Sciatica

Best Tips to Avoid Sciatica Pain

Sciatica symptoms can vary from having severe pain that radiates through the legs and feed to a burning sensation or the inability to put your full weight on one leg.

According to Harvard Health, approximately 40% of people experience sciatica at some point in their life, with about 10% of the population suffering at any given time.

Though it’s common to experience sciatica, it’s not normal.

In this article, you’ll learn tips on dealing with sciatic pain and what to do next to keep it from getting worse. 

What is Sciatica?

Though you might hear people say, “I have sciatica,” sciatica is not a condition. Instead, it’s a nerve pain symptom of numerous other back problems such as a herniated disc, a bone spur on a vertebra, or the narrowing of spinal cord nerve openings (called spinal stenosis).

The nerve pain you’re feeling comes from inflammation in the sciatic nerve. This nerve is the largest in the body, both in terms of length and width. It starts in the lower back area (the lumbar spine) and branches down through the legs and feet.

The size and location of the sciatic nerve can make sciatica extremely painful and uncomfortable. It can create feelings of sharpness, numbness, and tingling that go all the way from your low back down to your foot. The good news is that sciatica can be both treated and prevented.

Causes of Sciatica

There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of and aggravate sciatica, including:

  • Age: Symptoms tend to first appear in adults between 25 and 45 years of age. An accumulation of injuries and microtraumas can trigger the first sensations of pain.
  • Weight: Carrying more than what is considered a healthy weight can put increased stress and pressure on your spine.
  • Occupation: Both sedentary and physical jobs can contribute to spinal conditions.
  • Sitting: As the saying goes, “sitting is the new cancer.” Being sedentary for extended periods throughout the day can adversely affect your back.
  • Diabetes: According to the Mayo Clinic, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for nerve damage.

How to Avoid Sciatica Pain

There are numerous ways to avoid and lessen sciatic nerve pain, ranging from lifestyle changes to treatment options, especially physical therapy.

  1. Maintain good posture. Slouching and sitting in improper positions can put undue strain on your back, making sciatica worse. When you’re standing, make sure you put equal weight on both legs and maintain a position where your shoulders and hips are balanced.
  1. Avoid sitting for long periods. If you have a desk job, make sure you take frequent breaks to get up, walk around, and stretch.
  1. Lose weight. If your current weight is outside of the CDC’s guidelines, consider taking steps to reduce your weight. A balanced diet that restricts calories combined with a moderate exercise routine can help you shed pounds safely while relieving sciatica pressure.
  1. Strengthen your core muscles. Muscle weakness, especially in the abdominal muscles, can trigger back pain because the lack of strength in your abdominal area can affect your posture. Strengthening your stomach muscles can help with your posture, and therefore, your back pain symptoms.
  1. Adjust your sleep position. We spend many hours sleeping each day, and being in the wrong position here can wreak havoc on your spine. The best sleeping positions are:
  • On your side with a pillow between your knees and ankles.
  • On your back with a pillow under  your knees.

Also, while on the topic of sleep, consider getting a new mattress if yours is old and not giving you the proper support.

Effective Treatment for Sciatica Pain Relief

A physical therapist (PT) is crucial to helping you live pain-free from sciatica. They can recommend a treatment regime that will address the true cause of your sciatica and give you the tools you need to get back to pain-free living.  Working with a professional can ensure that you take safe and healthy steps to treat sciatica and ease pain.

If you’re in pain and ready to get your life back, contact Progressive Edge Physical Therapy at 201-563-8418 to schedule a complimentary consultation.

The Hidden Causes of Sciatica

As a physical therapist, I can honestly say that there are few words as frequently said in my field as ‘sciatica’. So, then, isn’t it odd how such an every-day ailment can be so shrouded in mystery for most people? In fact, do you really know what it is? Sciatica is actually one of the most common forms of back, leg, and hip pain around, and yet it remains incomprehensible to many. So, as an early holidays present, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about what sciatica is, what some of the hidden causes of this affliction may be, and how it can be treated. Ready? Let’s jump in!

Sciatica is a very painful condition associated with pain stemming from the sciatic nerve. As one of the most prominent nerves in the lower back, pressure placed on the sciatic nerve is responsible for a myriad of issues related to back, hip, leg, and knee pain. The nerve itself runs from the lower back through the pelvis and down into both legs. It can affect the entire lower body and can cause incredible discomfort and disruption to daily life: a burning, radiating pain can stretch down the leg, into the buttocks, and through into the lower back, thereby causing such discomfort that even walking may be a strain. At times, it can even feel like a stab down the leg! Yet, thankfully, we can aim to avoid this discomfort by understanding it a bit better. Let’s take a look at some of the ways the sciatic nerve can be affected and then, happily, how to avoid them!

