Living with Sciatica

There are many people who suffer from sciatica each year, but not everyone knows what it is or what causes it. It is estimated that 5-10% of people with low back pain have sciatica and the reported lifetime prevalence of low back pain ranges from 49-70%.1 Listed below are the topics that will be discussed: 

  • What is sciatica?
  • Stretches that may help to relieve your pain.

The Causes of Sciatica

Before we get into the causes of sciatica, first let’s talk about what it is. Sciatica is nerve pain caused by the sciatic nerve, which is a large nerve coming from the lower back that runs into the butt, down the back of the thigh and then it branches off into smaller nerves that go down into the lower leg. Sciatica is most commonly caused by irritation of the nerve root(s) of the spine in the lower back and tailbone, but can occur if the nerve gets pinched or compressed anywhere along its path. Sciatica can cause pain, numbness and tingling, and/or leg weakness. Although sciatica is a fairly common term, the causes can vary. 

There are several diagnoses and impairments that can cause sciatica and explain why the symptoms may be occurring. Sciatica is most  commonly caused by a disc in the lower back pressing on the sciatic nerve. This occurs when the discs between our vertebrae ‘bulge’ or ‘herniate.’ A bulging disc means that the disc is pushed back to the left or right, but the gel-like center remains contained inside the disc. When the disc herniates, the gel-like center breaks through and is no longer contained inside the disc. 

Sciatica can also be caused by normal aging of the spine, which can cause diagnoses such as arthritis, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease. This means that there is narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, limiting the amount of space available for the spinal cord and nerve, including the sciatic nerve.

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Although sciatica is often caused by compression or irritation of the nerve at the nerve root, it can occur anywhere along the nerve’s pathway. Another common cause of sciatica is referred to as piriformis syndrome, which is pain caused when the piriformis muscle, which is the deep muscle in your buttock, irritates the sciatic nerve. 

Image result for piriformis syndrome

For a more detailed explanation of the three different causes of sciatic pain, check out this blog article about the three different causes of sciatic pain here.

Stretches to Help Relieve Pain

As discussed above, there are several different causes of sciatic pain, so there are no exercises or stretches that will help everyone with sciatica relieve their pain. If you are currently suffering from sciatic nerve pain, below are a couple stretches that you can try to help decrease your symptoms.

With this stretch, lie on your back while holding your affected leg up using both of your hands, keeping your hip at a 90 degree angle. As you straighten your leg, flex your ankle upwards so that your toes are pointing towards you. Straighten your leg as much as you can until you feel a stretch – you most likely will not be able to straighten it completely. Hold this for 10 seconds and then slowly allow your leg and ankle to relax, returning to the start position. Repeat 5 times and 3-4 times per day.

For those that aren’t able to lay down throughout the day, you can also try this stretch while sitting at a chair. Sitting upright in the chair, look down and bend your knee, allowing your ankle and foot to point downwards. Then, slowly look upwards and straighten your knee, flexing your ankle upwards so that your toes are pointing up towards the ceiling or towards you. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 5 times and 3-4 times per day. 

If you are interested in getting a more customized approach then click the link below. Buffalo Rehab Group is currently offering free consultations by our Physical Therapists. If you are currently suffering from pain and would like to know more about stretches and exercises that will help relieve it,  then a free discovery visit is your next step!

Koes, B. M. Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ. 2007; 334(7607): 1313 – 1317.