When experiencing pain down one leg or buttock it is quite common to associate it with sciatic nerve pain. But what is sciatica nerve and what causes the pain? What are the actual symptoms? The pain can be long lasting, both physically and mentally exhausting. That is why this post will answer the questions above and provide you with different ways to ease the pain.
What Is Sciatic Nerve?
Sciatica or the sciatic nerve is your body’s biggest nerve.
It originates from the gluteal area and stretches all down your leg to just below knee level. In your lower leg, the sciatica nerve branches out to other nerves. Those nerves continue down your leg all the way into your toes.
To further understand the sheer size of it, the sciatic nerve has 5 roots. Two in the lumbar back and 3 in the sacrum, spreading to both of your legs.
When you experience sciatic nerve pain it can be caused by irritation of it, most common, and a direct injury of it, less common.
It can as well be caused by inflammation, pinching, and compression of the nerve. When that happens you can experience different kinds of symptoms in the body parts that the sciatic nerve intervenes.
That is why commonly called “sciatica” pain is expressed all the way from your buttock to down your leg.
What Are Sciatica Symptoms?
As mentioned above and probably the reason many of you are reading this, pain is the number one symptom.
The pain that you experience may vary in kind and intensity. Depending on the amount of irritation caused on the sciatic nerve your pain may feel sharp or numbing, constant, or caused by certain movements.
It as well may be present only in the buttock or even shooting down the leg.
Now the pain is the number symptom but because of the fact that a nerve is affected, usually, there are few more symptoms accompanying the pain. Those symptoms are:
Weakness in the leg and foot muscles. A nerve’s main purpose is to send different kinds of signals to our body parts. Those signals may be to perform a certain movement.
In a case when the nerve is affected negatively those signals have a hard time coming through. That is why you may feel weakness while trying to perform certain actions. Those actions may be bringing thighs together, bending knees, feet, or toes up and down.
Some individuals may experience so-called drop foot where you find it difficult to lift your foot up while walking.
Numbness. As mentioned above, when a nerve is affected it has difficulties regulating signals. The same occurrence happens with sensory information.
Sensations such as touch, hot or cold, sharp or dull, even vibrations may not be processed correctly. When impulses passing down the sciatic nerve are not doing so properly, numbness symptoms may occur on the side of the calf, heel, foot sole, or top of the foot.
Improper nerve function can lead to unusual sensations felt in the area where the sciatic nerve passes through. Sensations such as tingling or the crawling feeling may be felt. When you experience that, we call it paresthesia.
Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain
Sciatica nerve pain is directly caused by irritation or inflammation on the nerve. A nerve does not get irritated by itself out of the blue, meaning the underlying issue is the cause. All the previously mentioned symptoms can be caused when the nerve is compressed.
Now, what are the most common causes that lead to nerve compression? They are:
Herniated disc. You can think about discs as a cushion for our spinal bones called vertebrae. They sit between vertebrae and absorb the shock and pressure caused by our daily activities.
A herniated disc is mostly caused by life’s wear and tear. This occurs as we age. Disc gradually degenerates making it stiffer and less flexible.
When a disc is herniated, the inner part of it bulges out and compresses the nearest nerve.
Lumbar spinal stenosis. When the space becomes so narrow between the vertebrae it can lead to the formation of new bones. This leads to further pressure on the spinal cord, in a condition called spinal stenosis.
Spondylolisthesis. Spondylolisthesis occurs when one lumbar vertebra slips forward in relation to the adjacent vertebra. This can lead to excess compression on the sciatic nerve.
Piriformis syndrome. Piriformis is a small muscle in your hip through which the sciatic nerve closely passes by. When you overwork your piriformis muscles it can lead to it getting tighter and even inflamed. This causes the space between the muscle and the sciatic nerve to narrow. In the end piriformis can even compress the nerve, leading to its irritation.
Trauma on the spinal cord.
