According to a recent study, 40% of people will experience sciatic nerve pain (sciatica) during their lifetime. While it can present itself at any time, it tends to be more common in older adults or those with mobility issues.
Despite the prevalence of this condition, very few people know how to respond should they experience it. For example, while there are some medical interventions to consider, many people find that sciatic nerve pain can be eased through exercise, such as assisted stretching.
What causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?
The sciatic nerve is the largest in your body, starting at your lower back and reaching your feet. Its purpose is to “stimulate the movement of leg muscles and carry sensory messages from the leg to the spine”.
Pain occurs in this region when the nerve is compressed or otherwise irritated. For example, the nerve may rub against a bone or herniated disc, causing inflammation and sensitivity. Other causes of sciatic nerve pain include:
- Slipped discs.
- Back injuries.
- Tumors in the spine.
- Spinal injuries.
- Sedentary lifestyles.
Some health conditions or complications may leave you more vulnerable to sciatic nerve pain. For example, this could include:
- Spinal stenosis
- Spondylolisthesis (slipped disc)
- Bone spurs
- Pelvic tumors
- Piriformis syndrome
Older adults are also much more likely to experience sciatic nerve pain. This is because they are more prone to bone damage, herniated disks, and other age-related complications that can trigger nerve damage.
What does sciatic nerve pain feel like?
Sciatic nerve pain can occur in any of the areas where the nerve is present. This includes your back, bottom, back of your leg, feet, and toes. However, studies suggest that pain tends to be less severe in your back than in other affected areas. As a result, lower back pain is often misdiagnosed as sciatica.
Many people describe sciatic nerve pain as a burning or stinging sensation, which can shoot through your body or the affected areas. Others find that it feels a little like pins and needles. You may also notice that the affected area feels ‘numb’ or much weaker than usual.
As mentioned above, sciatic nerve damage can cause pain just about anywhere in the lower half of your body. This is dependent upon the level of damage caused to the nerve – the deeper it runs (or the more the nerve is compressed) the more severe the spread and severity of pain.
However, if you are experiencing sciatic pain, it’s important not to panic. Most people find that the issue goes away between 4-12 weeks after it presents itself, though this process can certainly be sped up through exercise.
How can I reduce sciatic nerve pain?
In some cases, those experiencing sciatic nerve pain can receive treatment from a doctor or physician. For example, they may be able to provide you with access to painkillers, or injections that reduce the pain you are experiencing. In severe or chronic cases, they may suggest that you consider decompression surgery. However, you may be pleased to hear that many of those who experience sciatic nerve pain report excellent results from physiotherapy and exercise when it comes to reducing their symptoms.
Sometimes, when our body is injured, we are encouraged to rest as much as possible in order to speed up the healing process. However, this is not the case with sciatic nerve pain, as it can actually be worsened by sedentary behavior. Instead, you can reduce sciatic nerve pain through exercise, as this helps to reduce the tension in the region by increasing your strength and flexibility. While there are many different forms of exercise you may want to consider, such as going for long walks or swimming, assisted stretching is one of the most effective.
Stretching should already be part of your daily wellness routine, due to the fact that it brings around many benefits for both your mental and physical health. For example, stretching can:
Improve muscle strength.
Improve joint durability.
Improve mental health.
These benefits, when unlocked through assisted stretching, can work to reduce the pain associated with sciatica or sciatic nerve damage.
Improved muscle strength.
When stretching, you’ll begin to strengthen the muscles throughout your body, though different exercises can be used to target different regions specifically. This can help those dealing with sciatic nerve damage, as you can strengthen the muscles surrounding your spine, providing you with better stability.
When in pain, we tend to hold a lot of tension in our bodies. However, this can cause complications such as sciatica to worsen, as you’ll experience lower levels of mobility and increased pain. For example, you may experience body aches alongside the ‘shooting’ pain attributed to sciatic nerve damage. By improving your flexibility, you’ll learn how to reduce some of the tension throughout your body, reducing pain and inflammation, while also ensuring that you remain mobile.
Joint problems and sciatica often go hand in hand. As a result, not only can working on joint durability reduce the pain associated with sciatica, but it can also reduce the chances of you experiencing the issues again. This is because it works to reinforce the muscles within the region, preventing future damage.
Improved mental health.
Experiencing pain on a daily basis can also lead to a variety of mental health complications, with a recent study finding that “rates of self-reported depression were nearly double among people with sciatica”. However, as assisted stretching can reduce pain and inflammation, it can also work to support better mental well-being. Furthemore, stretching is known to boost your body’s production of mood-boosting hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine, which can also work to combat stress, low moods, and anxiety. As a result, you should try to stretch daily, whether at home or in an assisted stretching session.
