So many people suffer for years with sciatic pain that seems to crop up at unexpected times and then get blamed on the sport, or “getting older” or lack of stretching etc. None of these are the fundamental cause of sciatica…they are just guesses from the uneducated. How you move all day is setting you up for sciatica and knowing some simple anatomy will free you from the pain.
Sciatic Pain Keeps Coming Back
The old saying, “give a man a fish, feed him for a day… teach the man to fish, feed him for life” is my favourite way to explain what you’re probably doing with your sciatic pain that keeps coming back. Some well-intentioned person has given you a fish… it may have been in the form of pain killers, a special stretch, a lumbar support in your chair or an orthotic to “balance your legs”. (lots of others spring to mind… but whatever the “fish” they’re all the same until you understand the why of sciatica)
The Anatomy of Sciatica
No technical terminology needed further than to label the lumbar spine, the hips and the hip sockets.
Most people, when asked, will say they bend from the hips. That’s great, so long as we define where this is exactly. If you put your hands on your hips…you’ll connect with your hip bones. Now run your hands around to your back at the same level as your hip bone. What do you find? Your lumbar spine. Funny that…!
So if you are bending from your hips, you’re actually bending through your lower back and as these vertebrae are not joints for weight bearing, you aggravate the nerves which run down your legs. It may be more in one leg than the other… that’s purely a symptom of which side you habitually bend through more.
But I Was Told My ITB and Hamstrings Need Stretching
Firstly, they’re right. Secondly, you need to ask WHY do they need stretching. The answer isn’t “because they’re tight”.
The correct answer is that you’re not moving properly, which creates unbalanced tightness… and this causes sciatic symptoms.
Heard the saying, “if you don’t lose it, you’ll lose it” ?
If you’re bending through your lower back to:
- look in the fridge,
- get in and out of chairs and the car,
- wash your hands at the sink,
- chop veges at the kitchen bench
then your hamstrings are gradually getting tighter and tighter through the lack of use. This tightness isn’t isolated to your hamstrings of course… everything is connected. I’m simplifying so that you can get an idea of the basic mechanics of your anatomy.
When you learn to bend from the hip sockets, you naturally engage your hamstrings, ITB and core musculature the way nature intended… the way your anatomy is put together.
The body is structured to bend beautifully from the hip sockets. Find these and your sciatica will gradually subside and never return unexpectedly.
How Long Before Sciatica Stops
It may take some time for the inflammation of years of doing it the wrong way to subside and the habit will require some thought to break, but you’ll notice a change in quite a few areas that you are probably being told to address specifically.
For example, your hamstrings will miraculously become more flexible, your knees won’t be as sore, your core stabilizers will start to tighten up and your lower back will not ache as much as before.
How long all this takes depends on your ability to stop and recoordinate where you bend from. On your own, it might be trial and error for weeks or a few months. With a coach it would be a matter of days.
Ever since I learnt how to move well, sciatica and lower back pain have never returned. No extra stretches, core workouts or pain killers. Simple anatomy solved it and some attention to my own movement.
Now that wasn’t too technical was it?
Hey, let me know if you can’t find your hip sockets.