Running with sciatica can be painful, concerning, and downright scary. The intense pain that comes with sciatica can often make running feel impossible. If you don’t know what it is or how to manage the symptoms when running, it’s natural to feel a little hopeless.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica refers to pain on one side of the body that occurs at any point along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is on both sides of the body, and travels from the lower back all the way down the pelvis, hips, buttocks and through the back of the leg.
The most common symptom of sciatica is either a sharp or dull pain starting in the back and radiating down through either the buttocks or back of the leg. Sciatica pain typically occurs only on one side, and can also feel like a jolt, tingling or weakness in the affected side of the body.
Can you run with sciatica?
Whether or not you can continue running with sciatica will depend on the unique circumstances of your condition. In most cases, running can exacerbate the symptoms – however, it is often better and less painful than remaining sedentary.
The main muscles involved with running are those connected to the sciatic nerve, which can make it seem like running is making sciatica symptoms worse. On the contrary, though – the movement, however painful, is not causing damage or increasing the severity of sciatica.
Can you get sciatica from running?
In most cases, sciatica is not caused directly from running. However, runners who are prone to sciatica pain might notice an onset of symptoms during intense training periods. Improper form, ill-fitting shoes or extended training time on hard surfaces could potentially irritate the symptoms.
Many runners mistakenly believe that they are experiencing sciatica, when in fact they are experiencing symptoms from other conditions.
Piriformis Syndrome is commonly mistaken for sciatic in running. This syndrome is caused by inflammation in the piriformis muscle (in the buttocks). This inflammation can cause painful spasms, particularly in runners with a tight piriformis.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica and running are not typically linked in a cause and effect scenario, although the impact of running can often exacerbate symptoms. Here are the most common causes of sciatica.
- Spinal bone spur
- Herniated disc
- Narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis)
- Overuse injury from sports
- Long periods of sitting
In general, anything that causes compression or inflammation around the sciatic nerve has the potential to trigger sciatica pain. Sciatica and running are commonly associated with one another since runners who suffer from sciatic often struggle to manage symptoms during a flare. However, running is usually not the root cause.
Tips for Running with Sciatica
Running with sciatica can feel a bit hopeless – no matter how you tweak your training or adjust your form, it still hurts. Here are a few tips to make running with sciatica more manageable and stay safe.
Warm up and cool down
Taking time to warm up and cool down before and after a run is crucial for those running with sciatica. The warm up helps increase blood flow and flexibility before a run to minimize inflammation and tension that could further increase pain. Cooling down after a run encourages flexibility to help minimize pain after the fact.
Improve your running form
Focusing on that forward lean, as opposed to straight up and down posture, can help minimize sciatica pain when running. Prioritizing a midfoot strike, optimal cadence, and engagement of the core and glutes can all help prevent pain and symptom irritation on the run.
Run on different surfaces
Running and sciatica can be most painful when each run is completed on asphalt only. Hard surfaces can sometimes trigger a flare of sciatica pain due to the impact on the spine. To prevent this, try mixing up your runs – add in some trails, track work, and hills to prevent overdoing the sidewalks.
Practice yoga and mobility work
Various yoga and mobility exercises can help reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. These types of exercises also strengthen the surrounding muscles, build core strength and improve flexibility, all of which can minimize sciatica pain when running.
Utilize heat and cold therapy
Applying heat to the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve pain can help loosen them up to prevent tightening around the nerve. In addition, cold therapy can help minimize inflammation to further reduce irritation.
Include consistent stretching
Stretching is important for those running with sciatica. Maintaining a consistent stretching practice encourages optimal mobility and flexibility. It helps reduce inflammation and increases blood flow to painful areas to promote healing.
5 Ways to Treat Sciatica from Running
Once sciatic pain has begun, continuing to run with sciatica can feel very painful. Here are a few ways to treat the pain and speed up your recovery.
- Stretch regularly
- Apply heat and cold therapy
- Avoid inactivity or prolonged sitting
- Continue with gentle yoga or walking
- Take a break from running until pain resolves
Managing sciatica and running can require a bit of effort, but most of the strategies used to minimize discomfort are fairly quick and easy to complete. Making a few simple adjustments to your running routine and training strategies is all it will take to start running with more comfort.