Sciatica: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Having pain in the lower back and buttocks, sometimes extending down to one leg? Or, do you feel numb in one limb, or a tingling sensation maybe? You may be experiencing sciatica, that is, the pain brought about by compression of the sciatic nerve around the piriformis muscle.
The sciatic nerve is located deep in the buttocks, starting from the lower spine down to the legs to the tips of the toes.
Read on to know why you had sciatica, what can you do to lessen the pain, and most especially, what exercises can be done to lessen if not eliminate the pain.
What Can Cause Sciatica?
Sciatica is quite common with 5% of the adult population experiencing this. In a lifetime, you are likely to develop it at least once. It sometimes comes suddenly and lasts for a few weeks. The following are some of the possible causes:
- Pregnancy – causes pressure to the sciatic nerve due to the growing baby
- Herniated disk – common cause of sciatica wherein the disk weakens and pressures the sciatic nerve
- Degenerative arthritis and spinal stenosis – when the spinal canal narrows due to aging and compresses the sciatic nerve; common to patients 60 years old and up
- Tumors in the spinal cord or on the sciatic nerve itself
- Piriformis syndrome – the piriformis muscle located in the buttocks can sometimes compress the sciatic nerve alongside or inside it; common in women
- Injury or infection – result of fracture or muscle inflammation
Basically, anything that can interfere with the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica.
Repetitive movements, prolonged sitting, and even habitually putting your wallet on the back pocket of your pants can also put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
It is important to remember that sciatica is a symptom, not the diagnosis. Hence, to properly address it, know why you are having it.
What can you do?
To determine what would be most effective to manage the pain, one must seek a proper diagnosis from a doctor.
The doctor may ask you to perform some physical exercises to determine the trigger, and yet some cases warrant MRI or CT Scan.
Since sciatica can have many causes, a variety of treatments are also available such as the following:
About 90% of the cases will not need surgery. Sometimes, the condition fades without even doing anything. You just need to wait it out for a few weeks, just avoid any injury that might add up to the pain.
However, in some cases that sciatica has become chronic and was caused by herniated disk, surgery may be in order. Usually, physical therapy follows such surgery.
Report to your doctor once you wake up in the middle of the night just because of the extreme pain, have trouble walking, or lose control of your bowels and bladder.
Medication can also help, and doctors usually prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammation drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin to alleviate the pain. Muscle relaxants can also help.
If you do not want to take over-the-counter drugs, you can take a more natural route by drinking turmeric. There is a compound in it called curcumin that has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces pain.
Hot or cold compress, or both
You can also try putting hot or cold compress, whichever gives the relief you are aiming for, or alternate between the two. You can do this for about 10 to 15 minutes every couple of hours.
Acupuncture, back massage, and other physical treatments
Some report acupuncture to be an effective measure, too. Acupuncture is the practice of using needles to alleviate pain in target areas by pricking the skin or tissues.
Originally from China, this practice has now spread to the West. Pretty sure, there is a licensed acupuncturist near you.
A back massage is something you could also try for your muscles to be more relaxed. Double the benefit by using an anti-inflammatory oil such as the St. John’s wort for the massage.
If this does not work, your doctor may recommend going for physical therapy, or even yoga. Read on to know more about how yoga can be your ultimate sciatica exercise.
Yoga Exercises for Sciatica: Stretch those muscles out!
Yes, yoga! Its meditative nature will also help with lowering your stress levels – the same stress that can intensify the sciatica you are currently experiencing.
Specifically, these exercises target the piriformis as well as the gluteal muscles. Aside from the piriformis stretch, yoga will also help with your posture and balance.
This is something that you could really practice in order to refrain from having sciatica ever again, or to prevent one from happening.
Just remember to get clearance from your doctor before trying out these exercises to be sure not to complicate and further cause injury.
Also, in trying out these exercises, remember to control and not to force your body. The intensity must be within comfortable levels so as not to worsen or cause any injury. If any of the exercises hurt your joints, it is best to stop and consult your osteopath or spine doctor.
So, get those mats out, warm up, and try these piriformis stretches!
1. Hamstring and Low Back Stretch
- Relax into a lying position with your feet conveniently spaced apart for about a foot.
- Slowly raise your right knee and bend your leg towards your chest.
- Pull your leg with both hands by clasping the top of your shin or holding behind your thigh.
- Hold for about 30 seconds.
- Do this to the other leg.
You should be able to feel a good stretch on your glute; but if not, you can modify this by aiming the opposite shoulder instead of just folding your leg in.
2. Supine Piriformis Stretch
- Start in a lying down position.
- Just like the first one, bring your right knee up with your right hand clasping the top of your shin, and pull towards your chest.
- Lift your right ankle and bring it over to your left and catch it with your left hand.
- Holding this position, pull your leg towards the chest until a slight stretch is felt.
- Hold for 5 seconds, and then, slowly release the right leg back to the original position.
- Do this to the other leg and repeat.
- As you get used to the stretching, lengthen the time that you will hold the position until such time that you can hold it for a whole minute comfortably.
3. Pretzel Stretch
- Lie flat on your back with both feet flexed.
- Lift both knees such that both feet are comfortably flat on the floor.
