If you or one of your running buddies has ever experienced sciatica, you’ll know only too well how painful it is and that it can have a serious impact on your training. But what causes sciatica pain, how do you treat it and can you run through it? Qualified osteopath, Medical Acupuncturist and Musculoskeletal Injection Therapist, Oliver Eaton is here to help us make sense of this painful injury…
Defined as pain in either one or both legs with possible tingling, numbness or weakness, sciatica is caused by the pinching of the sciatic nerve along its pathways.
“The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body and runs from the rear of the pelvis, through the buttocks and down both legs.
The symptoms are various:
Many people can get better within a few weeks, with others it may take months. It all depends on what has caused it. It’s important to identify the cause as early as possible as limping to avoid the pain can often trigger a separate set of symptoms.
Piriformis syndrome: One of the most common causes of sciatica is when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched by the piriformis muscle. The muscle itself is one of the deep buttock muscles and in 30% of the population the nerve runs directly through it.
Muscles strain: If any of the muscles along the pathway of the sciatic nerve suffer a strain and it isn’t treated properly, then it can cause scar tissue to form over that strain. This scar tissue can potentially put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Lumbar herniated disc: Herniated discs occur when the gel-like material inside the disc pushes against the outer coating, causing it to bulge.
Degenerative disc disease: As we age, the volume of fluid in discs lessens, weakening the structure, leaving it vulnerable to bulging out against a nerve.
Lumbar spinal stenosis: Stenosis occurs when the space between the spinal joints is narrowed. You have nerves that travel next to this space, and they can become irritated as the space between the joints lessens.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: When the sacroiliac joint is irritated it can irritate the lowest lumbar nerve, causing debilitating sciatic-type pain.
Heat and ice can help for both acute and chronic cases of sciatica. If the sciatica is a result of an acute injury, you can use a procedure called contrast bathing. This involves placing ice or a cold compress over the area for 10 minutes and then immediately after placing heat over the area for 10 minutes.
Regular exercise is advised however, depending on the cause of your sciatic pain, running can aggravate symptoms. Gentle walking or any non-weight bearing activities such as swimming or exercise on a cross-trainer or rowing machine at the gym can help to strengthen muscles around the sciatic nerve which will help to reduce pain.
The main way to reduce your risk of suffering an episode of sciatica is to ensure all the structures that are along the pathway of the sciatic nerve are in good health: muscles, discs and joints.
An effective way of improving the health of these structures is stretching. Stretches need to be focused on the low back, buttock muscles and hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh as that’s the path the sciatic nerve runs along. Many of these stretches can be performed at your desk at work or sat on a dining room chair at home.
Osteopathy is a system of alternative medicine that helps both to identify and address the root cause of an individual’s sciatica. Several orthopaedic tests will be used to find out where the sciatic nerve is being pinched and then a combination of massage, stretching and gentle manipulation is used to take the pressure off the nerve. Depending on the cause of your sciatic pain several stretches will also be prescribed to help sustain results and prevent the symptoms from returning.
If the cause of an individual’s sciatica is the result of tension in the leg and muscles tightening up around the nerve, then acupuncture can be effective at helping reduce this tension.
Again, if an individual’s sciatica is caused by tight muscles around the sciatic nerve then massage therapy can be an effective way of releasing those muscles.
About the expert: Oliver Eaton is a qualified and registered osteopath, Medical Acupuncturist and Musculoskeletal Injection Therapist. He specialises in the treatment of sciatica, arthritis and headaches/migraines with patients travelling from across the UK and Europe for treatment. Find out more on Oliver’s website: www.prohealthclinic.co.uk or follow his page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ihealthinjury/