Sciatica

By Amy McGorry

Like bears coming out of hibernation, many of us are shaking off the winter rust and enjoying outdoor sports. Sometimes adjustments in your workout routine (e.g., changing to outdoor surfaces or reintroduction to seasonal sports) can leave you with aches and pains. One such ache might be a back twinge known as sciatica, which can cause pain to shoot down your leg. The good news? Studies show the majority of sciatica sufferers respond to conservative treatment within a few weeks.

Read on to see how to prevent and relieve sciatica pain.

When Sciatica Is A Pain

The sciatic nerve runs from the lower spine to the buttocks and down through the legs and into the feet. It supplies sensation and strength to leg and foot muscles. The nerve can become irritated if it gets “pinched” from a tight muscle (such as the piriformis muscle in the buttocks) or a herniated or bulging disc in the back. Structural issues related to the pelvis and spine -- such as stenosis or spondylolisthesis -- can also trigger sciatica.

Sciatica typically affects one leg. Sufferers may feel sharp pain, numbness, tingling and possibly weakness along the leg, calf and/or toes. If bowel or bladder incontinence or a “foot drop” occurs (so you can't lift your foot up), get to the doctor ASAP. Surgery is sometimes necessary to alleviate pressure when the structure pressing on the nerve won’t let up.

Why You're Sidelined

Sciatica often rears its ugly head when muscle imbalances are present. Tight, short muscles in the front of your thigh (psoas, quadriceps) can keep muscles in the back of your hips from properly doing their job. This scenario can cause an unbalanced tug-of-war between your weak and strong muscles, resulting in your spine not being supported efficiently. Consequently, the muscles surrounding the spine and your vertebral discs may place pressure on the sciatic nerve, irritating it.

Driving also literally becomes a “pain in the butt” to deal with. Sitting on tight muscles that an irritated sciatic nerve runs through can trigger painful zingers in the leg and make being stuck in traffic even more unbearable.

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How To Stay In The Game

Keeping hip and back muscles strong and flexible may help keep sciatica from sidelining you. Foam rollers can also address muscle tightness by breaking up muscle adhesions (aka “knots”).

Foam-Roller Exercises

  • Sit on the floor and place a foam roller under your thighs
  • Move your body so your legs and buttocks roll back and forth over the roller
  • Lie on your side with the roller underneath you (perpendicular to your body) and “roll out” your outer thigh and calf muscles
  • Lie on your stomach with the roller under your thighs and roll from the top of your hip to the top of your knee
  • Roll each section for one minute

Piriformis Stretch

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent
  • Lift right foot and cross right ankle over left knee
  • Pull left leg toward your chest with right foot still over left knee
  • Hold 30 seconds
  • Do two repetitions

Hip-Flexor Stretch

  • Kneel on one knee with your hip behind knee
  • Keep back straight as you move your body forward
  • Stop when stretch is felt in upper thigh
  • Hold 30 seconds on each leg

Arm And Leg Lift

  • Get on all fours, keeping your back straight and abdominals engaged
  • Lift opposite arm and leg
  • Hold five seconds
  • Repeat with opposite arm and leg and continue alternating for one to two minutes

Always check with a physician before beginning any exercise program.

WebMD Feature from Turner Broadcasting System
© Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

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