When sciatica pain gets the better of you and nothing you do seems to help, here are some physical changes to check and correct to get relief from my Checklist Part 2 on corrective actions and treatments.
Make physical changes in posture, repetitive tasks involving affected muscles, sleeping position, and irritating activities. Alexander Technique and Feldenkreis are two reliable corrective therapies.
Posture is often a factor in relieving sciatica. If you are sitting with a slumped posture, you may be compressing nerves that perpetuate your symptoms. The piriformis muscle is right under your buttocks (gluteus maximus) and is an entrapper of the sciatic nerve. Sitting back with your pelvis tucked under puts you right on top of it.
This posture can also distort the lower back (lumbar spine) from it’s normal curve. It is meant to stack up in a curve, and not curve backward. With that reverse curve position, the front edges of the vertebrae press together and can squeeze disc material out toward the back of the spine where the nerves are located. If the pressure on the nerves is sufficient or the discs are leaking fluids containing irritating chemicals, it can hurt. The position also affects the muscles, compressing some and stretching others. Constant poor positioning can cause the muscles to contract and even go into spasm.
Sleeping positions can affect sciatica symptoms also, especially sleeping on your side. Side sleeping puts pressure on the deep muscle in the side of your hip called the gluteus minimus. That muscle has been nicknamed the “pseudosciatica” muscle. If the muscle is tight, then compressed during sleep, the blood flow slows down and can cause pain from depleting oxygen supply to the muscle. Compression can also activate Trigger Points in the gluteal muscles, causing sciatica symptoms.
Side sleeping also curves the spine so it “sags.” That causes compression on the sides of the vertebrae where the nerves are located. It also causes prolonged shortening of the muscles in the side of your waist. A little muscle there called the quadratus lumborum is responsible for a majority of low back pain of muscle origin.
Repetitive movements, misuse and overuse of muscles irritate them. Think about the muscles you are using in your daily tasks. Hours of computer use, lifting heavy objects and shoveling in the garden are typical irritants, also lifting children and laundry and furniture. Lifting from a twisted position and twisting to pick up something from the floor are the most dangerous activities.
Your sport may contribute to low back tension that can lead to sciatica symptoms. Running causes repeated concussions on the spine, golf and racquet sports cause momentary stress every time the ball is hit in a twisted position. Sports that require changing direction a lot like basketball and soccer put strain on that little “pseudosciatica” muscle.
Proper stretching is necessary for maintaining healthy muscles. The Active Isolated Stretching protocol can be used for all stretches. In my opinion, and that of the many athletes who practice it, AIS is the most effective and least harmful of all the stretching methods.
Alexander Technique and Feldenkreis therapy are both excellent corrective therapies. Alexander Technique helps you feel where your spine should be in space. It teaches you how to make those corrections and gives you easier ways to perform daily movements. Feldenkreis corrects movement patterns, sometimes going back to infancy. Retraining poor movement patterns corrects irritating repetitive use of the muscles. Both therapies balance the muscles and allows them to get the R&R they need.
The next post is on self-treatment.