Easing the Pain of Sciatica
Sciatica has become a “catch all” diagnosis for any leg pain that is associated with low back or pelvic problems. However, true sciatica is due to compression of the sciatic nerve, which runs deep to the gluteus maximus (buttock) muscle and down the back of the leg.
Irritation of the sciatic nerve is typically caused by tightness of, or spasm within, the slender piriformis muscle (which lies beneath the gluteus maximus muscle). For 85% of the population, the sciatic nerve runs underneath the piriformis muscle, while 15% of us have the distinction of having our sciatic nerves puncture right through this pain-in-the-buttock muscle!
There can be underlying disc or joint issues in the low back or pelvis which can aggravate the sciatic nerve, but more commonly, the tightness of the piriformis muscle alone is the culprit for the deep ache some feel in their buttock or back of the thigh.
I have an easy self-treatment you can employ which will increase the length of your piriformis muscle and therefore, decrease the “squeeze” it’s been putting on your sciatic nerve—and you can do it without even leaving your chair!
Seated Piriformis Stretch:
- Begin by sitting erect in your chair.
- Cross the ankle of your painful leg (or buttock) over your opposite knee.
- While maintaining a straight spine, lean forward from your hips until you feel a moderate pulling in the buttock/hip of your crossed leg*.
- Hold this stretch x 30 seconds, repeat two-three times per day.
*If you feel moderate pulling in your buttock before you lean forward—DON’T! This position will supply enough stretch for now. When you have gained some flexibility in your piriformis muscle, progress this stretching exercise by leaning your straightened truck forward from the hips.