At times, it can feel nearly impossible to remain pain and injury free when running. Finding yourself plagued with one injury after another is not only frustrating, but can leave even the best runners questioning their purpose and enjoyment of the sport.
Most runners accept the fact that they are likely to experience pain or injuries at some point along the way. Whether it’s from increasing mileage, working hard to increase speed, or simple overuse, running injuries are fairly common.
However, while many runners expect some wear and tear during training, what they don’t anticipate is having to deal with any sort of nerve pain, such as sciatica.
Overcoming sciatica pain is often a journey that requires careful attention and proactive prevention. This type of pain can often leave runners feeling frustrated and especially concerned when there is no obvious cause to be found. Luckily, being aware of sciatica – its signs, symptoms and whereabouts – can help reduce the uncertainty involved with healing.
Today, Dr. Brent Wells is sharing some of his knowledge and favorite tips for managing, preventing and overcoming sciatica as a runner. As the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska, Dr. Wells is able to share a wealth of practical advice for any runner dealing with sciatica.
How to Treat and Prevent Sciatica for Runners
Sciatica is a medical problem that can affect anyone, but it can be especially problematic for runners. While sciatica can be painful, it can easily be treated. Below you’ll find some ways you can treat sciatica if you’re a runner and how you can prevent it.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a type of pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve. This nerve is located on the lower back (near the hip bone) and ventures off into both of your legs. Sciatica can cause this nerve to tingle which can result in mild to severe pain.
While many things can cause Sciatica, some of the most common reasons it occurs is because of:
- A slipped disc
- A slipped vertebra
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Muscle spasms
Symptoms of Sciatica
This medical condition has a few symptoms that you should keep an eye out for.
- Lower back pain
- Pain in your hips
- Tingling in your legs
- Weakness or numbness in your legs or feet
- Shooting pain up and down your legs
These are common symptoms of this problem. While these can be painful and should be seen by a doctor if they don’t go away, it is especially important to visit your medical practitioner if:
- The pain occurs after an intense injury
- The numbness doesn’t go away after a few minutes
- You have trouble holding your bladder due to the pain
How it Affects Runners
Sciatica can be particularly painful for runners for many reasons. Because of its location in the legs, it can make it difficult for runners to run properly. It could also make it hard to run because of numbness in the toes and spinal pain.
Runners tend to get sciatica because they are running incorrectly. For example, running in an awkward motion could cause a herniated disc. This in return can irritate the sciatic nerve as the area is inflamed.
Improper hip rotations when running could also cause sciatica. Some runners use a twisting hip motion when they run rather than a forward and straight one.
4 Ways to Treat Sciatica
You can treat sciatica in a few different ways. Below are some methods to consider trying.
One of the best things you can do to help treat sciatica is to just rest. This will keep your spine and the surrounding nerves calm which can prevent further strain.
● Do Sciatica Exercises
You could also try to do some sciatica exercises to help relieve the pain.
To do the pigeon pose, sit on the floor and place your legs straight in front of you. Then, take one leg and cross it over the other leg at the top of the thigh. After doing so, hold the crossed leg’s ankle and pull it gently toward you. You can then lean forward and touch the tip of the toes of your straight leg.
❏ Knee to Opposite Shoulder
Lay on your back and keep your legs flat. Then, lift one leg up and bend it toward your stomach. You can then grab your bent leg with your arm and pull it gently toward the opposite side of your body.
Stand straight and then lift one leg up on a table or chair. Then, bend forward slightly and grab the bottom of your foot with your hands. Once you do, bend your back carefully toward your lifted foot.
As with any exercise, make sure to do these with care. If you start to feel severe pain, stop immediately. Otherwise, you could make the problem worse.
● Use Cold and Heat Therapy
While cold and heat therapy might not fully take away the pain, it will help to significantly reduce it. Cold therapy, such as ice, will stop swelling around the nerves while heat therapy will prevent inflammation.
You’ll want to use these therapies alternatively a few times per day. Ideally, start with cold therapy and then switch to heat therapy. This will help your muscles to relax so the heat source works a bit better.
● Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture can actually help to calm the tingling sciatic nerve. An acupuncturist will insert long needles into various points of your body. These needles will hit certain nerves and acupressure points to help restore your body’s energy and balance.
The needles also are believed to work alongside your central nervous system which naturally releases chemicals that help stop pain. This means it can be very beneficial to those who suffer from Sciatica.
4 Ways to Prevent Sciatica
Thankfully, there are a few simple strategies you can use to actively prevent sciatica.
● Exercise Regularly
While running is a beneficial type exercise, you should also aim to complete other forms of exercise as well. To help prevent sciatica, you’ll need to complete exercises that help strengthen your stomach and back on a regular basis. Some types of exercise to consider are weightlifting, planks, leg lifts, and crunches.
● Use Good Posture
You can also help prevent sciatica by using good posture on a regular basis. This can help to keep your spine and the surrounding nerves strong and healthy. It also works to prevent pressure in your lower back which can trigger pain in the sciatic nerve.
● Always Warm up Before Running
Before you run, always make sure to warm up the muscles in your back, hips, and legs. You can do this by stretching or using warm towels. You could also consider wrapping a heat pack around your back that will secure itself to your body when you run.
● Try a New Running Style
Occasionally, the sciatic nerve can be damaged due to your running style. Because of this, consider altering your current running form. For instance, work on using more forward motions (such as leaning slightly forward with your chest) when you run. You can start your new running style out slowly so your body can get used to it.
If you’re a runner suffering from sciatica, it’s important to keep the information mentioned above in mind. These tips will help you actively prevent Sciatica and treat any pain that arises, so you can get back to running without pain.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Anchorage, Alaska in 1998 and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.