Sciatica is a common complaint, but it is often overdiagnosed. It seems to now be a catch-all for physicians to diagnose sciatica when there is any complaint of pain in the hip and leg, without giving solutions outside of pain masking.
Sciatica symptoms include shooting pain or numbness/tingling down the leg stemming from deep in the hip, often combined with low back pain. The sciatic nerve runs deep in the hip, and symptoms often begin when muscles in the same area tighten, or the area becomes compressed due to poor movement patterns and muscle deactivation (this is why symptoms often begin during long periods of sitting or standing, and are common in both manual labourers and desk workers).
It is usually a manifestation of less noticeable messages from the body adding up over years — finally reaching a point where the message can’t be ignored.
With some consistency and effort, sciatica should not be a long-term problem. The first step is to calm the nervous system down in the area. This is done through a combination of soft tissue work (massage/tissue release) and movement prescription. Many people with sciatica often present with pelvic misalignments. Soft tissue work can help to correct the baseline alignment passively, but to make this correction long lasting some activation tactics are needed as well. This is where patient participation comes in!
Here are three movements to try for the beginning stages of treating sciatica:
- Bridges — Lay on the floor; place both feet below the knees and in line with the hips. Activate through the butt muscles to press the hips up towards the ceiling, forming a diagonal line through your body. Make sure the entire foot is pressing into the ground, and both hips are active so that the back is not arching in this movement. Hold at the top for five to 10 seconds, slowly lower down, and repeat for three sets of 10.
- Figure 4 Stretch — Laying on the floor, your bed, or seated, cross one ankle over the opposite thigh. Grip behind the non-crossed leg (if laying) and pull the thigh towards your chest for a stretch in the hip of the crossed leg. If seated, gently press down on the crossed leg for a stretch through the hip. Hold for 20 deep breaths, repeat on each side for four to five rounds/day.
- Clamshells — Laying on your side with knees bent to approximately 90 degrees, hips and ankles stacked, clamshell the knee open lifting from the hip. Do not let your hips fall backwards; they should remain stacked and level throughout the movement. Hold the clam at the top range of motion (wherever you can raise to without your hip sliding back) for 10 seconds. Slowly return back to the start position. Repeat three sets of 10 to 15 routinely in your day. The more you activate the muscles properly, the more the brain makes it automatic.
If sciatica symptoms are something you’re currently stuck with, remember that anything that prevents you from living pain free is not a normal part of life. Checking in with your movement-based professional to find out what’s causing the root of the problem can be a valuable asset to regaining pain-free function.