Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Do you have stabbing, burning or electric shock type pain in one of your buttocks that gets worse with sitting? Does it shoot down the back of your leg and sometimes feel like numbness or tingling? You may be experiencing Sciatica.
Sciatica is defined as sharp, shooting or burning pain on one side of the lower back, hip, leg & calf, sometimes accompanied by numbness & tingling. Something that is commonly mistaken with Sciatica is that it is not a diagnosis and is actually a symptom of another underlying cause. It presents itself when the Sciatic nerve or associated nerve roots are being compressed or damaged and there are a number of causes. We are going to discuss a couple below.
Cause #1: Piriformis Syndrome
You could be experiencing these symptoms because a muscle is compressing on the nerve. This situation is not serious and shouldn’t be hard to fix. The most common muscle to compress the Sciatic nerve is a muscle that lies deep to your buttock muscles (gluteal) called the Piriformis muscle. In this case, seeking physiotherapy or massage therapy should eliminate your symptoms. Expect to be given a regular stretching routine and some self massage techniques such as foam rolling or other methods in order to decrease your symptoms. The following is a stretch that will help relieve the pressure from the Piriformis muscle on the Sciatic nerve.
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1. While lying on your back, cross the affected leg over the unaffected leg, resting your ankle on your other knee.
2. Grab the back of your leg with both hands (link fingers) and gently hold/pull until you feel a stretch in your buttock region.
3. Hold for 30 secs, do the same on the opposite leg and repeat another time. Benefit: This stretches the specific muscle that compresses the Sciatic nerve as well as associated muscles that lie on top. This should relieve symptoms if done properly.
Cause #2: Vertebral Disc Bulge or Herniation
Another reason that is more serious could be a disc in your spine being compressed and as a result, the fluid within bulges outwards compressing the associated nerve routes. This condition is a little more stubborn and if not managed correctly, can lead to a herniation or even worse.
It is important to seek treatment for this quickly such as, physiotherapy or massage therapy. Expect to be given an abdominal exercise routine in order to strengthen the core muscles that support your spine, as well as education on posture including positions to avoid (such as forward bending/flexion of the spine). The following is a common core exercise for disc herniations.
Bird Dog Exercise
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1. Start on your hands and knees with your hands right under your shoulders and shoulder width apart and your knees right under your hips.
2. Make sure to keep your back neutral with a slight curve (naval closer to ground).
3. Engage your abdominals, lower back and
hip muscles as you lift your right arm and left leg upwards until they are in line with your spine. Be careful not to let your abdominal region and pelvis rotate as you do so, then restart & repeat with the opposite arm/leg.
4. Hold at the top for 10 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
Benefit: This exercise strengthens the deep abdominal muscles close to the spine without aggravating the disc.