Sciatica is the name given to pain that is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.  Anything that irritates the nerve could cause pain, mild or severe.  Most commonly Sciatica is caused by a compressed nerve root in the lumbar spine.  This is why sciatica and general back pain can often be confused with each other.

What Causes it

Disc Herniation

The spine consists of a series of small, block-like bones stacked together to form a moveable column. Each of these bones referred to as vertebrae, is separated by a soft, circular pad known as an intervertebral disc. This intervertebral disc helps provide shock absorption, but is also the key structure that allows the spine to bend, twist, and move.

If the outer layers of the disc become damaged it will cause the disc to bulge backwards into the spinal canal – a condition is known as a disc bulge or ‘herniation’. Not only can the disc herniation itself cause back pain, but it can also pinch and irritate the sciatic nerve as is travels behind the damaged disc on its way into the leg.   As the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed and irritated it will create pain and/or other neurological symptoms such as numbness, burning, pins-and-needles, or weakness into the back or leg along the path of the sciatic nerve.
Inflamed Joint

When any of the joints that the sciatic nerve runs through become inflamed it can start to press on the sciatic nerve causing irritation and pain as mentioned above when dealing with a bulging disc. Chronic inflammation due to poor diet or arthritic conditions can cause or worsen joint inflammation, increasing irritation on the sciatic nerve.

Muscle Spasm/ Tight Muscles

The sciatic nerve passes by many muscles on its way down from the lumbar spine to the toes and as a result of this can become irritated by numerous tight muscles or muscles in spasm along the nerve. The most common muscle to cause irritation to the sciatic nerve is the Piriformis muscle.  If the Piriformis muscle goes into spasm, this can cause Sciatica symptoms.  When the Piriformis irritates the sciatic nerve it is commonly referred to as Piriformis Syndrome- a less common cause of Sciatica.

Muscle Spasm causing Sciatica

The common thread between all of these causes is compression/irritation on the nerve.  If we relieve the compression we can relieve sciatica symptoms.

What you can do about it

  1. Making sure you are moving correctly during exercise and during sport is crucial to help prevent sciatic pain.  This means always moving with the best technique possible as to not cause great compensation during exercise.  As I always say, get good, then get fast.  Slow down what you’re doing so you can do it right.
  2. Release the compression on the area by stretching/rolling on the tight muscles(often on the opposite side of the sight of pain)  check this 4 part video series on the some stretches that can help.
  3. Reduce or eliminate foods from your diet that could be causing chronic inflammation.  Gluten and dairy are the top culprits for causing chronic inflammation in the body but removing processed foods or “Frankenfoods” of any kind can help.
  4. Improve range of motion throughout the joint.  By working on moving your joints through full range of motion WITHOUT pain, you will release compression within joint helping to reduce joint inflammation.

Rob Nayyar
Fascial Stretch Therapist L2
“Move Like It Matters”