Sciatica Impacts Women

There’s no denying that having pain radiating down the leg can be incredibly debilitating. It can prevent us from comfortably walking, sitting, standing, or doing any number of our daily tasks. This sensation can even be accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness. So what is sciatica? And do hormonal changes and pregnancy contribute to this pain? Learn how sciatica impacts women.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a term that indicates radiating pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is a peripheral nerve that supplies the lower extremities sensation and motor function. It originates from the spinal cord nerve roots L4-S3. After it exits out of the spine, it travels down into the pelvis through the butt muscles, down the back of the thigh, and then splits into additional nerves at approximately the level of the knee. There is a sciatic nerve in each leg.

Sciatica tends to be used as a bit of a “catch-all” for pain that occurs down the lower extremity, something we can also describe as radiculopathy or radicular pain. It doesn’t tell us where the pain is coming from, however. This is something that we assess during our evaluation to help determine the appropriate treatment plan to address these symptoms.

Other sources of leg pain include:

-Peripheral nerve compressed from a muscle
-L4-S3 nerve root compression from the lumbar vertebrae, disc, or spinal canal narrowing
-Nerve sheath restrictions (membrane around the nerve that helps transmit the impulse)
-Disruption in the vascular or circulatory system (blood clot, varicose veins, poor circulation)
-Muscle trigger points in the gluteals that cause pain down the leg

Hormones, Pregnancy, and Sciatica

There was a recent study published in Spring 2022 in the International Journal of Science and Healthcare Research titled Prevalence of Sciatica in Pregnancy and Its Impact on Quality of Life. The study found that 16.9% of women experienced sciatica symptoms during pregnancy. Numerous hormonal and mechanical changes occur throughout the body during pregnancy that predisposes the individual to develop sciatica.

There are hormonal changes that occur that increase the body’s joint mobility throughout pregnancy. Relaxin begins to increase at 6 weeks and peaks by 12-14 weeks. Estrogen increases and peaks around 32 weeks. Increased joint mobility is important to help the pelvis accommodate the growing uterus and allow for childbirth, but this shifting of structures can cause pain. The pelvis may tip forward more, the uterus expands, and the pelvic floor is holding more and more weight of the growing fetus. This can all strain and put pressure on the sciatic nerve and glutes and lead to lower extremity pain.

Menopause and Sciatica

Another way hormones may affect sciatica is during menopause. Estrogen levels are much lower in menopause which compromises bone health. This can lead to more brittle bones, osteoporosis, and degradation of the vertebrae. In the lumbar spine if the vertebrae start to weaken or if the discs become more compressed, that can create pressure on the nerve roots leading to a sensation of pain down the leg.

Don’t wait to treat your sciatic symptoms today! Schedule your appointment now!

Caroline is a skilled orthopedic therapist specializing in treating the pelvic floor and many other conditions.