Ah, lower back pain. It’s the bane of our existence, isn’t it?
From that desk job that keeps us sedentary all day to lifting that heavy box without proper form, lower back pain is all too common.
But what if I told you that not all lower back pain is created equal?
What if I told you that sciatic nerve involvement can make your lower back pain feel like a walk in the park?
Don’t worry, I’m here to explain the difference and provide some exercises to help alleviate those pesky symptoms.
First, let’s start with the basics. Lower back pain is exactly what it sounds like – pain in your lower back. It can range from a dull ache to a sharp, stabbing pain and can be caused by a myriad of things such as poor posture, muscle strain, facet injury or a herniated disc.
Sciatica, on the other hand, is a symptom of an underlying condition that affects the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body, running from your lower back down to your feet. When something compresses or irritates the nerve, it can cause pain, tingling, and numbness that radiates down your leg. It’s kind of like a lightning bolt of pain that shoots through your butt and down your leg, and it’s not pleasant.
Now, here’s the thing about sciatica – it’s not actually a diagnosis of a condition. Rather, it’s a symptom of something else going on in your body. We hear it all too often when a patient says they have “sciatica” but really that isn’t the root of the problem.
Some common causes of sciatic pain include a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or piriformis syndrome (not as common as most physio’s make you think). So if you’re experiencing sciatica, it’s important to get to the root of the problem and figure out what’s causing it. That way, you can treat the underlying condition and hopefully alleviate the sciatic pain.
So, what can you do to help alleviate sciatica symptoms? While it’s always important to consult with a medical professional before starting any new exercises or treatments, here are three examples of exercises that can help reduce sciatica symptoms:
Piriformis stretch: The piriformis muscle is located deep in your glutes and can irritate the sciatic nerve if it’s tight or inflamed. To stretch it out, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, then gently pull your left knee towards your chest until you feel a stretch in your right glute. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. There is also a seated version of exactly the same stretch shown below.
Hamstring stretch: Tight hamstrings can also contribute to sciatica symptoms. To stretch them out, lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. Lift your right leg up and loop a towel or yoga strap around the ball of your foot. Gently pull your leg towards your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Cat-cow stretch: This yoga pose is great for stretching out your entire spine, including your lower back. Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Inhale and arch your back, lifting your head and tailbone towards the ceiling. Exhale and round your spine, tucking your chin towards your chest and bringing your tailbone towards your knees. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.
So there you have it – the difference between sciatica and lower back pain, and some exercises to help alleviate those pesky sciatica symptoms. Remember, it’s always important to consult with a medical professional before starting any new exercises or treatments, and to get to the root of the problem if you’re experiencing sciatica.
Written by Nick Dimakis (Chiropractor)