Your sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, starting at your lumbar and sacral spine and finishing at your foot. It innervates your gluteals, hamstrings, calf muscles and some muscles in your foot. If you are experiencing issues with your sciatic nerve, it may also affect any or all of the muscles it innervates.
Nerve Pain or Muscle Pain?
Any pain related to your sciatic nerve or the muscles it innervates can be uncomfortable and infrequent at best, or severe and debilitating at worst. However, it is important to distinguish what kind of pain you are experiencing. There are different symptoms that point to different causes of your pain.
What Can Cause Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica Muscle Pain?
Tightness in muscles innervated by the sciatic nerve:
When muscles contract and go into spasm, they can compress the nerve that runs through them. This disruption of nerve flow can cause pain along with tingling and numbness of the muscles involved.
External Rotators of the Hip
Piriformis seems to have a reputation for compression the sciatic nerve. Piriformis is a small muscle deep in your pelvis, attaching from your sacrum to your femur. Tightness is piriformis can cause compression of the sciatic nerve, but can also refer pain in a similar area. However, there is another small muscle that may be the real reason you are experiencing sciatic nerve and muscle pain: gluteus minimus.
“Glute Min” as it is also called, plays a role in externally rotating the hip and stabilizing the pelvis. It attaches from your femur to your ilium and when spasmed, can cause pain down the same area as your sciatic nerve. If you know you have tightness or lack of flexibility in your hips and pelvis, and you experience pain along your sciatic nerve, it is likely that gluteus minimus is the muscle to blame.
The sciatic nerve can also be compressed anywhere along the nerve pathway. Muscles in your hamstrings and calves can also be the reason you are experiencing sciatic nerve and sciatica muscle pain.
What causes muscles to go into spasm?
There are two different kinds of spasms that can occur in muscles: acute and chronic. A common type of acute spasm is known as a cramp. This is when the muscle suddenly contracts, lasts for a short time, and releases on its own. Cramps can be caused by:
- Lack of Potassium
- Lack of Magnesium
- Low Vitamin D
Chronic spasms, however, are quite different, but can be equally painful. Chronic muscle spasms occur gradually, often don’t have a specific onset, and get worse with time. The causes for chronic muscle spasms also differ.
- Over use
- Weakness in the muscle
- Heavy lifting
- Lack of flexibility in the muscle
Other factors that can cause sciatic nerve and sciatica muscle pain:
- Damage to nerve
If you experience trauma or an injury to a muscle innervated by your sciatic nerve (such as during sports or an accident), it may cause pain. The nerve may have been severed or stretched and will have to heal itself before it is fully functional. This may also occur in the spine. Conditions such as bulged discs, degeneration of the spine, narrowing of structures in the vertebrae may also compress the nerve at its origin; affecting the nerve flow all the way along the route. If you have any concerns regarding any of these conditions, talk to your GP to assess what options there are for diagnosis.
What is the Best Treatment for Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica Muscle Pain?
There is a large variety of different medications, treatments, home remedies and programs that claim to provide relief from sciatic nerve and sciatica muscle pain. But there’s no need to stress, below are two effective ways to treat and manage your pain.
Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy
Appointing with a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist will help to relieve sciatic nerve and sciatica muscle pain. Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists provide specialised assessment treatment, focusing specifically on how the muscles in your body function. They assess how your muscular functioning impacts your overall movement, and how your movement impacts your ability to participate in daily activities. They will look to find and treat the cause of your sciatic pain, including how to modify activities which may be contributing factors. A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist uses hands on, deep tissue treatment to release tight muscles around your sciatic nerve including your lower back, hip, glutes, hamstrings and calves. This deep muscle release will provide pain relief, better movement and overall functioning.
Trigger Point Dry Needling:
Depending on what Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist you appoint with, they may also provide trigger point dry needling. Dry needling is a technique used to provide even deeper release of muscles than manual treatment and can also be longer lasting. The term “dry needling” is used because the needles are not injecting or drawing out any fluids from your body (ie “wet needling”). Dry needling works by finding specific nodules in tight muscles called “trigger points” and placing the needling into the centre of them. The muscle should have a twitch response from being provoked by the needle, before relaxing deeply. This is based on the understanding that when muscles undergo stress, they contract in response. However, when an external stress or pressure is applied, the muscle is unable to cope and “gives up” ie relaxes.
Improving nerve flow and alignment
Your Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist will also assess how to improve the alignment of your body to optimize nerve flow. When your body is out of alignment, it may be due to an imbalance of the muscle. This can partly compress nerves, reducing the flow of signals to the muscles. Reduced nerve flow means reduced strength, sensitivity and overall functioning. A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist will provide manual treatment as explained above to work on re-aligning your structures, but will also provide a personal strengthening and stretching program to help maintain alignment in your body.
There are also stretches you can complete at home to help lengthen the muscles in your lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
Start by laying on your back, bring your right leg up to your chest and cross it over your body, aiming to put your knee on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on your left leg.
Start on your hands and knees. Slowly sink back into your heels as your stretch your arms forward. Hold for 30 seconds.
Lay on your back with your left foot on the ground and place your right foot on your left knee. Let your right leg fall out to the side slightly so your shin is parallel to you. Holding your left leg behind your thigh, gently pull your left leg towards your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat sides.
Sit on the ground with one leg straight out in front of you and the other foot placed next to your inner thigh. Lean towards your toe until you feel a stretch. Try not to twist at the hips to ensure a proper stretch.
If you would like to know more about how we can help you with feeling and moving better, book an appointment with one of our friendly Occupational Therapists to kick start your recovery.