A few causes of sciatica:

Spinal Problems

Unfortunately, sciatica may be related to spinal issues such as slipped discs or the like. Sometimes, sciatica can be caused by extra pressure being placed on spinal discs, thereby causing the nerve to become irritated or ‘pinched’. If this is you, all hope isn’t lost, so please keep reading.

A Poor Sleeping Position

If you sleep on your back or stomach, you may be on your way to developing sciatica. Sleeping in these positions places undue pressure on the sciatic nerve, thereby causing irritation and discomfort. It’s far better to sleep on your side with a pillow placed between your knees – this will align your spine and ensure that the sciatic nerve isn’t pulled downward.

Poor Core Strength

Nope, I’m not talking about a six pack! Core strength refers to the ability of the muscles in your torso to provide adequate support to your spine. Without this support, your spine would be exposed to untold danger. In addition, if the core muscles aren’t strong enough, the sciatic nerve strains under the pressure of the spine. Why? There is nothing for it to hold onto! So, start doing some yoga or Pilates – these are good ways to start strengthening your core muscles.

Obesity

As I mentioned, sciatica is caused by pressure being placed on the nerve and thereby irritating it. It stands to reason, then, that obesity exacerbates sciatica. The more weight is carried by the spine, the greater chance of nerve irritation and pressure. So, though losing weight may seem like an uphill battle, it can be done: eat mostly vegetables, be sure to watch your sugar intake, keep hydrated and… stay active. 

Prolonged Sitting

Immobility is by far the leading cause of sciatica. If the back isn’t stretched and moved, then the muscles stiffen and pressure is placed on the sciatic nerve. In addition, sitting in one position for prolonged periods of time may lead to overcompensation in the muscles, thereby placing more pressure on one side of the body than the other: this may often lead to sciatic issues down the road. The answer? Get up, stretch, and get outside!

There are, in fact, more causes for sciatica. These include, but are not limited to, osteoporosis, age related spinal defects, smoking, low activity levels, and poor posture. However, for all intents and purposes, it’s important to understand that sciatica can happen to anyone, and the pain that it presents is definitely not a walk in the park.

Happily, there is a way to overcome sciatica. And no, I don’t mean with painkillers or injections – if anything, these types of ‘solutions’ offer nothing more than a temporary reprieve and are potential health hazards. It’s far better to turn to physical therapy, as a physical therapist will not only treat the root cause of the problem, thereby giving you permanent pain relief, but will also equip you with the tools to maintain a pain free life at home. In addition, physical therapy will help you build the foundation for overcoming sciatica: from pointing you in the right direction when it comes to the causes outlined above, to showing you the correct posture you should adopt and how to manage everyday activities without placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. With tailor made stretches and routines, physical therapy is by far the safest and most effective route to take for lasting sciatica treatment.

It’s not easy to understand sciatica, but the good news is you’re not alone. We can help answer any questions you have – one of our hands-on, qualified physical therapists will be happy to allay your fears and get you started on your journey to the pain free life you deserve.

With the holidays around the corner, and many new memories to be made, we hope that this post has helped you understand sciatica a little better. What’s more, we hope we’ve given you some real advice about how to tackle the possibly debilitating pain you’re suffering from on a daily basis. For more information and advice, please call us.  Happy holidays!

The Importance of Core Strength

What do you think about when I say the following: “Core Strength”? It’s natural to think of your core as just your abdominal muscles – surfer ‘6 packs’ and ‘washboard abs’. It’s natural to want that, too! But, what if I told you that core strength is something entirely different? What if it isn’t about having the perfect beach body or wearing a bikini like a model? What if core strength is about being strong… not so that you can pick up boulders, but so that you can stay mobile for longer? That’s exactly what this post is all about: we’re giving you the low down on what core strength is, why it’s important, and how you can achieve it. Stay tuned – here we go!

The truth is, core strength involves more than just your abdominals. In actual fact, it’s the ability of all the muscles in your mid-body to remain supple, strong, and flexible under stress and pressure. Yes, your abdominal muscles are involved, here, but so are your pelvic floor muscles, oblique muscles, and pectorals. Overall, your trunk houses a multitude of muscles, each of which plays a major role in feeding into ‘core strength’.

