Four out of five people will experience low back pain at one point during their lives. Sometimes it looks like severe back pain which lasts for a few days and eventually gets better on its own. But for some — especially those who have experienced more than one debilitating low back pain in their lifetime — they experience pain down their legs that may or may not persist over a period of time. Can
When you experience back pain followed by pain spreading down the leg – this is known as “sciatica”. Sometimes the pain only travels down to your knee, or there is a mild ache down the side of your hip and leg. But other times it can appear all the way down your leg and be accompanied by numbness, tingling and loss of strength.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to help you recover from sciatica naturally. But you may be doing just that to make your situation worse – unwittingly.
Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to sciatica:
Avoid resting on the bed or couch
While it may feel better in the moment – lying in bed or on the couch will eventually aggravate your sciatica. Sciatica is caused by the pinching or irritation of nerves in your lower back. When you lie down in a slouched position (such as in bed or on a couch) you put undue pressure on these nerves, making your symptoms worse. The trickiest part about this is that you usually won’t notice the stimulus when you’re at rest. You’ll notice this when you stand up or try to move around, and mistakenly assume that the movement is bothering you instead of the relaxed posture you were in.
avoid child’s pose and forward stretches
This is another big misconception about sciatica because it actually feels good when you’re “in the moment” and don’t roll your back. Not always, but often, sciatica is caused by a bulging or herniated disc that is pinching your nerve. The forward bend position temporarily eases the pressure on your nerves—which is why it feels good at first—but it doesn’t last. Forward stretching also opens up the space between your vertebrae. This can affect the protrusion (bulging) of your disc. If you allow your disc bulge to push more on that nerve – your nerve will become more irritated and irritated – as will your sciatica.
Don’t Let Your MRI Decide Your Treatment
As I mentioned in my first two examples, sciatica often involves bulging discs and irritated nerves. And an MRI will usually confirm it. But here’s the thing – many people have a bulging disc visible on their MRI and have no symptoms. What matters is whether or not your bulging disc is interacting negatively with your nerve – and this is usually affected by poor movement strategies. In other words, if you learn to move better, you can actually make your bulging disc insignificant and your sciatica will disappear. That’s why you should never let your MRI alone determine your treatment protocol when you’re suffering from sciatica. More important is how your sciatica symptoms behave when you move. Research has shown that it is more reliable than imaging alone because it tells us in real time what is happening to your nerves.
What to do
While it may seem counterintuitive to move when your feet are in pain — it’s one of the best things you can do. Try standing and walking as straight as possible and pay attention to what is happening to your leg. If your leg symptoms start to subside, you’ll know your body is enjoying that particular activity and it’s helping your sciatica. But here’s the catch – make sure that the relief lasts. Permanent relief (versus temporary) is what we’re looking for and it tells us whether the movements you’re doing are good for your sciatica.
see your seat
It may sound trivial – but it’s important to maintain good posture when you suffer from sciatica. Remember that sciatica usually involves a pinched or irritated nerve—and irritated nerves are highly sensitive to changes in your low back (especially slouched posture). Whether you’re standing, sitting or lying down – be sure to maintain a slight curve in your lower back to reduce your slouching. This helps keep pressure off your discs and already irritated nerves.
Talk to a Movement Specialist
While it’s entirely possible to relieve debilitating sciatica on your own without pain pills, procedures, or surgery, you may find it easier to do so under the guidance of a movement specialist who specializes in understanding back pain and sciatica. Yes – you can get an MRI done and see a surgeon – but they are not movement specialists. He is a surgical specialist. To relieve your sciatica the natural way (along with corrective movement strategies) – you need to work with someone who is an expert in this.
Dr. Carrie Joss, physical therapist and Pilates expert, is the owner of CJ Physical Therapy and Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch or reserve a seat at his upcoming Masterclass for Back Pain and Sciatica Sufferers – visit his websitewww.cjphysicaltherapy.com or call603-605-0402