Running With Sciatica: What You Need To Know

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Sciatica is pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve. What is the sciatic nerve? Your sciatic nerve starts in your lower back and it branches out through the lower back and hips. It extends through the buttocks and down the legs.

What Causes Sciatica Pain?

Typically sciatic nerve pain is caused by something pinching on the nerve. For example, you could have a bulging disc or slipped disc or a bone spur pushing on it. This pressure causes the nerve to pinch, which results in pain.

While some people describe the pain as stabbing pain, others describe it as searing. For other people, it presents more like numbness or pins and needles.

sciatica pain
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If you talk to a doctor about sciatic pain he or she may tell you to simply let it rest. With enough rest, most people get sciatica relief within two to three weeks.

Will Running Make My Sciatica Worse?

There is not a black and white answer to this. Some can run through sciatica pain while others cannot. The general consensus is that running does not cause sciatica; however, running with sciatica can exacerbate the symptoms.

Some people find that making some modifications can help them to continue to run through the sciatic pain. Here are some tips.

How Can I Run With Sciatica Pain?

First off, if you plan to run with sciatica pain, consider warming your lower back up with a heating pad. Ten to twenty minutes of heat prior to running or other physical activity may loosen things up just enough. If you lack a heating pad, you can try a warm bath or hot shower prior to physical activity. 

Taking off the shoes and running barefoot actually helps some people so they can run through sciatic pain. If you are new to barefoot running, visit your local track and run on the infield right next to lane one. The grass will be soft, cushioned and easy on your feet.  Another option is sand running, but that is hard in different ways. Whenever transitioning to barefoot running be sure to take it slowly and be patient with yourself.

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Even if you are not ditching your shoes, transitioning to a softer surface might help with sciatic nerve pain. Consider running on a track instead of the road. Or run on grass or a dirt train instead of a street.

Some runners find that wearing a shoe with very little cushion or structure helps them with sciatica pain. Vibrams or Nike Free Running shoes are examples of shoes that are the closest thing to running barefoot without actually being barefoot.

Shortening your stride might also help you to run with sciatic pain. Why? Because a shorter stride keeps the sciatic nerve from fully extending.

If it hurts, stop. If it does not hurt to go slowly, just slow down. The most important thing when running through pain is to listen to your body and be smart.

Is It Ok To Exercise With Sciatica?

If running is not working for you, there are many other forms of exercise you can do while plagued with sciatica pain. Consider trying something else for a bit. Doctors advise that while you may be tempted to sit or lay around, moving is actually good for sciatic nerve pain.

If it hurts to be very active and engage in your normal activities, you can try walking or other low/no impact exercises.

What Exercise Is Best For Sciatica?

Yoga is a great exercise for someone struggling with sciatic pain. First, it is relaxing and helps you find a good mental space. Working, and focusing, on your breathing can be a very cathartic activity.

Pool time may be an excellent choice if you struggle with sciatic pain. Water walking or jogging is zero impact and involves relaxing water movement. If that does not cause pain, you may try some gentle swimming. If swimming front crawl is uncomfortable, consider trying the breaststroke. If you are not a strong swimmer, you can still enjoy some forward motion with the use of a kickboard.

While I would not recommend vigorous cycling or mountain biking, a gentle bike ride might be just the trick. Cycling can also be a relaxing activity, as well as a way to get some fresh air while you recover. If you are nervous about starting out, perhaps a stationary or recumbent bike would be best.

Gentle stretching is always a good idea when you are recovering from any type of injury. Increasing flexibility can be super helpful as you cover.

If the zero-impact exercises are working for you and you are anxious to work up a bit of a sweat, consider trying out an elliptical. Similar to running in motion, you may feel you are getting a bit of a workout in without hurting yourself.

Stretches for Sciatica

If you are trying to be proactive and working to get rid of sciatic pain, there are some exercises you might wish to try.

Reclining Pigeon Pose: 

exercises for sciatica pain
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  • Lie on your back
  • Bring right leg to a right angle
  • Lift left leg
  • Place right ankle on top of left knee
  • Hold
  • Repeat on other side

Seated Pigeon Pose

Seated Pigeon Pose
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  • Sit in chair
  • Bring on knee up to chest
  • Hug it into your body
  • Focus on a good stretch without straining knee

Forward Pigeon Pose

forward pidgeon pose
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This is a bit more advanced of a pose. As illustrated, you can see the leg is similar but this stretch requires more flexibility and balance. Do not advance to this pose until you have mastered the other two.

Other Tricks?

Taking an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help with discomfort that comes from sciatica pain. In some severe cases, a physician might suggest either a higher dose of an over the counter medication or a prescription muscle reliever. 

If the above suggestions fail to work, maybe try a professional massage. It is amazing the good that will do! When all else fails, contact your general practitioner. Some sessions with a physical therapist might net you the relief you are looking for.