Sciatic nerve pain is excruciating. It is truly a pain in the “you know what!” According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, “Sciatica refers to pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg. It is caused by injury to or pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is a symptom of another medical problem, not a medical condition on its own.”
And according to Wikipedia:
“Sciatica (pron.: /saɪˈætɪkə/; sciatic neuritis) is a set of symptoms including pain that may be caused by general compression or irritation of one of five spinal nerve roots that give rise to each sciatic nerve, or by compression or irritation of the left or right or both sciatic nerves. The pain is felt in the lower back, buttock, or various parts of the leg and foot. In addition to pain, which is sometimes severe, there may be numbness, muscular weakness, pins and needles or tingling and difficulty in moving or controlling the leg. Typically, the symptoms are only felt on one side of the body. Pain can be severe in prolonged exposure to cold weather.
Although sciatica is a relatively common form of low back pain and leg pain, the true meaning of the term is often misunderstood. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is irritating the root of the nerve, causing the pain. This point is important, because treatment for sciatica or sciatic symptoms often differs, depending upon the underlying cause of the symptoms and pain levels. Sciatica is also referred to as Lumbar Radiculopathy, which involves compression of the sciatic nerve roots caused by a herniated (torn) or protruding disc in the lower back.”
(Photo courtesy of ctspinedisc.blogspot.com)
I had terrible sciatica during both of my pregnancies. I thought it was due to the extra weight (30 pounds both times) I was carrying around. What I have since learned is that I already had compression to each sciatic nerve due to being a gymnast for 10 years. Gymnastics is a wonderful sport but can be very taxing on your body. When I practiced gymnastics, there were no spring boards at the gym I practiced at prior to high school and in high school, we tumbled on wrestling mats. What that meant was that we did handsprings and back flips on wrestling mats, which are not great at absorbing weight like the spring boards are today.
When I was learning how to do a back flip in the air, I repeatedly fell on my butt. Over time, this put a lot of pressure on my sciatic nerve. All of the pounding and nothing to absorb my energy really wreaked havoc on my body. I never felt any sciatic pain at that time, though.
Fast forward to 2006, the year my daughter was born. I had excruciating sciatic pain when I was pregnant with her. Once I had my daughter, the sciatic pain was gone. Then back again in 2009 when I was pregnant with my son. And gone again after I delivered him.
So, I was quite alarmed a year ago when the sciatic pain returned and with a vengeance. I was not pregnant nor was I practicing back flips (even though I wish I could still)! I had no idea what was wrong so I immediately went to my chiropractor. He did x-rays and confirmed that my L5, S1 (Lumbar Vertebrae number 5, Sacral Vertebrae number 1) were compressed and causing my sciatic nerve to have pressure on it which was causing me all kinds of pain. Oh joy!
(Photo courtesy of www.info-radiologie.ch)
“What now?” I asked. He said that he could adjust me on a regular basis to help get more space in between my vertebrae. For the past year, I have been getting regularly adjusted and it helped me a lot. At first, I was getting adjusted a couple times a week and then eventually once a week to every two weeks.
I also used to exercise regularly. Exercise is a huge proponent of being healthy and I am a huge advocate for it. I have not written about it on my blog yet since I have not exercised since this sciatic nerve flare up. I do not feel like I can honestly write about something unless I am, “walking the walk.” I would love to get back to exercising but have been very timid to do so since certain exercises can exacerbate the pain of sciatica. I used to walk on the treadmill a lot but found out from my chiropractor that the pounding of my feet on a treadmill was not beneficial for the sciatica because it could put more pressure on the sciatic nerve.
After a while, I felt like I needed more than just chiropractic adjustments. I talked to my chiropractor about this and he recommended physical therapy. I knew I needed to strengthen my core muscles and was not sure how to do that on my own without causing more sciatic pain.
I had to call my primary care doctor to get a referral to see a physical therapist. I was leery about even talking to my PCP about the sciatic pain because I did not want her to recommend any drugs to alleviate the pain. I did not want to mask my symptoms but wanted to get to the root of the problem and fix it that way. I communicated this to her and she agreed that seeing a physical therapist was a good idea.
My initial visit with the physical therapist was just a consultation. She asked me some questions about my pain level, did some different stretches to see what triggered the pain and came up with an initial plan for me. My next visit with her was the real deal and I got to work.
Exercises the Physical Therapist had me do at the first session:
- I rode a stationary bike for about 10 minutes to warm up my muscles
- I stretched my hamstrings out really well by placing both feet on an inclined piece of wood while holding the stretch 3 times for 20 seconds each time
- I stood on a cushiony piece of foam with one foot on the foam and the other one off the ground. I had to hold this 10 times on each side without holding onto anything to help strengthen my hip flexor muscles.
(Photo courtesy of www.summitmedicalgroup.com)
- Other core strengthening exercises for my hip flexor muscles: I used a stretchy, big rubber band and put my feet through the band while standing shoulder-width apart. Then I had to stand with one leg stationary while the other leg pulled the band to the front, then to the side and finally to the back. I did each direction 15 times per leg. This is what these exercises looked like except I was standing up, not lying down.
(Photo courtesy of www.runnerslife.co.uk)
- Next, I did 3 different exercises to help stretch out my low back, gluteals and piriformis. If these muscles are tight, they can put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
(photo courtesy of sweetcarolineblog.com)
- I laid on a large, padded table and used an exercise ball. I laid on my back with my legs at a 90 degree angle on the exercise ball. I then pulled both of my knees to my chest 10 times for a 10 second hold each time. It looked like this except I laid flat on my back and did not work on my abs at the same time (like in the picture).
(photo courtesy of orthopedics.about.com)
- Then I did a piriformis stretch on the ball by holding the stretch for 20 seconds each time and I did this 4 times. I did this by laying on my back with both legs on the exercise ball. I then put one leg on the knee of the other ball and pulled the ball to my chest with the leg that was still on the ball. It looked like this except with an exercise ball which would be under the lady’s right foot.
(photo courtesy of www.teachpe.com)
- And lastly, I did a bridge with both of my knees on the exercise ball, with straight legs and I lifted up my buttocks for a count of 10 and did this 10 times. Like this
(photo courtesy of www.womanaroundtown.com)
Physical therapy has made a huge difference in how I am feeling and handling the pain from the sciatica. There are days that go by that I do not even have a single pain (in my butt). It used to be so bad that nerve pain would radiate down my leg. Doing the above exercises at home have made a huge difference in alleviating sciatic pain. Another suggestion I have is to put moist heat on your low back when you suffer from sciatica. It really helps to make your back/buttocks feel a lot better. Another thing I try to avoid for pain is taking ibuprofen, acetaminophen or any other drug that is harmful to your body and over time can causes a lot of damage. I found a natural homeopathic that does really help in alleviating the pain from sciatica.
It’s all about the journey…
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