow under your head and arms for support.
  6. Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side. Repeat a few times throughout the day.

4. Hip flexor stretch

The hip flexors are the muscles along the front of the hip that help move the leg forward during movements like walking. Many women have tight hip flexors during pregnancy. This can affect pelvic alignment and posture, causing pain.

Equipment needed: none

Target muscles: hip flexors

  1. Kneel on the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Step one foot in front of you so that your hip and knee are at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your back hip and leg.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on other side.

5. Glute and hamstring foam rolling

A foam roller is an inexpensive piece of equipment you can use to help massage your muscles. Foam rolling is a great way to soothe and relax tight muscles that may be contributing to increased pain. The roller acts like a mini massage for tight muscles and connective tissue.

Equipment needed: foam roller

Target muscles: hamstrings, calf muscles, glutes, piriformis

  1. Place a foam roller on the ground.
  2. Sit on the foam roller, supporting yourself with your hands behind you.
  3. Cross one foot over the other knee into a “figure 4” position.
  4. Slowly move your body back and forth over the foam roller until you find a tender spot.
  5. Continue this movement over the sore area for 30 to 60 seconds.
  6. Slowly move over the foam roller until you find another tender area. As in step 5, continue over the area for 30 to 60 seconds.
  7. Repeat on other side.

Add sciatica to the list of common aches, pains and discomforts of pregnancy. As your center of gravity shifts and ligaments loosen in preparation for labor, you may experience the shooting lower back and leg pain of a pinched or stressed sciatic nerve.

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A burning, radiating pain

Sciatica is a condition that feels like a shooting pain down your lower back and legs, along the sciatic nerve. It results from a pinched or inflamed sciatic nerve. It’s very common in pregnancy and often develops in the third trimester, according to ob/gyn Rebecca Starck, MD.

Pain grows as pregnancy advances

During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin increases, which helps prepare the pelvis for childbirth by relaxing ligaments, says Dr. Starck. As ligaments loosen and the body’s center of gravity shifts, the sciatic nerve can shift and get pinched, which results in a shooting pain sensation down the buttocks and back of the legs.

“As a result, there can be a lot more aches and pains. And sometimes in a second pregnancy, there are earlier and more exaggerated symptoms,” Dr. Starck says.

Sciatic nerve pain in pregnancy usually comes and goes, but it can also be constant.

Remedies for relief

Dr. Starck suggests several approaches to ease the discomfort of sciatica during pregnancy:

  • Take warm showers.
  • Use a heating pad.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Try massage therapy.
  • See a chiropractor.
  • Take medicine for pain relief. Dr. Starck recommends Tylenol® to help relieve pain and soreness.
  • Go to physical therapy. Get an evaluation and learn stretches and strength exercises to help ease pain.

“Physical therapy can do a lot to relieve pain during pregnancy,” says Dr. Starck. “The good news is that sciatica almost always goes away after pregnancy.”

Sciatica in pregnancy


Help your partner understand

How to show him what being pregnant is like.

What is sciatica?

Sciatica is the medical term for a group of symptoms rather than a single problem.
Your sciatic nerve comes from your lower back, travels down the back of your legs and then branches out to your feet. It allows you to feel sensations and move muscles in your legs.
Most cases of sciatica are caused by swelling or pressure from your back that makes your sciatic nerve painful (NICE 2018a). It usually happens when one of the spongy discs between the bones in your spine gets out of position or is injured (Levin et al 2017, NICE 2018a).
Sometimes, the way the nerve works can be affected, giving you weakness or pins and needles in your leg. You can have sciatica with or without backache and it can send pain down one of your legs (NICE2018a).

Am I more likely to get sciatica if I’m pregnant?

No, you are not more prone to sciatica if you are pregnant. During pregnancy, you may feel aches and pains in your pelvis and back, but these are unlikely to be related to the sciatic nerve. They are more likely to be caused by pelvic girdle pain (PGP), which is much more common and has some of the same symptoms as sciatica.
Sciatica is not caused by your baby pressing on a nerve and pregnancy doesn’t put you at greater risk of damaging a disc in your spine. Heavy lifting and activities that make your whole body vibrate, such as operating machinery, are the most common triggers for sciatica (NICE 2018a).
You’re unlikely to be doing the kind of heavy-duty work that causes sciatica while you’re pregnant. That’s another reason why it’s more likely for PGP to be causing your aches and pains.
However, sitting for long periods and poor posture can lead to low back pain and sciatica (Chou 2018), so that’s another good reason to stay active during pregnancy.

