Sciatica can be a painful condition and interfere with exercise—here’s what you need to know.
You’ve probably heard people talk about having sciatica, and that’s for good reason—many people experience a form of pain related to the sciatic nerve at some point in their lives.
That’s because the sciatic nerve is actually the largest nerve in the entire body, extending from your lower back all the way down through the muscles and joints of your hips, glutes, legs, and feet. Because it affects so many structures in your body, it can be relatively easy for it to become injured or irritated, leading to pain, numbness, or weakness, in your back, buttocks, or legs.
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition of pain as a result of the nerve being compressed. Sciatica can be caused by many different things that can cause compression on the nerve, including:
- Herniated disc
- Bone spur on the spine
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine)
- Overuse injury from endurance sports, such as running
- Occupational hazard, i.e. lifting, bending, twisting
- Jobs that require long periods of sitting, such as truck driving
- Injury or trauma
What Sciatic Nerve Pain Feels Like
Sciatic nerve pain can feel different, depending on where exactly the injury or irritation in the sciatic nerve is. According to the Mayo Clinic, sciatica usually occurs on one side of the body and may feel like:
- Pain radiating from the lower spine, through the middle of the buttocks, and/or extending down the back of the leg—this is considered the “classic” sign of sciatica
- Pain through the back of the thigh and the calf
- Numbness, tingling or muscle weakness
- An electric “jolt” shooting down your buttocks or leg
- Worsening pain when sitting for a long time
- Instability in the affected side or leg
Although sciatic nerve pain is considered fairly common, it’s still important that you speak with your doctor to rule out any other conditions that may be causing the pain and work on a treatment plan together.
Can You Run with Sciatica?
Whether or not you are able to continue to run with sciatica will depend largely on how and where you are experiencing pain. The muscles involved with running are all attached to the sciatica nerve, so it is possible to further aggravate your sciatica by running.
If your sciatica is the result of a medical condition, like a herniated disc, it’s important that you follow your doctor’s recommendation to allow it to heal before exercising, as you could prolong your recovery. In some cases, such as if your sciatica does not have an identifiable cause, light running that does not increase your pain may be appropriate. It’s up to you and your doctor to decide what may be right for you.
If you do decide to continue running with sciatica, try these strategies to try to minimize any discomfort:
- Be sure to warm-up and cool down appropriately before and after you run.
- Allow time for stretching—having tight hip flexors can be associated with sciatica, so be sure to focus on stretches that will open up the hips and glutes.
- Utilize heat and cold therapy, such as soaking in a hot bath and using ice packs to the affected area.
- Experiment with slowing down your pace or running on a different surface (i.e., outside if you primarily run on a treadmill).
- Consider visiting a specialist to diagnose if there are any problems with how you are running that may be contributing to your condition.
- If your pain increases at any point during your run, you should stop running immediately.
The good news is, even if you find that running makes your sciatica worse, chances are you may just need some time off to rest and recover. A 2019 topic overview on sciatica found that most cases of sciatica improve on their own in around 4 to 6 weeks with no long-term complications.
It’s also important that once sciatica is identified, you pay close attention to any of the factors that may have contributed to the condition so you can try to avoid them in the future. For example, if you the course you are running has uneven pavement that is making the pain worse, or if you don’t have proper shoe support, you can try to resolve those issues to prevent the sciatica from getting worse or happening again.
And, in the meantime, if you are unable to run, you can try alternative sciatica-safe exercises, such as walking, swimming, or yoga.
If chronic pain is keeping you from doing the things you want, it’s time to schedule an appointment at Southwest Spine and Pain Center. With multiple locations across the state of Utah, the pain management specialists at Southwest Spine and Pain Center are dedicated to helping those who suffer from chronic pain live the life they want to. To schedule an appointment, visit our locations tab!
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.