Sciatica describes a debilitating pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, originating in your lower back, radiating downwards through your glutes into your leg and foot. The pain can be mild or severe, and often develops as a result of wear and tear on the lower spine. The good news is that sciatica is most often relieved through conservative methods within a matter of weeks without requiring surgery. Working to improve your back and core strength, while increasing flexibility throughout your hips and lower body will significantly reduce your chances of lower back pain and the painful symptoms of sciatica.
The symptoms of sciatica can vary from a mild ache to excruciating pain that radiates along the pathway of your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back down through your hips and into each leg. These symptoms can include numbness, tingling sensations, or muscle weakness that travels down the back of your thigh, into your calf or foot. Typically, those affected with sciatica will experience symptoms on only one side of the body (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Although the pain may be severe, sciatica can most often be relieved through chiropractic and massage treatments, improvements in strength and flexibility, and the application of heat and ice packs.
There are many factors that can leave you susceptible to sciatica, which affects both athletes and those who are less active. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica than active people. However, endurance athletes are also prone to experiencing sciatica from overworked and stiff muscles. Age is also a significant factor, as those between the ages of 30 and 60 often experience age related degeneration in their spine, such as herniated discs, bone spurs, and joint dysfunction in the hips. Obesity and diabetes are other common contributors (Mayo Clinic, 2013).
The Good News
A physical therapist can help you to determine whether sciatica can be relieved through conservative methods such as chiropractic adjustments, static stretching and cold therapy. Most people respond well to simple techniques and are pain free within a matter of weeks. Chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy will help you to improve the alignment of your spine and address any other underlying conditions, while helping to improve blood circulation and muscle relaxation. Minor pain can also be treated with the application of heat and ice (Spine & Sport, 2013).
Improve Core and Back Strength
The musculature around your spine and abdomen may be weak or overly tight, preventing them from supporting your body as needed. Poor posture and compromised muscles can impact the alignment of your spine, increasing your risk for lower back pain and sciatica (Miller, 2012). Gentle strengthening exercises that target your core and back will improve your posture and ability to respond to stress, reducing the likelihood or severity of back pain. While you are recovering from sciatica, you may want to avoid high impact exercises, such as running or plyometrics.
Increase Hip and Hamstring Flexibility
Stiff hamstrings, glutes, and hips can alter your posture and increase the stress on your lower back, which may contribute to sciatica. Most types of sciatica will benefit significantly from a stretching routine that targets the hips and hamstrings, and relieves an overused or inflamed piriformis muscle. The piriformis is a small muscle that attaches at the base of the spine and runs just above the sciatic nerve. Prolonged inactivity or sitting compresses the piriformis over the sciatic nerve, which can lead to aggravation and pain (Miller, 2012). Reverse the effects of tight hips and hamstrings by adopting a simple stretching routine or incorporating yoga into your overall fitness regimen.
Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services. She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.