How will I know if I have sciatica?

You will have a shooting, burning pain that comes and goes, and often affects just one side. You may feel pain in your lower back, at the back of your thigh and down the outer side of your calf to your foot and toes (NICE 2018a, Wheeler et al 2018). If you have lower back pain too, the pain down your buttock and leg usually feels worse than the lower back pain (NHS 2017, NICE 2018a).
You may also feel tingling in your leg, and numbness or pins and needles in your leg or foot. The pain may be patchy or widespread. Sciatica can be extremely wearing and cause more constant pain than PGP or back pain. Work and family life can be difficult when the pain is at its worst.
Your GP may be able to diagnose sciatica, or she may refer you to a physiotherapist (Hsu et al 2017, NICE 2018a).

How is sciatica treated?

Your GP may suggest some simple exercises and stretches to try first (NHS 2017, 2018a), or she may refer you straight to a physiotherapist (NHS 2017).
Your physiotherapist will show you exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor, tummy muscles and back. She will also show you ways to improve your posture. She may want to keep an eye on you throughout your pregnancy to check the function of your nerves.

About half of people with acute sciatica feel better within 10 days to two weeks, and most (75 per cent) recover within four weeks to 12 weeks (NICE 2018a). But for some people the symptoms can remain for much longer (Levin et al 2017, NICE 2018a).
You can take paracetamol, though there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s an effective painkiller for sciatica (Levin et al 2017, NICE 2018a) or low back pain (Moore et al 2015, Saragiotto et al 2016). Your doctor or pharmacist may advise about other medications, or combinations of medications, to try instead. It’s best not to take ibuprofen when you’re 30 weeks or more pregnant (NHS 2018b, NICE 2018b).
Other therapies you could try include acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic (Randall 2014), although there is a lack of evidence about how helpful they are for sciatica (Fernandez et al 2016, Ji et al 2015, Levin et al 2017, Qin et al 2015).
If you opt for a complementary therapy, make sure that you see a registered practitioner who is experienced in treating pregnant women.

Are there any self-help tips I can follow?

  • With your skin protected by a flannel or cloth, apply a heat (NHS 2017, NICE 2018a) or an ice pack to the painful area to help reduce the pain. Alternating between warmth and cold helps some people (BUPA 2017).
  • Keep as active as possible, as this will help you to recover (BUPA 2017, NICE 2018a). As you try to do your normal activities, it’s all right to feel a bit of pain, provided you pace yourself (BackCare 2010, NHS 2017, NICE 2018a). If an activity makes your pain too severe, or causes pain to last more than a couple of hours after you’ve stopped, try to avoid it (BackCare 2010)
  • Watch your posture (NHS 2017). Try not to sit for long periods (BUPA 2017, NHS 2019a). If you sit at a desk for work, ask your employer to carry out a health and safety assessment to ensure that your chair is adjustable, and you have the back support you need (HSE nd). It can help to have a bolster cushion to keep your back slightly arched.
  • Try not to lift anything heavy (NICE 2018a). If you do have to lift something, bend from your knees and keep your back straight (NHS 2019b, 2017). Keep the object you’re lifting close to your body.
  • Try not to stay still for long periods. Resting in bed for longer than short periods is unlikely to help (Levin et al 2017, NICE 2018a).
  • Sleep on your side with a pillow or two tucked between your knees (NICE 2018a). Sleeping on your side is also best for your baby – by the third trimester, it reduces your risk of stillbirth compared to lying on your back (Gordon et al 2015, Heazell et al 2017, 2018, McCowan et al 2017, Stacey et al 2011).
  • Wear soft, comfortable shoes. Jarring your spine can make your pain worse.

How can I relieve pelvic pain? Pelvic pain in pregnancy is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Learn how to get relief.More pregnancy videos

How will sciatica affect my labour?

Some labour positions may set off sciatica pain, while others may relieve it (Wasson and Chon 2018). Ask your physiotherapist for advice. Using a birth pool can be helpful, as it will make moving around easier (RCM 2012, Shaw-Battista 2017).

Will sciatica make caring for my baby harder?

