Many of my patients have been told they have “sciatica” because they experience pain along the back of their leg. People tend to own this pain as “My Sciatica”, almost as one would introduce a family pet. Sciatica issues do not have to be something you and your body own, though! Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it's inevitable.
Let’s take a closer look at what the sciatic nerve is. Then I’ll give you 6 ways to prevent and/or combat sciatic nerve symptoms... especially while pregnant.
The sciatic nerve is a long and powerful source of neurological impulses.
Symptoms of sciatica can be caused by a variety of conditions.
To truly heal “Your Sciatica”, identifying the exact source and location of its symptoms is important.
Irritation of the sciatic nerve can initiate from the low back. This is the starting point for the nerve. The nerve interfaces with several muscles in the buttocks region. It can also be compressed by tightness in the back of the thigh. Even your head position can even impact the nerve!
Often, posterior thigh pain is mistaken for sciatica. If the discomfort does not go past your knee, then it is not a sciatic nerve issue, by true definition. Otherwise, the discomfort you feel is likely from:
Sciatic nerve pain occurs sometimes with pregnancy. This is due to:
Different components of our body respond to different stimuli for their healing process. For example:
The best way to heal your knee is by weighted compression and decompression. Think of pedaling a bicycle. This helps bring nutrition to the cartilage.
Nerves respond to gliding or flossing. You are gliding the nerve within its sheath, or sleeve, to stimulate blood flow.
When looking at the nerve glide, you may wonder why there is head movement involved. Doesn't the sciatic nerve starts in the low back? Spinal movement... is spinal movement. When you move your head, it affects what’s happening in your low back.
So much is involved with this. To give super relevant/accurate advice on this, I always prefer watching people do what they do. Then tweaking body mechanics from there. There are, however, some general tips I can offer.
Avoiding locking out your knees is a big one. When you do this, it puts your knees in hyperextension. This tends to shift your pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt. Standing in the position then turns “off” your deep core muscles. Then it compresses your lower back. Many women lock their knees while standing without even realizing it. If you’re curious if you do, ask a friend to take a picture of you standing, (from the side). The photo must be candid. You may change your position if you consciously know a photo is being taken. Then, feel free to email me the picture at [email protected]. I can check and see if you are locking out your knees.
Avoiding hinging at the low back with squatting is another common pattern I tend to catch. It’s good to bend your knees... not just use the paraspinal muscles in your low back. This happens often when bending down to pick up toys. Unloading the dishwasher. Anything low to the ground.
When we sit for lengthened periods of time, it tells our brain to “inhibit” the gluteal musculature. This is the main muscle group we need to support our low back and pelvis. Applying sustained bodyweight pressure on our bottom means the sciatic nerve isn’t getting great blood flow. Then it's more likely to get irritated/inflamed.
One approach is to incorporate side-stepping into your daily practice. We rarely move in any other plane than forward. Because of that the muscle fibers responsible for lateral movement often have room for improvement.
In some people, their anatomy is such that the sciatic nerve splits a little bit. It goes through the piriformis muscle before descending lower down the leg. Even if this is not the case, the piriformis muscle is located in such close proximity to the sciatic nerve that stretching can help. If the piriformis is tight, it can be restrictive/compressive to the glutes. This will then affect the entire length of the nerve.
It can be easy to kind of “post-up” when pregnant. There's a subconscious switch. We have our back hold our entire body together... since everything stomach and abdominal region is changing so much. When it gets stiff or overworked it can put you into a pain/spasm cycle continuum.
So, I really love suggesting some gentle rotations of the midback in a movement called “open books”. This occurs in the thoracic spine. That's where our diaphragm lives... along with a big bundle of nerves that shape our body’s stress response to our environment. So, if we can keep this part of our body happy, it really does contribute to our overall sense of wellbeing.
To do this movement, lie on your side with a pillow between your knees. Keep your hips stacked, and hands together. Then, keep your pelvis stacked and pretend your arms are an opening book. You’ll keep your bottom hand on the ground/bed. The other hand opens, passes your torso, and the back of the palm faces the ground behind you. Only rotate to a place of gentle pull.
Doing the “Cat” part of cat/cow” can be really nice during pregnancy. This is the movement where you are on all fours and you arch your back up to the ceiling or sky. I generally advise against the “cow” position, though. That creates a sway in the low back. This already tends to happen with pregnancy, so there’s no need to overemphasize that.
Feel free to reach out if you have any sciatica symptoms and would like to do some problem-solving!
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