Suffer from sciatica? Here’s how to ease your pain and get back to your best
Sciatica, as many runners will tell you, can be a massive pain in the neck. Well, literally it’s more a band in the back, but you get where we’re coming from.
For those who suffer from the condition, the sharp, shooting pains that trickle from your lower back to your feet can often feel debilitating – but it shouldn’t stop you from getting your best trainers on and heading outdoors.
In this piece, we’ll talk you through what sciatica is, how it can impact your running, and, most importantly, how you can take care of it to get back to your speedy best.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition where your sciatic nerve, which stretches right the way from your lower back to your feet, becomes irritated or compressed, resulting in sharp, shooting pains or a tingling sensation.
While it’s typically believed to take around 4–6 weeks to return to full fitness, it can prove to be an irritating condition for many runners.
What causes sciatica?
Sciatica can be caused by a number of things, but it typically happens as a result of the sciatic nerve having something rubbing against it.
This is often believed to result from a slipped disk (the most common cause of sciatica), or other irritations like spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and range of other forms of back injuries.
Can I run with sciatica?
In short, yes, you can run with sciatica, but it won’t always be easy and you’ll need to take the utmost precaution to ensure you don’t further damage the sciatic nerve and rule yourself out of action for longer.
While you work to treat your sciatica, it’s likely that your runs won’t be pain-free at first, but with a little work and rest, you can get back to running without putting your body through a lot of stress.
How can I ease my sciatica when running?
Trying running with shorter strides
Taking shorter strides as you run can help to prevent the sciatic nerve from extending fully, which, when suffering from sciatica, can be painful, particularly when moving.
To combat this, try running with slightly shorter strides than you would normally do. Running like this will help to reduce your bounce as you move, which could help you prevent any further pain and strain in your lower back.
Yoga is proven to be one of the best forms of exercise for pain relief, particularly back pains, making it a perfect fit for easing your sciatica.
It’s great for building up core strength and flexibility, which will allow a decreasing of the pressure placed on your sciatic nerves.
It’s also good to ensure that you choose poses that match the underlying cause of your sciatica. For example, if your sciatica is caused by a herniated disc, standing poses and the ‘downward-facing dog’ will align and strengthen your lower back.
On the other hand, if it is caused by a short and tight piriformis (a small muscle in your buttocks), then your focus should be on stretching the muscle. Exercises such as the simple ‘half spinal twist’, ‘seated twist’ and ‘standing twist’ gently stretch the piriformis, allowing it to release and lengthen, which can work well to ease pain in that area.
There’s plenty of good yoga exercises out there to help you ease your sciatica pain, so have a look around, try out some new poses and see what best suits your needs.
Make sure your shoes fit
Shoes that are too wide, big or small for your feet can cause your gait to be unbalanced and can increase the likelihood of pain in your back.
Consider getting running shoes with shock absorbers to reduce the impact on your feet to help ease the impact of your feet hitting the ground with each stride.
Elsewhere, if your shoes are beginning to look a bit worn down, it’s best to replace them quickly to ensure that your back stays aligned and your sciatic nerve isn’t getting to stretched.
Change the surfaces you run on
Running on tarmac or hard ground increases the impact on your lower back. If you’re suffering from sciatica, that’s far from ideal.
To reduce the risk of further pain, try running on soft surfaces, such as grass or a running track. Running tracks, in particular, are often made of synthetic material that will lessen the pressure on your back.
Revise your training schedule
While it is often okay to run with sciatica, running too frequently can make your sciatica worse, resulting in even more pain.
One way to make sure you’re not overworking your body is to keep an activity log to track how often you are running and exercising to ensure you are not over-working your body.
While adapting the amount of time spent exercising, you should also be mindful of doing shorter runs too, gradually elongating them as you begin to heal and feel ready to do more running.
Stretch your hamstrings
As you should before any run, doing stretches such as high knee lifts and lunges will help to warm up your hamstrings.
But be careful — if your hamstrings are too tight then there will be more pressure on your back, which can make your sciatica worse.