Health Education

Sciatic Pain

Sciatic nerve discomfort, or sciatica, can be extremely uncomfortable.  It’s a common lumbo-pelvic disorder that develops chronically in most cases.  Having a basic understanding of the factors involved can help you prevent, rehab and reverse sciatic nerve pain.  

Sciatica is the term that is used to describe inflammation of the the sciatic nerve.  This nerve starts in the lumbar spine (lower back), runs through the pelvis and down the back of each of your legs.  It is the thickest and longest nerve in the human body, acting as a pathway for communication to our lower limbs. 

A healthy musculoskeletal system provides an environment for successful function.  Sciatica is typically caused by chronic compression or inflammation of some sort.  A herniated disc of the lumbar spine could push against the nerve and cause the inflammation (the cushioning of the spine literally squeezing out of one side).  Lumbar disc degeneration can release inflammatory proteins that can affect the neighboring sciatic nerve.  If your pelvis is shifted laterally to one side, from your desk position at work or from carrying your kids on one hip, you can be compressing the nerve that runs down that leg.

Depending on where the nerve is compressed, you can be experiencing symptoms in different parts of the hip, leg, calf, or foot.  For example a herniated disc at L4/L5 can present differently than a degenerated S1 or laterally shifted pelvis.  If discomfort elevates to steady pain for you, it will be important to have a doctor explore the source of the compression.  It will help you choose an avenue of care.

Acute pain is caused by an incident, like a hard fall or a car accident.  Chronic pain is developed over time by a subtle stimulus that throws your body out of alignment.  Extended stretches of sitting over long periods of time will have a real impact on the function of your spine and pelvis.  If you don’t offset extended sitting with regular standing, walking, stretching, and exercise your chances for a chronic physical condition greatly increase.  Most sciatica conditions are developed chronically and require lifestyle and habit changes to correct.

If your pain becomes intolerable, follow the directive of your physician for treatment, pain management, and physical therapy.  You can always improve upon lifestyle choices to improve your long term chances of reversing the condition permanently.  Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Identify habits that could be compressing that side.  Notice your sitting position at work, the shoulder you carry a heavy bag on every day, or any repetitive motion that could contribute.
  • Get a standing desk.  They should be mandatory at all jobs by now.  Put in a special request if you are experiencing pain.  Regardless, make it a point to stand up and move around every 30 minutes.
  • Personalize a stretch routine that works for you, and do it every day.  For the rest of your life!  This could be a combination of things you learned from Physical Therapy, a yoga class, or intuitively some moves that feel good for you.  Take care of your body every day.
  • If you are in acute pain, respect it.  Don’t make bad choices and push yourself past your current threshold.  Listen to your body’s signals and allow time for healing.