...and then there's pregnancy back pain.
Most pregnant women suffer from some sort of back pain due to the weight of the baby pulling at the spine, causing the mother to arch her back and thus throw her spine out of alignment and cause a lot of strain.
Then there is sciatic back pain, and if you have ever dealt with this, you know it can take over your whole life. It's located very low on the back pretty much at the top of the butt (normally on one side) and feels like pinching, burning nerve pain or sometimes like bones rubbing together angrily. It can be miserable and has a complete mind of it's own, and not really massage-able. It will limit you hugely as it's not just a "sore" feeling, but an actual something-is-severely-wrong kind of pain that can knock you to the floor or make you cry.
While pregnant with CJ, I remember having limited amount of this pain. I remember laying outside on our concrete pad under the sun to tan, and without fail every time, this pain would haunt me when I tried to get up. I quickly learned not to lay on concrete (which seems pretty obvious). That was pretty much it.
This time around though, the sciatica has flared up so very badly, that it had handicapped me... a lot. Most mornings I would wake up feeling back to normal, but by the end of the day I could barely walk. Nothing helped at all... no amount of stretching, ab work, resting, walking, rubbing or moping around would help it whatsoever. If I sat on our couch I was pretty much glued to it unless I wanted to cause myself some major pain by attempting to get up. So I never sat down during the day for more than a minute until Clint came home and we were watching a movie or reading. Then it would take me 5 minutes to get up and go limping pathetically over to the bed.
I was beginning to feel so extremely frustrated... this was no way to live. If I worked out, my back was on fire afterwards. If I didn't work out, my back was on fire afterwards. This sciatica limited me from doing a lot of things with my little boy and from feeling good at all. This is no way to live waddling around every day just tolerating the pains or being stopped in my tracks whenever it chose to get especially nasty. Welcoming my husband home from work with a big wince on my face wasn't too cool either. I didn't want to be stuck at the chiropractor all the time... I wanted the problem solved.
Then one day it just dawned on me. As I mentioned above, prenatal sciatic back pain is located so low on the back, it's pretty much at the top of the butt and will control your whole leg (thus severe pain while walking). It's joking referred to as the "pain in the butt back pain". It occurred to me that perhaps if the glute muscle was consistently fired up, activated, and being used all day, that it would support whatever terrorist activity is going on in there and ease the sciatic pain. They say ab work will help prevent pregnancy back pain, but I realized that the exact location of this specific back pain really had nothing to do with my abs. And besides, I tried that (a lot) already.
So, when I woke up in the morning the next day feeling back to normal, I immediately spent 20 minutes or so working out JUST the glute muscle... not even squats or lunges. I did hundreds of donkey kicks, glute bridges, and side leg lifts. When I got up and commenced my day, I made a conscious effort to always be keeping my heel to the floor with each stride so as to keep my glutes contracted. I went running and instead of just running "with my legs", and straigtened out my back leg (which flexes the glute muscle) with each stride. What can I say... it took a lot of subconscious flexing throughout the whole entire day. But my WORD!! I had NO pain the rest of the day and for the days afterward. One day I forgot to do my little butt routine (hehe...) and the pain returned with full force. I've learned my lesson now and was amazed that I found NO info on the internet about activating the glutes all day long to scare away sciatic pain. Seems like there would be more info about how to ACTUALLY cure this by providing stronger support.
It all makes sense right? It makes sense because it works. I'm not a fitness nutcase or rock hard bodybuilder, but I work out regularly and would consider myself to be pretty strong. I wouldn't have thought my glutes were weak. BUT... by completely isolating the glute muscle in the morning and totally exhausting it, it stays activated and will provide support to eliminate sciatic back pain. During the day if I ever feel the pain threatening to come back, I'll do standing donkey kicks (basically a straight-leg back kick) 20 times or so and it instantly feels better. The glutes aren't just one big muscle that squats will do the trick for. It needs to activated at several different angles, and that is what I was missing.
Despite how much I'd just love to post photos and instructions on each exercises, I don't really have the time (or feel like it, ha!). If you don't know the exact form or how to do any of these, just type it into google or search it on YouTube, and you'll find thousands of other's willing to demonstrate for you. ;)
So here's a quick, simple, easy little routine that could change your pregnant life! Change up the reps to more or less. This is just a short version.
20 (each) Standing side leg lifts. (stand as normal, left one leg directly out to the side with glute muscle activated and lift parallel to the floor side a straight-legged side kick, drop back down).
40 (each) Kneeling Donkey Kicks
30 Glute Bridges
20 (each) Lying side leg-lifts (Lie down on your side with head supported by hand, elbow on floor, top arm resting with hand on hip. Raise top leg as high as you can while activated the glute muscle, lower down to the floor).
Repeat 2x (or more)
I do a lot of variations of these very simple exercises. For the leg lifts, I'll often add a squat before kicking out to the side, or hold a heavy dumbell. For the donkey kicks, I wear ankle weights that tend to naturally force the butt muscle to contract. I also alternate between straight leg donkey kicks and bent leg. For the glute bridges, add a weight resting on your hips for resistance or alternate between lifting one let out in the air with each rep. A lot of times I will do the donkey kicks with either my hands of toes balancing on a stability ball which makes it more difficult. And of course there are so many other butt-specific moves (especially in Pilates and ballet-style workouts) that could be added to this. There are several more I do along with these (to keep from boredom) that I will perhaps post later.
Obviously, this isn't some ground breaking workout. It's just an example of what has changed my life the last few weeks to almost completely eliminate sciatic back pain during this pregnancy that was such a pain in the butt, it was depressing. My goal in posting this is to hopefully help any of the other preggos out there who are suffering from this! I tried constant squats, variations of squats, core workouts, and more. But the only thing that has made any ounce of difference is isolated glute exercises that don't really seem that hard. Even stretching was very painful. It worked for me and I think it could work for many other's. When you discover something that really affected your life, you naturally want to share.