Sciatica is a common lower back problem that can affect some of us. Fortunately, it’s easily treatable with sound understanding of the issue and an appropriate workout plan. Let’s see what this is all about.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is the result of herniated disk in your lumbar spine.
The lumbar spine is the lower part of your spine, made up of the last 5 vertebras.
In between each vertebra, we have a rubbery cushion, called spinal disk. The purpose of this disk is to protect vertebras from grinding against each other.
We put pressure on these disks either through improper mechanics or poor posture. The disk then gets squished out of place and comes in contact with things it shouldn’t be touching. In the case of sciatica, it rubs against the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve starts from your lower back and goes all the way down to your feet. It delivers nervous messages to all major leg muscles.
That’s the reason you feel tingling sensations in your legs if you have sciatica.
Whats causes sciatica?
As briefly mentioned above, the sciatica is caused by a herniated disc. So the real question is what causes an herniated lumbar disk?
The main non-disease related cause will be a weak core. We can neglect our core during our life, especially if we spend all day sitting down.
The role of the core muscles, which we will discuss in another post, are responsible for supporting your spine. When you spend prolonged periods of time sitting, a few things happen in your body. The core muscles aren’t engaged, since your spine doesn’t need support. Your hip flexors get tights, your glutes get weaker, basically all the bad things that come with poor posture.
When all this happens, your spine becomes more vulnerable to any new loads you impose on it, be it weight lifting, gardening, playing with your kids, etc. When new loads are introduced without a proper training plan, your spine takes most of the pressure instead of the muscles and boom, before you know it, those spinal disks are going to see what’s up in places they shouldn’t.
Sciatica can also be caused by degenerative diseases, which are also preventable through exercise.
How to fix sciatica
The good news s that if you catch it early enough, you can prevent any further aggravation and eliminate any pain. Before you start to do irreparable damage to your disk, you can improve your posture.
A workout plan designed to improve core stability and glutes is a great place to start. This is even more important if you have a desk job.
At the onset of sciatic symptons, I recommend focusing solely on your core as this will have the quickest and most beneficial effects.
Here are 2 exercises I use frequently to strength my core (Disclaimer: I am not saying these will fix your sciatica and I am not make any prescriptions). You can do them in the comfort of your home so there's no excuses
Hollow Hold Progressions
Hollow holds are harder than planks but you’ll get more out of this exercise.
The following pictures are arranged from the easiest to hardest progression. Once you can hold one easily for 30 seconds with no pain anywhere, you can try the next progression.
1. Feet and hands tucked in
2. One leg holds out. You can alternate the legs for this one, slowly moving the legs back and forth one at a time
3. Both legs out
4. Everything out!
Always make sure your lower back in flat against the ground, and that your shoulder blades remain off the ground. If you feel any discomfort in your back, just stop, take a breather and then go again.
I prefer the side plank to the regular plank because it targets the Obliques, the Transverse, and Quadratus Lumborum (never mind the fancy muscle names, it's just the deeper core muscles) which are all attached to your lumbar spine. Strengthening these muscles will have an immediate impact on your spine stabilization.
You can hold the side plank from either the hands or the elbows, keep your Glutes and Abs flexed the whole time.
Try this little workout and let me know how it goes:
Repeat 5 times
- Hollow hold 30 seconds
- Side plank 30 seconds on each side
That's seven and a half minute or core work! Can you do it without resting?
Do I need surgery?
If you let sciatica go untreated long enough, you will need surgery. If you still have pain 3 months after being diagnosed with sciatica by a healthcare professional, you may want to discuss that option with your doctor.
There are two different types of surgery for sciatica:
1. Diskectomy: the removal of whatever is pressing against your sciatic nerve. Usually a part of your disk is removed.
2. Laminectomy: the lamina is a structure that surrounds your spinal cord and ultimately your sciatic nerve. In this surgery, part of the lamina will be removed.
In either cases, you will be able to walk within 24 hours. However, always try to use this as a last resort solution. You can prevent sciatica easily.
Sciatica is a common, easy treatable low back pain. The most important thing we can do is prevent it by having correct posture. The key to correct posture is a strong core that remain engaged throughout the day.
Make sure to include core exercises in all your workouts as they will have the most impact on your health on the long term.
If you want a full core workout with me, you can book your free workout here.
“Movement Anatomy” by Blandine Calais Germain