As with any back condition, you’ll need to look after your posture (NHS 2017, NICE 2018a). When breastfeeding, try out different positions to find the one that’s most comfortable for you.
Laid-back breastfeeding may help too, as your baby is supported on your body…
Try to change your baby on a changing station rather than on the floor. When you lift your baby, keep your back straight, bend your knees and avoid twisting movements.
Ask your midwife or physiotherapist about exercise classes that you can join to improve your general fitness, strength and flexibility. This will help to prevent your problem becoming a long-standing one (BUPA 2017, NHS 2017).
More tips and advice:

  • Get tips on relieving pelvic pain in pregnancy.
  • See our photo guide to getting out of bed while you’re expecting
  • Try these pregnancy stretches to help yourself feel better.

Last reviewed: August 2019 BackCare. 2010. Sciatica and referred pain.
Berkmann S, Fandino J. 2012. Pregnancy and childbirth after microsurgery for lumbar disc herniation. Acta Neurochirurgica 154(2): 329-34
BUPA. 2017. Lower back pain. BUPA, Health information.
Chou R. 2018. Patient education: low back pain in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate.
Fernandez M, Ferreira ML, Refshauge KM, et al. 2016. Surgery or physical activity in the management of sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Spine J25(11):3495-3512
Gordon A, Raynes-Greenow C, Bond D, et al. 2015. Sleep position, fetal growth restriction, and late-pregnancy stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol 125(2):347-55
Heazell A, Li M, Budd J et al. 2017. Going-to-sleep supine is a modifiable risk factor for late stillbirth – findings from the Midlands and North of England Stillbirth Case-Control Study. BJOG online first: 20 Nov.
Heazell A, Li M, Budd J, et al. 2018. Association between maternal sleep practices and late stillbirth: findings from a stillbirth case-control study. BJOG125(2):254-62.
HSE. nd. Expectant mothers – FAQs. Health and Safety Executive.
Ji M, Wang X, Chen M, et al. 2015. The efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 192808
Levin K, Hsu PS, Armon C. 2017. Acute lumbosacral radiculopathy. UpToDate 24 Apr
McCowan LME, Thompson JMD, Cronin RS, et al. 2017. Going to sleep in the supine position is a modifiable risk factor for late pregnancy stillbirth; Findings from the New Zealand multicentre stillbirth case-control study. PloS ONE 12(6):e0179396.
Moore RA, Derry S, Wiffen PJ, et al. 2015. Overview review: Comparative efficacy of oral ibuprofen and paracetamol (acetaminophen) across acute and chronic pain conditions. Eur J Pain 19(9):1213-23.
NHS. 2017. Sciatica.NHS, Health A-Z.
NHS. 2018a. Exercises for sciatica.NHS, Live well, Exercise.

NHS 2018b. Can I take ibuprofen when I’m pregnant? NHS, Common health questions, Pregnancy.
NHS. 2019a. How to sit correctly.NHS, Live well, Healthy body.
NHS. 2019b. Safe lifting techniques.NHS, Live well, Healthy body.
NICE. 2018a. Sciatica (lumbar radiculopathy). National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Clinical Knowledge Summaries.
NICE. 2018b. NSAIDs: prescribing issues. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Clinical Knowledge Summaries.
Qin Z, Liu X, Wu J, et al. 2015. Effectiveness of acupuncture for treating sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 425108 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.govo
Randall S. 2014. Osteopathy: helping pregnant women in pain. Practising Midwife 17(5): 38-41
RCM. 2012. Immersion in water for labour and birth. Royal College of Midwives, Evidence-based guidelines for midwifery-led care in labour.
Saragiotto BT, Machado GC, Ferreira ML, et al. 2016. Paracetamol for low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (6): CD012230.
Shaw-Battista J. 2017. Systematic review of hydrotherapy research: does a warm bath in labor promote normal physiologic childbirth? J Perinat Neonatal Nurs 31(4):303-316.
Stacey T, Thompson JMD, Mitchell EA, et al. 2011. Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study. BMJ 342:d3403.
Wasson C, Chon T. 2018. A case of sciatica during labor due to an occiput posterior fetus. Cureus10(1):e2082.
Wheeler SG, Wipf JE, Staiger TO, et al. 2018. Evaluation of low back pain in adults. UpToDate12 Jun

Pregnancy and Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatic Nerve Pain During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, providing a sensory and motor function to the lower extremities. This nerve provides sensation to the back of the thigh, the lower part of the leg and the sole of the foot.

Sciatic nerve pain is a periodic severe pain that occurs throughout your legs.

