Sciatica - be gone!
March 3, 2012 2:29 PM   Subscribe

What is your best advice for long term management of sciatica? What exercises can I do to minimize the possibility of recurrence? What movements or habits should I avoid?

My back generally gives me very little pain, and I'd very much like to keep it that way. Recently, I started doing a new stretch that felt so good when I did it, but apparently it irritated my sciatic nerve. I had a few days of strong pain, with a little tingling, from my butt, down my legs, to the feet, affecting both sides equally. If I had marked the painful areas with a Sharpie, I would have looked just like an anatomical illustration of the sciatic nerve. Of course I stopped doing that stretch. The discomfort is just about gone now, except I get some pain in my hips and thighs when I lie on my side (either one), which interferes with sleep. Can't have that. (I can't sleep on my back or stomach for other reasons, and I have to keep the head of the bed elevated because of reflux, which puts more weight on the hips and puts my low back in a weird alignment.)

I'll ask my doctor for advice next time I see her, but for now I don't think that engaging the medical system is the best option. The problem is not that bad at this point, and I think that there would be at least an even chance that any medical intervention would make things worse. I'm hoping that some good habits now can rewind the situation to when it wasn't a problem at all.

Relevant details: I'm practically an old lady (60 next week!). My ability to exercise, or even move around very much, is fairly limited by chronic illness; I've been on disability for ~15 years with scleroderma and a few other autoimmune diseases. My weight is fine (BMI 24), and my joints are good. The limiting factor with exercise seems to be that my body just can't supply my muscles with enough oxygen to keep me going under any degree of exertion (?damage to capillaries from scleroderma? doctors don't really know). If I try to improve my stamina -- say by walking a tiny bit farther each day -- I get worse, not better. Paradoxically, my muscles are reasonably strong considering how little I'm able to use them. The most "exercise" I can get away with is about 10 minutes/day of yoga-ish, isometric type stuff, plus a minute or two here and there throughout the day. I'm pretty damn good at Dynamic Flamingo Therapy (which I've been doing for years, unaware of the Science. -- thank you, VikingSword!)

I spend a large part of the day sitting in one of these LaFuma chairs, with a little extra padding, which gives me very comfortable support.

So, any Do and Don'ts? exercises? postures? products? books? websites? YouTubes? advice re better sleeping position or magic mattress?
posted by Corvid to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need to get a diagnosis first. Sciatica can be due to degenerative disc disease (in which case you are likely to end up needing surgery), but this could also be false sciatica due to your piriformis muscle pinching the sciatic nerve. If it's the latter, massage and stretching can help. You also want to make sure you have shoes with adequate arch support--especially if you have high arches.

A stretch you can try is to lie on your back and curl one leg up toward your chest. Then grab that knee and pull it over towards the opposite shoulder.

Oh it's also unusual for this to happen equally on both sides. I am guessing that is a clue, just not sure what it means.
posted by parrot_person at 2:46 PM on March 3, 2012

Consider seeing a DO, who will be well versed in what is connected and how.
posted by bilabial at 3:16 PM on March 3, 2012

I thought I had sciatica, but then my doctor (see what I did there?) informed me that I had a pinched gluteal nerve instead.
posted by hermitosis at 7:24 PM on March 3, 2012

I have diagnosed siatica, due to a bulging disc. Physical therapy helped me a lot, which was mostly a combination of stretching and massage. They put a lot of emphasis on stretching my hamstrings. You can lay flat on your back and use a yoga strap (or some other long ropey item) wrapped around your foot to pull your leg up toward your body - keep your knee straight. A piriformis stretch also helped. I don't do it as mentioned above, but by laying on my back with one leg bent at the knee. Then place the ankle of your other leg on the low thigh of the bent leg. Use your bent leg to press your ankle toward your chest.

The other exercises I learned in physical therapy have me laying on my right side, since my pain is on my left. Having a diagnosis for your pain would help a therapist recommend exercises specific to pain on both sides.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:25 PM on March 3, 2012

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