Updated: Nov 9, 2018
If I had more space, I would rename this blog post 'sciatica, a right pain in the bum, the leg and all the way through to the toes.' It's not quite as catchy, but for some who have suffered the effects of an irritable sciatic nerve, it probably feels a whole lot more accurate.
So what actually is sciatica?
Well, first and foremost, sciatica is a symptom of a bigger problem rather than a condition in its own right. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, extending from the lower back all the way down the back of each leg and into the feet. If this nerve gets compressed or irritated at any point along its pathway - for reasons such as trauma, an underlying disc issue or overly tight and unforgiving muscles - it can result in localised pain in the buttocks or referred pain, tingling and/or numbness down the entire lower extremity.
Because the causes of sciatica can be varied, the treatment of sciatic pain can be different for different people, meaning that the first step in recovery is to see a health professional who can more accurately pinpoint what is going on and where the sciatic nerve is being compressed. Being aware of what positions trigger the pain (bending forwards, bending backwards or stretching the back of the leg, for example) can give clues as to what's going on, so it's important to really tune in and listen to what your body is trying to tell you and then share this information with your GP/osteopath/physiotherapist.
Once the cause has been identified, recovery from sciatic pain can be aided by a mixture of gentle stretching, strengthening the abdominal musculature to support the lower back, and creating length through the body to help free up the nerve. Avoiding positions that might aggravate the pain are key; stretching the hamstrings (back of the thigh) and the piriformis (located deep in the buttock) are brilliant if the pain is being caused by overly tight muscles, but might recreate the symptoms if the nerve is impinged due to scar tissue. In this situation, for example, soft tissue massage might be needed before introducing stretches to help alleviate the discomfort.
In a nutshell, there is no one-rule-fits-all treatment of sciatic pain. The good news is that it is rare for the sciatic nerve to be damaged beyond point of recovery, but as with all things, prevention is often better than cure. Accidents and trauma aside, the very best way to prevent initial or repeat episodes of sciatica is embark on a gentle movement programme that can help strengthen and lengthen muscles, improve overall posture and mobilise joints in a safe and efficient manner.
With its ability to do all the above, Pilates can be a wonderful tool to help put that pain in the bum firmly behind you. If you are currently suffering from sciatica or you have been advised to take up Pilates to prevent repeat bouts, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if any of our reformer classes may be suitable for you. We look forward to seeing you in our studio soon!