What causes sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy?

The sciatic nerve runs under your uterus to your legs. The cause of sciatic nerve pain is thought to be associated with pressure on the nerve caused by the developing baby.

What can I do to treat it?

The simplest remedy is to lie on your side, opposite of the pain. This may help relieve the pressure on the nerve. Avoid heavy lifting and minimize standing for long periods of time.

If you experience pressure while standing, try elevating one foot and resting it on something. Swimming may also ease discomfort.

You may experience relief by applying heat or cold to the troubled area. Your healthcare provider may recommend acetaminophen to relieve the pain.

It is important to contact your health care provider if the pain becomes constant, or increases in severity or frequency.

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Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy, Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Part 3.

Relieving sciatica pain during pregnancy

Light stretches in the back region are a great way to loosen up tight muscles and relieve pain from sciatica.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women avoid exercises that involve lying on their back. This is because when in this position the uterus presses against a large vein that leads to the heart.

Try these stretches each day to relieve sciatica pain within a few weeks:

The piriformis muscle is deep in the glutes, or muscles of the buttocks. Spasms in these muscles can cause sciatica pain. This stretch can help ease muscle tightness and reduce spasms.

To do the seated piriformis stretch:

  • Sit on a chair with feet flat on the ground.
  • Lift the left leg and place the foot on the opposite knee.
  • Lean forward slowly, keeping the back straight, until you feel a stretch in the low back and glutes.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the move with the right leg.

2. Child’s Pose

Child’s Pose is a popular yoga position for people who are pregnant. This simple, restful pose will stretch the muscles in the lower part of the back and can help ease hip and leg pain.

To do Child’s Pose:

  • Kneel on a soft surface or yoga mat.
  • Touch the big toes together and spread the knees apart to make room for the belly.
  • Sit with the back straight.
  • Inhaling, reach the arms above the head.
  • Exhaling, reach the arms forward and place the palms on the ground.
  • Sit back, bringing the bottom towards the heels.
  • Keep taking deep breaths, stretching the arms forward a little more with each breath, feeling the stretch in the low back and shoulders.
  • Walk the hands back slowly and return to a kneeling position.

3. Standing hamstring stretch

Stretching the hamstrings, which are the large muscles along the backs of the thighs, can release tension in the back, legs, and glutes. This stretch will help keep flexibility in the muscles around the sciatic nerve.

To do the standing hamstring stretch:

  • Stand upright with both feet on the ground.
  • Raise the left leg and place it on a stable object, with the leg straight and the toes pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Gently bend forward to stretch the hamstring muscle.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds.
  • Gently place the foot back on the floor.
  • Repeat the stretch with the right leg.

4. Kneeling lunges

Kneeling lunges work by loosening the muscles in the hips. This can ease pressure on the nerves and the muscles surrounding the hips, including the back and leg muscles.

To do the kneeling lunge:

  • Kneel on a soft surface or yoga mat.
  • Step the left foot in front so that the thigh is parallel with the ground.
  • Exhaling, shift your body weight forward to feel a stretch in the hip and the leg.
  • Hold the stetch for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the move with the right foot.

You knew pregnancy was going to mean a lot of firsts — like feeling the incredible first flutter of baby moving in your belly. But back pain that just won’t go away? That might not have been quite the experience you had in mind when you first envisioned yourself with that proverbial pregnancy glow.

While a majority of mothers-to-be experience some dull, throbbing aches in the middle of the back or the butt, some grapple with the searing pain of sciatica during pregnancy, a painful but fortunately temporary condition.

Unlike your average pregnancy back pain, sciatica is a sharp, shooting pain, tingling or numbness that starts in the back or buttocks and radiates all the way down the backs of your legs. The sciatic nerve, the largest in the body, starts in the lower back, runs down the buttocks and branches down the back of the legs to the ankles and feet. In most cases, sciatica happens when this nerve gets compressed by bulging, slipped or ruptured discs, arthritis, or a narrowing of the spinal cord (also called spinal stenosis). But rarely, women experience sciatica as a short-term side effect of pregnancy.

What causes sciatica during pregnancy?

