Can Sciatic Exercises Manage Sciatica Pain Effectively?
You are reading this because you or someone you know and care about is suffering with sciatica pain.
It is a very debilitating condition as it can strike at any time, leaving a person unable to move about freely. The associated feelings of anxiety and frustration can and often leave people mentally and emotionally spent in having to cope with this issue.
Why do I have this Pain?
To answer this question, we must first understand the nerve being discussed.
The Sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body. The root of the nerve originates deep in the buttock area and has several origins situated near the lower spine. It sits in front of the Piriformis muscle, which also has its nerve origins in the same area (this may not be true for everyone).
The Piriformis mention is key as many complaints that are associated with the sciatic nerve are in fact an issue with the piriformis muscle.
Another cause for sciatic pain could be attributed to specific surgeries carried out in the past.
An epidural procedure for example involves inserting a catheter in a tiny area (epidural space) around your spinal vertebrae. This allows for the anaesthetic to be delivered around the nerves of the spinal cord.
With any operation undertaken, the risks or complications that can arise should always be made clear.
BUPA for example states this on their site concerning the complications that can arise from an epidural procedure:
- Infection which can spread to the spine
- A Dural puncture where the needle has pierced into the spinal fluid.
- Bleeding in the epidural space. They remarked that this is a rare occurrence.
- Nerve injury - in this instance lower limb weakness and even incontinence.
We want to focus on the bullet point concerning nerve damage. Though it is mentioned that this is rare, this is something that needs to have more extensive research on. Everyone has a different body profile so it stands to reason the response to operations such as these will be varied.
To quote an example, Dr Jay Jangannathan, a neurosurgeon who specialises in spinal surgery mentioned in an article about sciatica that the ‘nerve placement can vary in people’ (16% of population).
He went on to say that ‘While the variants are considered normal, they may increase the risk of developing sciatica pain due to impingement, entrapment, or irritation of the nerve root.
To summarise, the location of the nerve will determine how susceptible a person is to sciatica pain!
The correct treatment is key to managing the debilitating lower back/leg pain suffered.
Another reason for sciatica pain is a herniated or ‘slipped’ disc which causes the following symptoms:
- lower back pain.
- numbness or tingling in your shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs, or feet.
- neck pain.
- problems bending or straightening your back.
- muscle weakness.
- pain in the buttocks, hips, or legs if the disc is pressing on the sciatic nerve (sciatica)
According to the NHS website Uk, ‘Not all slipped discs cause symptoms. Many people will never know they have slipped a disc.
How did I Herniate my disc?
This can be attributed to a few factors:
- Aging (wear and tear)
- Incorrect form when exercising or moving objects around
- Sudden Impact i.e car accident
A combination of wear and tear and doing a movement without proper form or a ‘warm-up’ can also cause this to happen.
There have been cases of people ‘slipping’ a disc from sneezing, but this would only happen if the disc in question is already in a weakened state.
In any case, the protruding disc if felt in the lower back area is a direct result of the disc pressing on the sciatic nerve, causing the symptoms mentioned previously.
A condition called Spinal Stenosis could also be a factor in sciatica pain. In short, it is a narrowing of the spaces between spinal vertebrae, compressing the spinal cord. This can put pressure on the surrounding nerves, causing pain and muscle weakness.
The conditions that can cause this are:
- Achondroplasia. This inherited condition interferes with bone formation in the spine, as well as other parts of the body.
- Ankylosing spondylitis. This is a type of arthritis that causes chronic inflammation in the spine, which can lead to the growth of bone spurs.
- Congenital spinal stenosis. This is a birth defect in which the spinal canal is naturally narrow.
- Ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL). In this condition, calcium deposits form on the ligament that runs through the spinal canal.
- Osteoarthritis. In this type of arthritis, the cartilage that cushions joints breaks down. It can affect the cartilage between vertebrae and may also cause bone spurs to grow in the spine.
- Paget’s disease of the bone. This chronic condition causes bones to get weaker and grow larger than usual.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. This type of arthritis involves chronic inflammation, which can cause bone damage and bone spurs to develop.
- Scoliosis. This abnormal curving of the spine may result from certain genetic conditions, neurological abnormalities, or unknown causes.
- Spinal injuries. Slipped discs or bone fractures may cause vertebrae or bone fragments to put pressure on nerves in the spine.
- Spinal tumours. These abnormal tissue growths may develop in the spinal canal, trigger inflammation, and cause changes in the surrounding bone.
What is the Treatment?
According to ‘Spine-Health’, treatment can be either surgical or non-surgical. It stands to reason a non-surgical approach would be preferred in the first instance.
The non-surgical approach would compose of:
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)
- Gentle forms of aerobic exercise
- Specific stretching and strengthening exercises
- Heat and cold therapy
No one person is the same so the time for recovery will vary. The consensus is that it can take up to 6 weeks to heal. This could be months for others, or it can take up to a year.
However, leading an active lifestyle combined with a balanced diet can help to manage the condition effectively. The things listed below can impact recovery and even aggravate the sciatica:
- Over consumption of Alcohol
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency
What Exercises Can I do?
- Reclining pigeon Pose (Source: Brett Larkin Yoga – Youtube)
- Seated Pigeon Pose (Source: Yoga Vista Academy – Youtube)
- Forward Pigeon Pose (Source: Di Hickman – Youtube)
- Knee to opposite shoulder stretch (Source: Ask Doctor Jo – Youtube)
- Seated Spinal Stretch (Source: Ask Doctor Jo – Youtube)
- Seated Hamstring stretch (Source: Ask Doctor Jo – Youtube)
The exercises above are helpful in managing the sciatic pain in conjunction with NSAIDS.
Please feel free to explore the Youtube channels presented. A useful channel is ‘Ask Doctor Jo’ which has videos designed for beginners and/or those with compromised mobility.
Sciatica is a debilitating condition to deal with. With the right ‘tools’ however, you can lead a productive and happy life!
Hopefully, this article will help to benefit you or someone you know who suffers from this pain.