Ways to Ease The Pain
Decreasing your pain and symptoms of compressed nerves is easily done with improved flexibility and nerve flossing. When the improvements in flexibility and nerve signaling take place it is common to totally stop with rehabilitation.
Try not to be that person, yet continue rehabbing. First and foremost because of the reason that the original cause of sciatic nerve compression is not totally healed. The second reason is that you need to improve your core stability and lower body strength. By doing so you are being proactive. Increased stability and strength will help with preventing original causes of sciatic nerve pain to take place again.
The most optimal thing that you can do is get in touch with a physical therapist who will assess your condition and provide you with an optimal rehabilitation plan.
For the start, you have to explore which movements are painful and which are not. This will allow you to get in better touch with your body by learning your boundaries.
While exploring those moving patterns you are directly working on your flexibility without actually performing certain exercises.
Focus on moving in different positions, standing straight, with knees bent, while lying down, on your knees and hands, etc. As you do so, ever so slightly push the boundaries of pain.
Pain is nothing dangerous but you should not provoke it all the way to the highest intensity.
Certain stretching movements can be beneficial and many of you are maybe aware of them. The stretch variations are called pigeon poses. You have a reclining, forward, and sitting pigeon pose.
If you plan on doing them, follow the same order as each one is more demanding than the other.
These stretches work on the relaxing piriformis muscle which is often tight and can press on the sciatic nerve.
The most important aspect of these stretches is externally rotating your hip, having your knee bent, and placing stretch on your buttock. Gradually drag your leg closer to the body or bend the upper body forwards, depending on the position. Keep the stretch for at least 30 seconds to 1 min.
Nerve flossing is another great technique to ease up your symptoms. The whole point of nerve flossing is to insert movement and create space in your sciatic nerve. This is possible by stretching and relaxing certain muscles.
It can be done by moving body parts passively, meaning using your hands. Alternatively by activating muscles to move different body parts and in that way insert movement.
While nerve flossing you should not feel excessive pain and push boundaries. Breathe deeply and accordingly so that your muscles do not overactivate.
Start by performing a low number of repetitions, increasing as pain decreases.
When looking back at the possible causes for your sciatica training stability has been shown to aid in pain reduction and injury prevention.
Because of the fact that your back has been taking a big load, it led to the original cause of sciatic pain occurring. That is why you need to strengthen your stabilizer muscles, core.
As your core gets stronger and trunk stability better, the unnecessary movement in your back lowers. This will allow the cause of sciatic nerve compression to heal faster. Strong core lowers the chances of a similar cause of pain taking place again.
Start by lying on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. As you breathe out try to feel internal abdominal muscles by gently squeezing them.
You can also try pressing your lower back to the ground by activation of your core muscles. These are just the examples of how you can start training your trunk stability.
To take off the load that your back has to take and relieve pressure from your nerves around the affected area, you need to strengthen your surrounding muscles.
Training muscles in your back may not be the most optimal to start with. Mostly because it can be painful and further irritate your sciatic nerve.
We do not want you to totally skip strength training. In the beginning, you can focus on performing strengthening exercises for your legs.
I guess you can imagine how having stronger legs will take some of the load off your spine.
Now, the pain that you experience can make it difficult to perform exercises with excess weight such as squats. Instead, you can try hip bridge and hip abduction variation exercises to start with.
Sciatic nerve pain can be a cause of different underlying problems around your lower back area and sacrum. The pain and additional symptoms are caused by compression on the sciatic nerve which leads to its irritation and inflammation.
The best way to treat sciatic nerve pain is to get your condition assessed by a licensed physical therapist. Additional to that you can greatly benefit from improving your flexibility, stability, and strength.
Flexibility exercises can be performed daily while strength and trunk stability work 3-4 times a week. Do not push yourself too hard in the beginning.
The main purpose of this post is to provide you with easy tools and techniques for relieving your symptoms. Try them out and see how they work for you.