What should I expect from an assisted stretching session?
Before participating in an assisted stretching session, you should discuss any pain or discomfort you are feeling with your trainer. This way, they’ll be able to curate a stretching routine that is specifically tailored to not only your capabilities but the issues you are wishing to combat.
For those dealing with sciatic nerve pain, assisted stretching will work to improve your flexibility and strengthen your muscles. In order to achieve this goal, you’ll likely work your way through a variety of stretches with your trainer. This could include:
Assisted back extensions and stretches can work to alleviate sciatic nerve pain throughout your body – not just your lower back. This is because most sciatic nerve damage and compression occurs in the lower back, in the nerves within your spine. While there are a variety of back stretches to try out, they work to reduce the pressure on your sciatic nerve, which will reduce the pain you are experiencing.
If you feel pain in your upper thighs as the product of sciatica, assisted hamstring stretches are usually a great method for alleviating this pain. This is because the three muscles that make up your hamstring are actually responsible for the alignment of your pelvis and spine. By targeting this region through stretching, you are reducing tension in this region, which can subsequently reduce the pressure placed on sciatic nerves. It can also be a great way to promote flexibility.
Assisted hip stretches are excellent for combating sciatic nerve pain (and nerve damage) because they can improve your alignment, while also increasing your flexibility quite considerably. Furthermore, many studies have found that working on improving your hip flexor muscles (the group of muscles surrounding your hip), can reduce lower back pain quite considerably.
Assisted knee stretches work to target your upper thighs and lower buttocks, that is, the region where most people experience severe sciatic nerve pain. However, it can also come in handy if you feel as though your knees and joints are impacted by sciatic nerve damage.
How can I prevent sciatic nerve damage or pain?
Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to reduce the chances of you experiencing sciatic nerve damage again in the future (or if you’re lucky, at all). For example, sciatic nerve pain can be prevented by:
- Participating in regular exercise. Exercise is often the key to keeping your body strong, and in this instance, reduces the chances of you dealing with the kind of problems that cause sciatic nerve pain. While you should develop an exercise routine that works for you, ensure it includes a range of different styles of exercise, such as aerobic exercise alongside strength and conditioning. Not only will this help you take care of your body, it’s also good for your mind, and a varied schedule reduces the chances of you losing interest or getting bored.
- Developing a stretching routine. As mentioned above, stretching can be an excellent way to reduce pain, but when incorporated into your daily routine, can also strengthen your muscles so that damage does not occur in the first place.
- Managing your weight. Weight management plays an important role in preventing sciatic nerve pain, as “excess pounds put undue pressure on your spine, which also initiates or exacerbates sciatica. If you’re above a healthy weight, healing from sciatica takes longer too.”
- Following a healthy lifestyle. Following a healthy diet can prevent sciatica, especially if you work to avoid foods that are inflammatory in nature. Following a healthy diet also supports you in your endeavors to manage your weight.
- Avoiding spending too much time sitting down. As discussed above, those who follow a more sedentary lifestyle may also be more prone to experiencing sciatic nerve pain. This is particularly true for those whose careers mean they spend most of the day sitting down. This is because sitting down for long periods of time places excess pressure on your discs and muscles. As such, ensure you take plenty of breaks to stretch your legs and consider investing in a standing desk.
- Maintaining good posture. Various studies have been carried out that poor posture could also lead to sciatic nerve pain, particularly if you are slouched over. Again, this is due to the fact that the positioning over your body places extra (and unnecessary) pressure on your bones, joints and muscles. As a result, you should strive to be more mindful and aware of your posture, correcting yourself whenever you feel yourself begin to slouch.
Ready to give assisted stretching a try? Get in touch today to find out more!
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of assisted stretching or would like to book your first session, please do not hesitate to get in touch today. A member of our friendly and highly-qualified team would be happy to talk you through the processes, providing you with a gentle introduction to assisted stretching.
Since opening our facility, we’ve worked with complete beginners and seasoned athletes in order to help them reach their full potential – so don’t worry if you have little to no previous experience with stretching. We’ll work with you at your own speed as we try out different stretches and put together the perfect stretching routine.
We’re good at what we do – and that means you won’t be pushed beyond your limits during our time together. Instead, we’ll work to build up your strength and flexibility over time, so that you’re able to try different stretches at your own pace and convenience.
If you are dealing with sciatic nerve pain, be sure to discuss this with your trainer before your first session, as this will feed into the kind of exercise or stretching plan we put together on your behalf. For example, if the pain is localized to one specific area, such as the back of your legs, we can focus on stretches that target this region of your body specifically. Alternatively, we can put together a comprehensive plan designed to promote pain reduction across the board – the choice is yours.
We look forward to hearing from you soon!