The medical profession mentions core strength fairly often, and if you’ve been struggling with back problems, in particular, my hope is that you’ve at least heard of it by now! Core strength – the strength and endurance of your trunk muscles – plays a vital part in upper back, lower back, and even leg and shoulder health. Without core strength, these major nerve centers lose structure, stability, and ultimately, mobility. More on that later, though.

When it comes to core strength, the important thing to know is that you ought to keep it up – even if you feel in good health and aren’t currently experiencing pain, it’s in your best interest to maintain that pain-free lifestyle by strengthening this group of muscles. It may actually surprise you quite how much having core strength benefits you. Just take a look at some of the activities core strength can either hinder or improve: sitting, standing, sleeping, working out, running, walking, playing golf, cycling, swimming, picking up your grandkids, driving a car… the list is practically endless! The bottom line? Core strength matters!

The other side of the coin in, of course, that a lack of core strength can result in injury and chronic pain. If you’ve read some of our other blogs, you’ll know by now that muscle function is interconnected – they aren’t independent of one another. Each muscle has an affect on the next – if one fails, the other will overcompensate and, in turn, will fail itself. A dramatic, sometimes life-changing knock-on effect can ensue. It’s no different when it comes to core muscles. If you fail to strengthen them, they’ll affect the other muscles in your body. In this instance, you’re likely to suffer from a variety of issues including, though by no means limited to, headaches, spasms, back pain, abdominal pain, pelvic pain, sciatica, and even foot and knee pain! It’s a bit of an eye-opener, isn’t it?

Luckily, core strength is attainable – and no, I don’t mean you need to eat raw eggs and spend a daily six hours in the gym! Simple, consistent routines and exercises can go a long way in helping you gain – and maintain – your core strength… and thereby, health. Here are a couple of examples you can try right after reading this post!

Planks

  1. Lie belly down on a yoga mat or floor.
  2. Place your hands by your side – at shoulder level – and lift your torso up.
  3. Make sure your legs remain straight.
  4. Lift your body off of the ground until your arms are just slightly bent.
  5. Remain in this position for 30 seconds at a time.
  6. Do not let your pelvis drop to the floor – try to remain as ‘straight as a plank’ from your shoulders through to your heels.

Side Planks

  1. As with the plank routine, lie down on your belly.
  2. Turn over onto your side, making sure your heels remain together.
  3. Lift one arm straight up, in line with your shoulder.
  4. Push yourself away from the floor with your other arm.
  5. Make sure your supporting arm remains slightly bent.
  6. Create an unbroken line from outstretched fingertip to supporting hand. 
  7. Lengthen your entire body and make sure it’s straight across – from your shoulders to your heels.
  8. Do not let your hip drop down to the mat.
  9. Hold this pose for 30 seconds at a time.

Bridge Pose

  1. Lie down on a mat, with your back touching the floor.
  2. Make sure your legs are stretched out and your arms are at your side, palms facing down.
  3. Place your feet squarely on the ground, now, and bend your knees.
  4. Without lifting your shoulders or elbows from the floor, slowly lift up your pelvis until you form a straight line from your shoulder to your knees.
  5. Your knees should be bent at around 90 degrees.
  6. Hold this pose for 30 seconds at a time.
  7. Do not lift your hands from the floor, and make sure your arms do not leave the ground at any point. 

Yoga/Pilates

A good way of strengthening your core strength is by doing regular Yoga and/or Pilates. The routines in each form of exercise lend themselves well to overall strength as they vary in focus, yet they are particularly effective when it comes to core strength. Why not try a local class for some inspiration and motivation?

Those suggestions aren’t that hard, are they? None of that body-builder stuff is needed! Fitness is essential in maintaining health, and keeping up your core strength is a massive part of that. If you’re stuck, though, and you’re not quite sure where to start with building up your core muscles, why not contact one of our professional, hands on physical therapists? Not only will physical therapy help you build up your core strength, but it will give you the tools to maintain that strength on your own! How? Well, you’ll get tailor made exercise and stretches! Whether you’re currently suffering from back pain or any other ailment and just want to regain a pain-free, healthy lifestyle, or even if you just want to get started on building up your core strength in order to avoid injury in the future, physical therapy can help. 

Now is a great time to start building your core strength – no matter how old you are, what injury you may be suffering from, or how fit/unfit you think you are… core strength is for everyone! Contact us today for more tips, support, and advice!