Pregnancy Sciatica

Other than nausea in the first trimester, Rhiannon had an uneventful pregnancy until 22-weeks when sciatica struck. It began on Thursday, and gradually worsened until, by Saturday evening, she was in such pain that I insisted she contact her midwife. Rhiannon had barely slept since Thursday and could neither sit nor lie down for more than a few minutes. Amanda, the midwife, could only recommend paracetamol, advised her not to use her TENS unit and to come in to see her after the scan at the clinic on Monday.

On Monday, Amanda called Maxine, the women's health physiotherapist at Queen's Hospital, who confirmed that it is fine to use the TENS unit for sciatica and back pain during pregnancy provided it is not a maternity TENS (which is much stronger) and not to place the pads anywhere near her abdomen. So there you have it: pregnant women can use TENS for sciatica and other back pain. The physiotherapist asked Amanda to make an urgent appointment for Rhiannon to see an obstetrician who can refer her for physiotherapy. The earliest appointment: Wednesday! Where's the urgency in that for a pregnant woman who hasn't slept for four nights? And why the hell can't a midwife make a referral to a physiotherapist? The unit only took the edge of Rhiannon's sciatic pain. My poor baby girl.

On Wednesday, having barely slept since Thursday, we went to Queen's Hospital to see the obstetrician, whose accent was so strong it was difficult to understand him. He said that sciatica is common once the baby's head has moved down(!) and that it would all be okay once she's had the baby. Rhiannon insisted on a referral to the obstetric physiotherapist. 'Oh, you want to see a physiotherapist? Ok, I'll write a referral.' Presumably, anyone unaware of the existence of obstetric physiotherapists wouldn't have asked and wouldn't have been referred. Rhiannon asked him why the Queen's midwife had recorded her as being 35 weeks' pregnant in her notes when she was just 23 weeks. 'But you are 35 weeks.' 'No, I'm 23 weeks.' 'Are you sure?' 'Yes!' So he measured Rhiannon's bump, agreed it was 23 weeks and hauled in the midwife to embarrass the poor woman in front of us both. What a professional! Then the midwife said that Rhiannon would get a letter from the physiotherapist, or perhaps even a telephone call as it was marked urgent, in a few days. I asked if we could hand deliver the referral, given that the physio department is in the same building. Apparently not. Once we got home, Rhiannon left a message on the physio department's answerphone asking for a call. None came.

In the meantime, I looked up local chiropractors. The first two went to answerphone, the third (Chimes Chiropractic) not only confirmed they treat pregnant women, but could see her that afternoon. Rhiannon was seen by Dr Vasily Maslukovs, an utterly lovely and charming superhero.  He took a detailed history and examined Rhiannon and said he was sure that he can successfully treat her ― starting tomorrow morning! That was rather disappointing news. Another sleepless night.

The next morning Rhiannon started treatment with Vas. The effects were practically instantaneous and something like a miracle ― the sciatica disappeared.

It would be very easy for the sceptic to say that Rhiannon's sciatica couldn't have been that bad in the first place, or that she has a low pain threshold. I can assure you that neither is true.

The course of treatment is undeniably expensive, but it worked ― and was there an alternative? No.


At her next midwife appointment Rhiannon told the midwife that, other than two conflicting voice messages (one asking her to ring for an appointment and another saying they can't give her an appointment until they receive the referral), she still had not heard from the physiotherapy department. The midwife immediately called the physiotherapy department and extracted a promise that Rhiannon would receive a call later that day ― which turned out to be an invitation to a group class on pregnancy pain some three weeks after Rhiannon's referral. Rhiannon and I both attended the session, along with half a dozen young women suffering with varying degrees of Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction. Was the session helpful? Not in the least. No hands-on physiotherapy was given. There was a discussion on pelvic floor exercises, but what post-pubertal woman doesn't know how to do them, and how can the physiotherapist check there being done correctly in a group class? All the pregnant women were given a double length of tubigrip to support their bumps, but this would surely make the abdominal muscles weaker, not stronger!