Sciatica is the name given to any sort of pain that is caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve.The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks, and all the way down one or both legs, ending at your feet. It may be felt on one or both sides of your body and may often swap sides too!
Symptoms can include, shooting pain, tingling, or persistent ache running down one side of the lower body and may be felt in the back, buttocks into the legs and feet. The pain can be relentless, often preventing sustained periods of sitting and standing. Sleep can often be disrupted due to painful episodes.
A simple test known as the “passive straight leg raise test” can help your GP identify whether you have sciatica.
This test involves lying flat on your back with your legs straight, and lifting one leg at a time. If lifting one of your legs causes pain or makes your symptoms worse, it is usually an indication that you have sciatica.
Most people find their sciatic pain goes away naturally within a few weeks, although some cases can last for a year or more. You should see your GP to diagnose Sciatica as other factors such as disc misalignments or degeneration can result in similar symptoms and if your symptoms are severe or persistent, or are getting worse over time.
Piriformis Syndrome is created when pressure is placed on the sciatic nerve by the piriformis muscle. The piriformis is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It runs diagonally from the lower spine to the upper surface of the femur, with the sciatic nerve running underneath or through the muscle. Muscle imbalances pull the hip joints and pelvis out of place and this changes the positioning of the piriformis muscle, the piriformis muscle becomes tight, short and inflammed which then places pressure on the sciatic nerve. In 20% of people the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle, incresing the liklehood of sciatic pain due to muscle inflammation.
What is a Muscle Imbalance?
When one muscle overpowers the opposing muscle or when there is a difference in flexibility of opposing muscles or a combination strength and flexibility. Think Tug-of-War.
When your muscles are out of balance they pull your bones and joints out of their normal position and this places your muscles, bones and joints under constant stress and uneven pressure.
The Piriformis muscle is responsible for external rotation (moving your leg so your feet point outward). So over time that muscle gets tight from the positions you put yourself in and it weakens from lack of use.
Treating the sciatic pain?
I recommend you start with the basics. Most cases of sciatic pain are caused by muscle imbalances so if you begin to work on correcting any muscle imbalances you have, you should start to see improvement right away, and likely eliminate your sciatic pain in a few weeks or less!
Learning a few new stretches can be advantageous. Depending on the severity of your condition you may need to change your daily activities to include some new stretches and new corrective exercises specifically to correct your imbalances that you have and that are suitable for your lifestyle.
You can minimise your risk of developing a slipped disc or back injury that could lead to sciatica by adopting a better posture and lifting techniques at work, as well as stretching before and after exercise, and exercising regularly.
Massage can help ease the pain, promote increased circualtion and ease tension of a sciatic nerve problem by working on the muscles of the lower back and, glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings. A deep massage can stretch and elongate the tight prifirmois and therefore releive the pressure on the sciatic nerve. It can also aid relaxation in other muscles that can have accumulated as a result of dealing with the sciatic pain
Sufferers may also notice that supporting muscles of the lower back, hip flexors and the hamstrings can feel tight and inelastic, an experienced masseuse will work on easing tension in all these muscle groups.
Together with massage, stretching and icing, the scaiatic pain caused by piriformis syndrome can be relieved and managed long term.