Sciatica is a common ailment caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the spine, down the back of both legs. Issues can be present on one or both legs and can include pain, numbness, and/or weakness through the gluteus maximus and hamstrings. In many instances, though, you can fix your sciatica!
Before you do any exercises to fix your sciatica, it’s important to really understand what’s going on in your body. This is because there are two types of sciatica. The exercises that you would do for one would not necessarily be appropriate for the other.
Sciatica from the Spine
In one type of sciatica, a nerve in your lumbar spine (low back) is compressed for some reason. These reasons vary, but commonly a bulging or slipped disc can be the cause. I highly recommend that you see a doctor to get the appropriate imaging and medication for recovery. Did you notice that I put that in bold? When it comes to your spine, don’t mess around.
The doctor will order tests and, based on the results, give advice about how you should proceed. It is very important that you completely understand your injury so that you can communicate it to others. In some cases, simply stretching the spine the opposite direction of the bulge will encourage the vertebra to open and allow the disc to move back into place. It’s wonderful when this happens!
However, if you tell someone that the bulge is to the left when it’s really to the right, pain and increased injury will possibly occur. You will not only miss out on the potential benefit of putting your disc back in place, you will also be applying pressure to your unprotected disc. So, make sure you know the specifics of your injury.
Also, this is not the time to try to fix your sciatica yourself. With spinal issues, please see a professional. Practice whatever therapy you prefer, but make sure that you are practicing with someone who is qualified to assist you. The body shifts and changes and an exercise that feels good at the beginning might be painful at the end, so make sure to get help.
That being said, sciatica that comes from a tightness of the piriformis muscle is very easy to treat at home! In fact, I have personally found that a little bit of work every day can make a huge difference in your quality of life.
If you read my article on the piriformis, you may remember that the location of the piriformis in relation to the sciatic nerve varies per the individual. In most people, the piriformis lies directly on top of the sciatic nerve. However, in some people, the sciatic nerve runs over or through the piriformis.
Therefore, especially for those whose sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis, when the piriformis tightens, the sciatic nerve is compressed, and a message of pain is sent to the brain.
Fix Your Sciatica!
First, it’s important to realize that your whole body is connected. Fascia covers all your muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs–it’s even beneath the surface of your skin! Any time you have dysfunction or injury, the fascia in the pained area will adhere to a neighbor. For this reason, I highly recommend that you:
- Break up fascial adhesions and
- Investigate nearby muscles.
1. Break up fascial adhesions.
Personally, I have had great success with The Orb. When I was researching foam rolling and other myofascial release techniques, the point was made that, in order to have complete myofascial release, the tool must be able to grip the surface of the skin and move. This allows for fascial adhesions directly beneath the surface of the skin to be freed.
In my opinion, The Orb does a good job moving the skin independently of the muscle, unlike a foam roller. However, the only way to 100% get rid of fascial adhesions is to get a massage with a trained therapist.
Here is a link to buy The Orb through Amazon. If you order from this link, I receive a small commission.
2. Investigate nearby muscles.
For me, I like to imagine the Usual Suspects lineup scene. Honestly, that’s really how your body works. Sure, you might have a guess about who’s really to blame but, if you’re doing self-therapy, you don’t really know until you start investigating.
Here are some muscles that I check out when helping clients fix their sciatica:
- the gluteus maximus,
- the hamstrings,
- the psoas,
- the quadratus lumborum (QL), and
- the tensor fasciae latae and iliotibial band.
If those muscles seem to be fine and your sciatica issue isn’t resolved, check with any muscles that do the opposite of the piriformis. This includes the adductors, particularly the pectineus. You can also check these neighbors to the piriformis, the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
You’ve investigated your piriformis-caused sciatica, and now you’re ready to take action! First, you want to break up any myofascial adhesions you can find. This will free the muscles from any bindings that may have prevented them from working correctly in the past. Because I find The Orb to be such a helpful tool, I’ll lead with that.
Orb Rolling Instructions
- Glute. Sit on the ball so that your hips are level. Find the muscles from the top of the back of your pelvis to your SITs bones.
- Piriformis. When you’re sitting on the ball, rotate into the ball so that it feels like it is sinking into your hip socket. This is a great opportunity to open and close your bottom leg.
- Hamstring (back of your thigh). You can start the ball quite high up (near your SITs bones) and let it work down to just above the knee. NEVER ever try to work the back of your knee. This is a great opportunity for strumming and rotation.
- Calf. You can work from just below the knee to the top of the heel. To get a good amount of pressure, you might need to cross one leg over the other. The ball should be under the calf of the bottom leg.
- IT band. Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t roll on your IT band. I am not one of those people, but you can read this article and decide for yourself. To get in position to roll your IT band, place the ball on the outside, top of your hip. Work your way down the outside of your leg until you are just below your knee. (Some people will tell you to stop just before you reach your knee. Again, I am not one of these people.)
- Tensor Fasciae Latae. Place the ball on the outside, top of your hip just like you did for the IT band. Now, tilt forward so that the ball rolls more toward the front plane of your body. Essentially, you are rolling the area from just behind your hip bone to the top of your femur (thigh bone).
- Adductors (inner thighs). While on your stomach, bring your leg out to a forty-five degree angle. Place the ball near where the leg joins the hip. Do not put the ball in your crotch.
Feel free to roll in as many areas as you’d like. The more adhesions you break up, the better you will feel.
In addition to rolling, there are some simple stretches that you can do to fix your sciatica.
- Medial rotation. Begin on your back with your feet several inches wider than your hips. Turn your toes to face each other. Allow your knees to come toward the midline of your body and touch. As you hang out here for several breaths, think about how the rotation of your femurs (thigh bones) is helping you feel a stretch across the back of your buttocks.
- Windshiled wiper your legs. Now, bring your feet as wide as your mat and turn your toes out. (If you have no mat, this should be several inches wider than the widest part of your hips.) Your arms can be out beside you in a T or with bent elbows so that you resemble a cactus or the sign for a field goal. Gently, allow both of your legs to move the same direction. From your core, bring the legs back to center before moving the other direction. Let your breathing guide your movement, but do be sure that you can feel a stretch before moving back to center.
- Figure 4. Bring your heels in line with your SITs bones. Bend your right leg and cross your right ankle just past the left knee. Feel how your leg rotates from your hip. Notice if you can feel a stretch in any muscles in your buttocks. If you feel a stretch, stay here. If you don’t feel a stretch, lift your left leg. You can lace your fingers behind your left leg for extra support, but do make sure that your head and shoulders return to the floor. Hold and breathe. After stretching the right side, make sure to stretch the left.
- Stick your butt out. Okay, so this isn’t so much an exercise as it is some advice on moving and sitting. Frequently, we tend to tuck the pelvis under. This ends up causing dysfunction. When you are standing, sitting, or on your back, I want you to pay attention to your SITs bones and how they are angled. By sticking your butt out slightly, you could restore the curve to your lumbar spine (low back), help your psoas work correctly, and keep your piriformis happy and healthy.
What other exercises do you do to fix your sciatica? Let us know in the comments below.
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