Can a corrective exercise program help eliminate sciatica pain?
I get that question a lot here at Pain Free Posture MN. In fact, I just received an email a couple of days ago that read:
"Deb - my friend suggested I talk to you.
I have been experiencing LOWER BACK PAIN for about 4 months now.
I tried to work it through myself for the first 6 weeks or so and then went to a chiropractor who took x-rays. The pictures showed good alignment, separation, and overall structure except the L5 which was tipped backwards and apparently then pinching that disc and causing the sciatica.
Is this something that you can help me with?"
The answer is, YES, corrective exercise and/or any modality that focuses on re-align your joint kinematics can absolutely help alleviate sciatica pain! But before you read on, it's critical that you understand that it is a PROCESS and not a QUICK FIX.
Let's face it, Sciatica Pain SUCKS! In my experience the best solution to eliminating sciatica pain is with a well designed corrective exercise program. One that looks at the bigger picture than simply the symptoms of sciatica, but at you overall from head to toe.
You see, Corrective Exercise is different than traditional therapeutic modalities of chronic pain relief that focus specifically on solely on your symptom. Corrective exercise is a WHOLE BODY approach to the problem. If you were to come in to work with me in my studio, I won't be giving you exercises specific individual muscles or isolated areas like the low back.
Instead, we'd start off with a posture analysis to identify the joint dysfunctions, muscle imbalances and faults in movement patterns which cause muscle imbalances allowing the pelvis and spine to get forces out of their proper positioning.
We include SMR (self-myofascial release) to help restore the connective tissue and muscle-length tension relationship and a proper sequencing of exercises to address and correct the root cause of the pain symptoms.
So it's a process that empowers you to help your body heal.
When you partner with a Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist to help you eliminate sciatica pain we will:
- Listen to you! You know more about your body than any expert in the world.
- Partner with you to investigate WHY your low back and sciatica hurts in the first place
- Educate you about your POSITION (posture) vs your CONDITION (your pain/symptom)
- Treat you the client as a WHOLE. You are much more than just a body!
- Assess your posture (position) to identify where there are global imbalances
- Develop a progressive corrective exercise program to bring musculoskeletal balance and function back to the body.
Let me further explain. The premise of corrective exercise is that the body works as a unit. Trying to tackle the problem of sciatica symptomatically (by only addressing the pain and limitation) WITHOUT isolating, addressing and correcting the ROOT CAUSE, you virtually ensure that the pain (sciatica, L5 pinched disc and resulting cyst) will not fully heal.
At best, rest/inactivity, ice, and/or massage, will calm the area down for awhile, and Chiropractic care certainly assists in symptomatic pain relief as the manipulations coax the bone(s) back into place.
But there's a problem. None of those approaches addresses the ROOT CAUSE, or why the disruption occurred in the first place.
I believe that "bones will go where muscles tell them to". Remember that in the above email, the x-rays showed good spacing in-between the vertebrae, except a constriction and backward tilt in the L5 vertebrae.
So the SYMPTOM is the radiating pain down the back, buttocks and leg caused by the sciatic nerve impingement.
It's very important that you STOP and ask the BIGGER QUESTION.
"What caused the L5 vertebrae to move out of it's proper position and cause the constriction in the first place?"
In this particular instance, I suspect you have a hip disparity. Typically, the onset of sciatica is the result of habitual posture misalignment of the four major load joints (hips specifically, although accidents and traumas can also bring it on as well). My educated guess is that while the pain (sciatica) is coming from the low back (disruption to the pelvis and L5 Vertebrae), and the root cause is the lack of symmetrical function and muscle-length tension in the hips (your position).
HIP DISPARITY is a common posture deviation associated with sciatica pain. This means that there is a lack of symmetrical position and function in the hips joints which causes the pelvis to shift out of it's proper position. Irregardless of pain, unless it is addressed and corrected, a hip disparity is brought into every activity you participate in. This could be:
- Elevated Hip/Pelvis: pelvic girdle is tilted laterally with one side higher/lower than the other)
- Pelvic Rotation: one side of the pelvis is further forward than the other), or
- Pelvic Girdle Tilt: anterior/posterior (causing either little to no curve or an excessive curvature in the lumbar spine).
Most frequently, with postural analysis and palpation to confirm, all three imbalances are found. When you find a disparity like that (elevation, rotation and a tilt) it's easy to see how the L5/SI Joint structure can get pinched causing pain!
If that's the case, then in essence ALL of the muscles that act on and cross the pelvis, hip and low back are out of balance in terms of their proper muscle-length tension relationship.
This muscular imbalance and resulting incorrect joint position is what has allowed the pelvis and spine to shift position leaving the body susceptible to a variety of pain like sciatica (but can also include knee strain, arches problems of the feet or neck pain just to name a few).
So you can see why Corrective Exercise can eliminate sciatica pain.
We treat our clients as a WHOLE and that is exactly what a corrective exercise program can do for you! Hire the expert services of a specialist who knows how to treat your body as a unit and put together a progressive corrective exercise program designed to identify and address the imbalances at the root cause of the sciatica (or other) pain problem.
Hope that helps. Best of luck with your situation. Let me know if you have questions. Remember, we're in this together, and I am here to help!
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Head Photo Credit: Melissa Thome Photography
Author: Deb Preachuk is the founder/owner of Pain Free Posture MN. A CF-L1 Trainer, Certified Foundation Training & STOTT Pilates Instructor, Corrective Exercise & Posture Alignment Specialist, Deb has over 25 years experience in the health and wellness field.
Deb helps real people transform real-world chronic pain challenges into achievable results. Deb infuses her teaching with an honest, open and down-to-earth mix of chronic pain relief therapeutic modalities training techniques to make the concepts of pain relief and body/mind transformation accessible and achievable.
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