You can blame sciatica during pregnancy on the usual suspects:

  • Weight gain and increased fluid retention can put pressure on the sciatic nerve where it passes through the pelvis, compressing it.
  • Your expanding uterus might also press down on the sciatic nerve in the lower part of your spine.
  • Your growing belly and breasts shift your center of gravity forward and stretch your lordotic curve (the dip just above your butt). This can cause the muscles in your buttocks and pelvic area to tighten up and pinch the sciatic nerve.
  • Your baby’s head can rest directly on the nerve when he starts to settle into the proper birth position in the third trimester.
  • A herniated or slipped disc caused by the extra pressure of your growing uterus can be the culprit, although this is less common.

What you need to know about sciatica during pregnancy

Sciatica will most likely occur during the third trimester, when both you and your baby are bulking up (it can develop earlier, but it’s not common). Most women typically experience pain just on one side, though you may feel it in both legs.

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Sciatica can be constant or intermittent, depending on the amount of pressure placed on the nerve. Pain may increase as you put on more weight and retain more fluid. And it can stick around for a few months or so after you’ve given birth, until you’ve shed the excess weight and fluid pressing on the nerve.

What you can do to relieve sciatica

  • Use a warm compress on the spot where you feel the pain.
  • When you can, take a break off of your feet. Resting in a comfortable position can ease some leg and lower back pain.
  • Sleep on the side of your body that’s pain-free. For example, if you feel pain on your left side, lie down on your right side. That’s still okay, even though the “best” sleeping position for pregnant women is typically said to be the left side.
  • For extra comfort at night, use a firm mattress with plenty of back support, and place a pregnancy pillow or a regular pillow between your legs to help keep the pelvis in better alignment and take some pressure off the sciatic nerve.
  • Do some pelvic tilts with your Kegel exercises — they’ll help strengthen your core muscles and can help reduce inflammation.
  • Swimming can also take off some of the pressure, since the buoyancy of the water temporarily relieves the spine of the pregnancy weight.
  • Acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments or therapeutic prenatal massage (always with a trained and licensed practitioner) can sometimes help. A customized physical therapy regimen could also offer some relief.
  • Try to gain pregnancy weight at a steady pace, since a major jump in pounds could put undue pressure on the sciatic nerve. Though the amount you should gain is specific to you, women who were a normal BMI before getting pregnant should generally aim to gain around 3 to 4 pounds in the first trimester, up to 14 more pounds in the second trimester and about 10 more pounds in the third trimester, for a total weight gain in pregnancy of 25 to 35 pounds.
  • If the pain is severe, talk to your doctor, who may recommend acetaminophen in a dosage that will take the edge off the pain but keep you and your baby safe.

Weirdest Pregnancy Symptoms

Pregnancy is a beautiful time for women as they await the birth of their child. Unfortunately, many mothers also experience quite a bit of pain in a number of areas prior to the birth of their child. Seeking chiropractic care for pain and sciatica during pregnancy can help alleviate your symptoms and prepare your body for childbirth.

Many women suffer from sciatic nerve pain throughout the pregnancy process. This pain starts in the lower back and shoots down the back of the leg. During pregnancy, the weight and position of the baby can cause irritation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica pain often does not appear until the second or third trimester, but it is highly uncomfortable and sometimes even prevents activity for some expectant moms. Luckily, there are treatment options that do not require medication. These holistic options are safe for both Mom and the new baby.

Chiropractic Care

The most effective treatment for sciatic pain during pregnancy is chiropractic care. Chiropractors – like Dr. Nault – specialize in treating nerve pain that affects joints and other areas. They can alleviate the pressure on the nerves with adjustments.

The procedure includes the chiropractor using a tool or their hands to release the gas between joints. The joint pops into place and releases a fluid that lubricates the area. The result is often a refreshing, pain free feeling. Some patients take a little time to work into the adjustment. Muscles may tense up around the area and take a few days to relax after an adjustment.

Overall, most expectant mothers will get the relief they need from frequent adjustments. Regular adjustments are an easy way to alleviate one of the major causes of sciatica pain. Doctor Nault will work with you to determine the most effective treatment method for your needs. Your comfort and safety are our top priorities.


There are also different stretches that can help alleviate pain to the sciatic area. Pelvic tilts, hamstring stretches, and other bends and stretches can help keep the area limber and in less pain.

We know that you already deal with a lot. Sciatic pain should not have to be something you simply deal with. These treatments can help alleviate the pain to make the pregnancy process as enjoyable as possible. Contact Nault Chiropractic today to schedule your appointment. We’ll help you find relief from your pregnancy pain, so you can focus on getting ready for your new baby.

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