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Aches and Pains in Pregnancy

In This Article:

Tailbone, leg, and wrist symptoms


This is pain in one or both buttocks that may radiate down one leg. There may also be tingling or numbness in the legs, although this occurs only in a small percentage of women. Sciatica is most likely to occur after the second trimester.


Sciatica is caused by trapping or compression of the sciatic nerve as it runs through the spinal column. The pain is termed referred pain, that is, pain felt in an area away from the problem site. Sciatica is not caused by compression of the nerve by the fetus's head. The causes of sciatica in pregnancy are the same as in women who are not pregnant and include poor posture, wear and tear on vertebral joints, and poor lifting techniques.

What to do

Specific exercises can help to stretch muscles gently and release pressure on the sciatic nerve. Your doctor may be able to advise you on exercises or may refer you to a physical therapist for help.

Coccygeal pain

The coccyx, or tailbone, is the small bone found at the base of the spine. This bone is usually fairly immobile; however in pregnancy it becomes more mobile, which facilitates the passage of the baby through the birth canal during labor. Pain in this area can make sitting for long periods extremely uncomfortable, particularly at work or during travel. Coccygeal pain can occur throughout pregnancy.


Coccygeal pain may predate pregnancy due to a previous injury to the area; the discomfort may then be exacerbated by the hormonal and mechanical changes of pregnancy. Alternatively, coccygeal pain may arise in pregnancy, since increased movement in the coccyx during this time makes injury more likely. Sometimes the coccyx is injured during labor by the baby's head, and coccygeal pain therefore develops after the birth.

What to do

Moving around frequently and gently massaging the area can help relieve discomfort. Ask your doctor which analgesics are safe for you to take. The condition usually gets better within 6 weeks of delivery.

Leg cramps

Cramps in the legs, particularly in the calf muscles, are a common problem during pregnancy. These occur most commonly at night, but may sometimes come on when walking, and their frequency can increase as your pregnancy advances.


There is debate as to the cause of leg cramps in pregnancy. They are likely to be caused by a combination of factors including maternal posture, increasing body weight, restriction in the blood flow to the legs, and the pressure of the uterus on the pelvic nerves. Some suggest that leg cramps in pregnancy may be due to a lack of salt in the diet. However, research demonstrates that low levels of salt are healthy in pregnancy, and that it is very unlikely that anyone who is eating a balanced diet will suffer from salt depletion.

What to do

Leg cramps may be relieved by changing position, flexing the toes of the affected leg upward, and massaging the cramped muscle. To avoid leg cramps, massage your legs before bed and avoid sitting or standing in one position for long periods. A warm bath before bed may also help. Stay well hydrated and alternate regular periods of moderate exercise with periods of rest.

If you have persistent pain, redness, or swelling in your calf, this may be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (see Ask A Doctor), which requires prompt medical attention.

Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is an uncomfortable feeling or unpleasant tingling that creates an overwhelming desire to move your legs, or causes legs to jerk uncontrollably, especially during sleep. Sufferers describe the sensation as being like an electric current passing through the legs or like having itchy bones. During pregnancy, the problem is most likely to occur during the third trimester.


Restless legs syndrome is frequently triggered or aggravated by pregnancy. The cause is unknown, but some studies indicate that it might be related to low iron levels. Many sufferers have a family history of the condition.

What to do

If you're suffering from restless leg syndrome, talk to your doctor about having a blood test to check your iron levels. If levels are low, a simple iron supplement may be prescribed. Some women find it helpful to exercise or stretch their legs, to use hot or cold compresses, or to have a leg massage. If the condition occurs for the first time in pregnancy, there is a very good chance that it will disappear after the baby is born.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a small tunnel in the wrist through which nerves run from your forearm into your hands and fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerves are compressed, resulting in tingling and pain in the fingers, which is often worse at night. In severe cases, there may be considerable discomfort and a reduced grip. In pregnancy, this is most likely to occur in the second and third trimesters.


Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on nerves running through the tunnel due to swelling of surrounding tissues. During pregnancy, swelling in the hands and feet is common as a result of the extra fluid and blood volume.

What to do

If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, talk to your doctor. You may be referred to a physical therapist for treatment, who will recommend specific exercises to help relieve the discomfort. You may also be advised to wear a lightweight splint to support your wrists, which can be especially beneficial if the pain is disturbing your sleep. Carpal tunnel syndrome usually disappears after the birth. However, if it persists, a simple surgery can be performed to relieve the pressure on the nerves.

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Excerpted from Pregnancy Day by Day.
Copyright © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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