- Lift your right knee up just like the number 2 exercise but this time, bring your right ankle up to rest on top of your left knee and thigh.
- At this point, lift your left knee to stretch your right glute.
- Clasp your left thigh for support and keep pulling in for a comfortable amount of time.
- Repeat this for the other leg.
4. Sitting Pigeon Stretch
- Sit upright with your legs stretched out, laying flat on the floor.
- Cross your right ankle over your left thigh very much like the one in the photo.
- Slowly, bend forward to clasp your left foot.
- Hold for a moment and release slowly.
- Sit up and repeat for the left leg.
5. Stacked Knee (Cow Face) Glute Stretch
- This exercise also starts off in the sitting position and for your comfort, sit on top of folded blankets. Keep your back straight.
- Tuck your right foot under your left leg and position it as close to your left hip as possible. Doing so, your right knee should be pointing towards the front.
- Meanwhile, bring over your left foot to the outside of your right thigh.
- Maintain your balance by shifting your weight.
- Clasp your left knee which is directly in front of you. This will help with the balancing, too.
- Inhale as you hold this position from a few seconds to up to full 2 minutes.
- You can lean forward to deepen the stretch.
- Repeat these steps for the other leg.
If your sit bones feel sore, add paddings to make it comfortable. Hopefully, sciatica will lessen and in the long run, these added paddings will be removed one by one. This exercise is like a preparatory step for the next one in the list.
6. Simple Seated Twist
- Do number 5 but do not lean forward.
- Then, slowly, place your left hand on the floor to support the twist.
- Holding the position of your lower limbs, twist your body outward to your left.
- Continue holding your left knee with your right hand.
- Repeat this by switching legs and twisting to the opposite direction.
- Inhale and use it to lengthen your spine and when you exhale, that is when you twist.
7. Long Adductor (Groin) Stretch
- Sit upright on the floor.
- Spread out your legs in a V-position in front of you.
- Maintain your legs straight.
- Slowly lean forward until your elbows touch the floor.
- Hold for a few seconds and then, repeat.
8. Short Adductor (Groin) Stretch
- Sit upright on the floor.
- Fold your legs such that each sole of the feet faces and touches the other.
- For beginners, clasp your toes. Or, in other versions, clasp the ankles.
- Slowly lean forward until you feel a slight stretch on your inner thigh. Aim to touch the floor with your knees. Try to hold this position for 30 seconds (shorter for beginners).
- Slowly lean back again to an upright position, then, flutter your thighs as in the wings of a butterfly (this is sometimes called the butterfly stretch). Do this for 30 seconds. Then, lean forward again.
- Alternate between leaning forward and fluttering your thighs.
9. Deep Lunge
- Start by standing tall.
- Slowly extend your left leg backwards lowering your stance in a deep lunge position.
- A deeper version of this lunge is to bend your right leg such that your knee touches the floor. Support your body with both hands as you do this.
- Hold the position for about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Switch legs.
10. Forward Pigeon Pose
- Get on all fours.
- Extend your left leg backwards until your right knee touches the floor.
- Cross your right leg such that your right foot comfortably rests in front of your left hip.
- For beginners, you can support your body with both hands.
- Hold this pose for a few seconds.
- Do this for the other leg, too.
11. Lunge with Spinal Twist
A modification of the deep lunge, this stretches the hip flexors as well as the back and quads.
- Get into the lunge position with your left leg extended backwards and right foot planted on the floor.
- Touch the floor with your left hand for support with your arm on the outside of your right knee.
- Slowly raise your right hand in the air and reach out to a nice stretch.
12. Downward Facing Dog
This pose specifically stretches the spine, lower back, glutes and the hamstring as well. You can work out your arms and shoulders, too.
- Get on all fours on your mat with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Push back such that only the hands and feet are touching the mat and your hips are up in the air (refer to the photo).
- Your head should be in between in your arms.
- Keep your back and legs straight. Don’t worry if you feel tight on the back of your knees, you will still be able to get the benefits even if you cannot plant your heels on the mat.
- Hold this for a few seconds and get down into a planking position, then, repeat.
To get a deeper stretch, you can modify this pose to get into the Three-Legged Dog position. Maintain the Downward Facing Dog position, lift one leg up and maintain your leg straight. You can flex that leg and then, point, and then, flex again for variation. Do this again for the other leg.
After all the yoga poses you have tried, cool down and relax into the Child’s Pose. It will help you relax your spine. Here is how to do it:
- Get on a kneeling position with your feet spaced apart.
- Sit your tailbone in between your feet and rest your belly in between your thighs.
- Lay your hands comfortably in front.
- Do this for as long as you like.
A lot of people can do this pose without any problems but if you cannot bend your knees or if you are pregnant, don’t attempt this exercise.
Sciatica can be excruciating but there is hope! Consult your doctor now and select among these remedies can alleviate the pain.
But more than the remedy, it is important to prevent sciatica by refraining from prolonged sitting and high-impact, repetitive physical tasks.
Be sure to lift things from the floor ergonomically by bending your knee, not your back. Sit up straight and switch your weight and feet once in a while. And finally, get into the habit of stretching to frequently loosen those tight muscles!
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