You go to stand up. Immediately upon standing, you feel a shooting pain down your leg. One or both of your legs feel numb, tingly, and weak. So, you sit back down. When sitting, the pain in your legs becomes worse. And you also feel pain in your buttocks.
Maybe this has happened at some point during your training session or perhaps right after your workout. It might even occur after a long duration of sitting. The pain may start gradual or all of a sudden.
So what’s going on?
These are standard symptoms of sciatica. And millions of people experience them every day. The pain and symptoms associated with this condition may range from a mild annoyance to a more debilitating pain.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to neural pain caused by the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. It runs from the low spine, through the buttocks, and down the leg on each side of the body. This nerve is responsible for sensations in the legs and feet, as well as the innervation of certain muscles in the legs and feet.
An underlying condition frequently causes issues with the sciatic nerve. The term, ‘sciatica’ actually refers to the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve from another cause. Causes of sciatica include a herniated disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, and muscle spasms in the low back or buttocks.
Let’s take a closer look!
Cause #1: A Herniated Disc
The spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. In between each of these bones are shock-absorbing discs. These discs provide cushion for the spine, allowing you to perform movements without pain.
However, these discs can rupture or ‘slip’ out of place. They may also become affected or damaged from degenerative disc disease. Over time, these discs naturally lose their hydration and become worn.
A herniated disc is where the jelly-like substance from the interior of the disc has been pushed out. Any movement or ruptures of the disc can place pressure on the nerves in the spine – including the sciatic nerve. Consequently, you feel numbness, weakness, and tingling in your low back, buttocks, and legs.
Cause #2: Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Lumbar spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower part of the spine. It is often caused by bone or tissue growth that presses on the spine or spinal canal, such as in arthritis or other conditions. As a result, the sciatic nerve can – you guessed it – become compressed by this narrowing.
Cause #3: Spondylitis
Spondylitis is an arthritic condition where the vertebrae fuse together. It results in stiffness and pain in the area of the spine affected. Bony overgrowths may also happen. And this condition often begins in the low spine or lumbar region. When bony overgrowths place pressure on nerves, sciatica may occur.
Cause #4: Piriformis Syndrome & Muscle Spasms
We’ve categorized these two together for a reason. The most common muscle causing sciatica is the piriformis. And spasming or cramping of this muscle is referred to as piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome also specifically includes the compression of the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle.
The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttocks. Its primary function is to help rotate the hip. However, it may become tight or irritated by certain activity – such as running – or from sitting for too long.
And the piriformis isn’t the only muscle that can compress the sciatic nerve. Other muscles near and surrounding this nerve may cause issues as well. For example, when the hamstring muscle becomes inflamed, it may also compress on the sciatic nerve. Usually in this case, nerve pain is felt more in the legs.
So, what are your options? How can you treat your sciatica?
Sciatica Treatment Options
Luckily, sciatica is entirely treatable. Many at-home remedies exist. And many people find relief from stretches or other means.
Physical therapy may also help. A physical therapist can give you exercises and education regarding your specific condition. Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, may further aid in easing your pain, particularly in the short-term. However, it is not recommended to use these medications for long-term use.
Many individuals also find cold or heat therapy helps. You may choose to apply an ice pack for up to 15 minutes at a time with a cloth in between your skin and the ice device. Heat may also be an option.
Other treatment options include muscle scraping, vibration therapy, and specific stretches. We’ll explore these further below.
Muscle Scraping for Sciatica
Muscle scraping is an ancient Chinese technique known as Gua Sha. It’s been used for thousands of years. Today, elite and pro athletes are taking advantage of it. And, surprisingly, it can help ease sciatic pain caused by muscle tightness or spasms.
Using a specially designed tool – such as with the Sidekick Muscle Scraper – you can easily relieve your muscle pain and tightness within the comfort of your own home (or at the gym). The tool is used to increase blood flow to the muscle by scraping the area. Only moderate pressure is required.
Adhesions occur when tissues become stick together. They may limit movement, cause pain, and lead to muscle spasms. And they may form from intense exercise or following an injury. Yet, muscle scraping eliminates them. It allows your tissues to flow freely over one another and prevents muscle tissue from getting stuck – and thus, spasming. For sciatica conditions, you can apply muscle scraping to the low back, piriformis, and hamstring muscles. In turn, your sciatic pain may significantly be reduced.
Vibration Therapy to Relieve Sciatica
Many vibration therapy devices exist. They work similar to foam rolling and stretching by decreasing muscle tightness and increasing flexibility – but they have the additional advantage of vibration. Many high-level athletes use vibration therapy devices – such as the Sidekick Flare Vibration Roller – to recover, decrease stiffness, and restore range of motion. These devices further promote blood flow to the area, encouraging healing and reducing soreness.
For sciatica, you can use a vibration therapy device on your piriformis and hamstrings. These two muscles are the most commonly aggravated muscles in sciatica patients. And in many athletes, the posterior chain – including these muscles – is frequently tight.
For the piriformis, you can sit on the device and turn on the vibration setting of your choice. You may decide to roll back and forth on it or remain in one spot. Do what feels good for you and your body. Like foam rolling, you may feel a ‘good pain.’ This is your muscles releasing. However, if it doesn’t feel good, stop or re-adjust your position.
For the hamstrings, place the device on the back of the thighs. Turn on the vibration settings. And apply moderate pressure. Like the piriformis, you may choose to move or roll around on top of the device, or you may choose to remain in one spot. In both cases, you’ll benefit from using the device for a minute or more at one time.
Stretches to Ease Your Sciatic Pain
Another beneficial at-home or in-the-gym remedy is stretching. If you’re unsure what stretches to do, try the exercises below, or download Sidekick’s Recovery App that will generate a recovery program tailored to your profile and pain points.
Each of the following stretches can be held for 20-30 seconds. You may perform them 2-3 times a day. If you hit the gym or decide to partake in your regular training, complete these stretches before and after your session.
1. The Piriformis Stretch
- Lie face up on the ground or a comfortable surface.
- Bend both your knees. Plant the bottoms of your feet flat on the ground.
- Cross your right foot over the top of your left thigh.
- If this feels like enough of a stretch for you (you should feel it in your buttocks), you may choose to hold here.
- If you want more, grab your left thigh with both hands and pull your legs toward you, then hold.
- Make sure to repeat the stretch on your opposite side.
2. The Hamstring Stretch
- Sit on a chair. Scoot toward the edge – you want your thighs somewhat off the edge of the chair.
- Straighten one leg. Plant the heel of that leg on the ground.
- Lean forward at the waist toward your straightened leg. Hold here.
- Repeat for the opposite leg.
3. The Knee to Chest Stretch
- Lie face up on a mat or another comfortable surface.
- Bend one knee and pull it in toward your chest.
- You may choose to hold here. Or you can pull your knee toward your opposite shoulder and see how that feels.
- Once completed, perform this stretch on your opposite side.
4. The Sitting Spinal Stretch
- Sit on the ground or a mat, with your legs extended. Keep your spine tall.
- Bend your right knee and plant your right foot on the outside of your left thigh.
- Gently turn your torso to the right. You should feel a stretch through your left side-body.
- Hold here and then, repeat on the opposite side.
Most Cases of Sciatica are Easily Treatable
Find what works best for you and your body! Try muscle scraping or vibration therapy devices today. They are further excellent recovery tools, helping you heal, recuperate, and get ready for your next workout or training session.
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