…and what you can do about it!
What is sciatica? Sciatica is pain in the buttock, leg or foot associated with back pain. Its name comes from the sciatic nerve that originates in the spine, passes though the pelvis and runs down the back of the leg. Sciatica can range from mild, intermittent aching to strong pain that impacts normal daily activities and work.
Possible Causes of Sciatica
- Disc injury: Between the vertebrae in the lumbar spine, there are flexible discs of cartilage. As we age these discs can degenerate and the fluid center of the disc can move in a backward direction putting pressure on nerves inside the disc. In some cases, the disk will herniate and some of the fluid can press on nerves outside the disc, causing pain in the buttock or leg. One Physical Therapy treatment for this type of problem is the McKenzie approach which teaches techniques to reduce the pressure on nerves and restore the disc to its proper position.
- Piriformis syndrome: The Sciatic nerve runs though the pelvis and down the back of the leg. In the buttock it lies very close to a muscle called piriformis. If the piriformis muscle is tight it can press on the nerve causing pain in the leg. There are lots of different stretches you can do to loosen up the piriformis. In Physical Therapy, Dry Needling is often used to release the muscle before stretching it out.
- Sacro-iliac joint: The Sacro-iliac joint where the spine joins with the pelvis. The SI joints can get out of their normal position causing pain in one or both buttocks that can also extend down the legs. A Physical Therapist can examine you to figure out if your SI joint is out of position. They can then put it back where it belongs and teach you how to keep it there with stretches and exercise.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the body releases hormones that make the ligaments in the spine and pelvis more flexible. This, along with other body changes, can cause back pain and sciatica. For the safety of the baby, taking medicine for pain is discouraged during pregnancy. Physical Therapy offers safe techniques to control pain that don’t involve medication. Prenatal massage should also be considered.
Ways to Avoid Sciatica in the First Place
- Sit less: If you sit for a living or if you have to spend a lot of time in the car, this predisposes you to sciatica. If you have to sit for long periods, check out my blog “Is sitting the new smoking” for ideas on how to avoid injury.
- Ease in to heavy lifting and yard work: It’s the first day of spring and you want to get out there and weed all the flowerbeds, plant some veggies and get started on that rock path you have been planning all winter. Repetitive bending and lifting can cause back pain and sciatica in people who are not conditioned for such activities. Consider breaking that work up over a few weekends and give your body time to adapt.
- Stay Active: Lack of regular exercise causes weakness in the muscles that support the spine and pelvis, this in turn causes pain and increases the likelihood of injury. Consider a regular exercise routine such as walking your dog around the neighborhood a few times a week.
- Lose Weight: Excess weight puts stress on the spine and hips causing pain and in some cases sciatica. In my free report, I talk about easy ways to reduce weight and reduce back pain.
Most cases of sciatica are mild and can be treated using over the counter medication, physical therapy, massage and other conservative treatments. Occasionally however, symptoms are more severe and merit immediate medical care. If you feel like you are having a problem with sciatica and would like more information about Physical Therapy. Call my office and schedule a free, no paperwork, Discovery Visit with one of our expert Physical Therapists.
About the Author:
Paul Jones was born in Scotland and studied Physiotherapy at Teesside University in England before moving to the USA in 1990. He founded Jones Physical Therapy in 2005 and specializes in Outpatient Physical Therapy treatment of spinal and orthopedic problems. Paul has been a regular contributor of articles to the Times Picayune and has served as a policy advisor to the Louisiana Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, He is currently the APTA delegate for the Northshore Chapter of the Louisiana Physical Therapy Association.
Disclaimer: This information is designed to educational in nature about lifestyle strategies to improve sciatica. It is not intended to diagnose or treat or cure any medical condition, disease, injury or illness. If you feel you have a condition that needs medical care you should seek help from a doctor or hospital.