If you’ve ever experience sciatica pain then you know that it’s pretty much the worst. But do you know what’s really causing? Today Dylan Jawahir, founder and CEO of Battle Balm — a natural plant-based topical pain reliever — is giving us the scoop on a possible hidden reason for this pain. (And if you want to read more about Dylan — he’s amazing! — be sure to read our interviews with him here and here!)
Your Sciatica Could Literally Be a Pain in the Butt
The new year has arrived and you’re feeling motivated to become the best possible version of yourself. Now is the time for a new and even better you! You’re ready to start 2018 in a healthy way by getting in shape and being more active.
Nothing can hold you back, right?
… Until your nagging sciatic pain returns. It occasionally shoots down your leg when you’re sitting on the couch. It surprises you on your daily walk with friends. Sometimes, it jolts you right as you’re headed out the door for a workout. It’s unpredictable, painful, and keeps you on high alert.
You know this could be your happiest and healthiest year ever, but dragging your bum leg around isn’t the workout routine you imagined.
Let’s talk briefly about the culprit behind your pain. The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the body. It begins in the lumbosacral area, or lower back, and winds its way down through the pelvis, behind the femur and eventually stretches far enough to tickle your big toe. Sciatic pain comes from impingement, damage, or degeneration to the sciatic nerve somewhere along that route.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Many people (including doctors) point to the lumbar spine as the source of all sciatic pain. Our spine compresses as we get older and thus, it makes sense that some of the nerves exiting the spinal column can be squeezed enough to send shock waves into the affected leg. The truth is that there is another likely source of sciatica: the tight muscles in your butt!
The sciatic nerve travels deep to the gluteus muscle group on its way down the leg. These gluteus muscles, also called the glutes, are the visible ones that give shape to your butt. Their function is to externally rotate and extend the upper leg. Underneath the glutes lie other, smaller muscles that assist in the external rotation. One small muscle in particular can be tight enough to irritate the nerve in question sending pain downward towards the feet. This is the piriformis muscle. It bothers the sciatic nerve in so many folks that this relationship has a name: piriformis syndrome.
Symptoms of piriformis syndrome are very similar to sciatica, hence the common confusion. The difference is that you can treat piriformis syndrome and send your pain away quickly.
4 Ways to Ease Your Sciatica Naturally
1. Get a butt massage. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? Your glutes are some of the hardest working muscles in your body. They are working for you non-stop and have more than earned a day of pampering. A butt massage can improve range of motion in your hips and as a bonus, it can alleviate chronic low back pain.
2. Stretch. One of the best stretches for the piriformis and other external rotators of the hip is pigeon pose in yoga. This stretch, when done properly, will elongate all of the junk in the trunk and give you your flexibility back. Regular stretching improves blood flow, too!
3. Trigger those points. Use a foam roller and roll out your butt. Make sure to roll out gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and piriformis. To balance out the hips, roll the gluteus minimus and tensor fasciae latae. Tune in to YouTube for some great videos with step-by-step tutorials to roll all of these muscles effectively.
4. Call Suzanne Somers. She was on to something with the Thighmaster. Humans are designed to forcefully externally rotate the hip. Internal rotation is a different story. The Thighmaster is for strengthening the normally weak internal rotator muscles. These muscles that close your thighs together will facilitate proper hip joint stability once they are strengthened adequately. Though a Thighmaster is great, you could also get away with using a rubber kickball from the toy store. Find a comfy chair to sit in, place it between your knees, and squeeze away.
These ideas and practices are great, not only for sciatica due to piriformis syndrome, but they are perfect for including in your workout and recovery routine as a preventive measure! —Dylan Jawahir