Mobility for Sciatic Pain Relief
If you’ve been experiencing radiating pain down your leg, numbness or tingling in the same area or loss of strength in the leg then there’s a good chance sciatica is a diagnosis in your future. As I’ll explain in a minute, doing the correct mobility can be game-changing for your sciatic pain relief.
But first, some basic education so we’re all on the same page.
What is Sciatica
From our good friends at Wikipedia…
Sciatica is a medical condition characterized by pain going down the leg from the lower back. This pain may go down the back, outside, or front of the leg. Onset is often sudden following activities like heavy lifting, though gradual onset may also occur. Typically, symptoms are only on one side of the body. Certain causes, however, may result in pain on both sides. Lower back pain is sometimes but not always present. Weakness or numbness may occur in various parts of the affected leg and foot.
Regardless of how you’ve gotten to this point, your primary concern is getting out of pain. It’s not fun and I’ve met countless people that feel as though they’ve lost their zest for life due to sciatic pain.
Stop right there though, because you’ve got hope.
How Did You Get Sciatica
Some things to consider are how you got to this point. By having a better understanding of your history and how you got here, you can avoid traveling down the same path in the future. So a couple questions to think about and apply:
Q1: Did your sciatica (nerve pain) occur from injury after lifting something?
Q2: Was it a gradual onset?
Q3: Pregnancy or post pregnancy?
Q4: Other injury or event?
By understanding the cause you can begin educating yourself on the healing process. For example, here are the ways I look at the above answers and critically think through possible healing strategies.
A1: If your sciatic pain happened after an injury like lifting something, then it makes sense to re-educate yourself on the ways of lifting things.
One of the most common faults I see in a controlled environment like the gym is that when people pick things up off the floor, they tend to round their backs or not understand how to properly brace their spines.
Doing this once or twice may not cause an injury but putting harmful forces on the spine over time will cause it to break.
Remember the phrase “the straw that broke the camels back”. It’s in the same thinking, learning how to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on the body is key in this situation.
A2 & A4: If you’ve had a gradual onset of pain, then you can consider a similar scenario to the above thinking. To put it plain and simple, you probably don’t move very well.
There’s an extremely high chance that you have some stiffness in these joints you need to function. Being sedentary or not practicing good movement patterns throughout your day will add up to pain.
Your body works as one unit, if you have a joint that’s not functioning – like your pelvis for example, then something else has to do it’s job – like your low back.
If your low back is trying to do a job it’s not meant to, then things happen. Those things tend to be called pain. Spending time doing daily body maintenance (joint mobility) can work wonders if you are generally a ‘stiff’ person.
A3: We aren’t veering off this idea of movement (or poor movement) when it comes to pregnancy either. I take my hat off to every woman that bears a child. You are a stronger person that any man will ever be. Thank you for all you do.
Unfortunately, during pregnancy, your body has to do a lot of shifting around. Joints become more lax and nerves can get compressed. I’m no expert in prenatal coaching however I’d imagine experts can give you sound knowledge on the best ways to move your body to find relief.
However post natal, it’s important to approach your movement as re-educating and rehabilitating. You’ve spent 9+ months changing your body so your approach to healing should be gradual and consistent.
If one move got you into pain, one move can get you out of pain
-Dr. Eric Cobb, Founder Z-Health
Now that you have a good understanding of how important it is to move well, here are some of our favorite movement drills that can help you alleviate your sciatic nerve pain. We take a systematic approach to moving joints that may cause entrapment of the nerve.
Common Entrapment Location #1 – Plantar Fascia
We talk so much about impingement in the spine, but the nerve can also become entrapped in the foot, ankle and hip as well. The nerve runs from the L4 (Lumbar) to S3(Sacrum) all the way down the posterior part of the leg through the inside part of the heel to the bottom of the foot. The Foot wave drill below is designed to create space in the joints of the foot.
Foot Waves – Perform 5 slow and controlled foot waves in each direction.
Entrapment Location #2 – Heel
As we work up the nerve, the second area to consider is the heel. The heel joint is a prime area for the tibial nerve (sciatic nerve extension) to become entrapped as it descends down into the bottom of the foot (plantar extension). As you can see, the tibial nerve runs right through the inside portion of the heel. The ankle circle drill below, helps mobilize the heel joint.
Ankle Circles – Perform 5 slow circles in each direction
Entrapment Location #3 – Hip
Often times, there is some sort of recurring hamstring injury or a feeling of pain/tightness going on. This can be associated with some sort of impingement happening within the hip joint. It’s not always the case, but when you have nerve pain, the cause can be anywhere up or down the nerve. The hip is just the next logical place to mobilize. Below you’ll find two great drills to help with this:
Cross Body Hip Circles
Full Rehab Hip Circles
Entrapment Location #4 – Sacrum
Finally we have the pelvis/sacrum area where the root of the nerve comes out. To understand this better, take a look at the photo below. You’ll notice the as the nerves come out of the low back and sacrum (L4, L5, S1, S2, S3) they travel down the leg. There are plenty of places to get entrapped. These two exercises below do two things. 1) The pelvis mobility is designed to free-up the space in your sacrum and get it moving better. 2) The Tibial Nerve glide is designed to “floss” the nerve back and forth to free it up.
Pelvis Mobility and Tibial Nerve Glide
There you have it. Some of our favorite movement-based drills you can do anytime and anywhere to help relieve your sciatic discomfort. If you test all these drills and don’t find them to be useful, I highly suggest a few things:
1. Go back and rewatch the videos, there is a good chance you have missed an important cue or action that is not giving you a good result. It is important to perform drills exactly how it’s explained.
2. Slow down, breathe and make sure not to push through pain. Pain is not something we want to experience when performing these exercises.
3. It’s possible that you need something very specific, other than these drills. In this case, I suggest reaching out to schedule a session to make some real progress.
As always, we are here to help. Please reach out if you need anything.