Can you run with sciatica? If you’re looking for an answer, you have come to the right place.
Although runners are familiar with overuse injuries—think runners’ knee and stress fractures—one less common injury that runners—and everyone else—have to deal with is nerve pain.
Here’s the truth.
Sciatica, often the sharp and aching pain in the lower back and shooting pain down the legs, is a condition that can put any runner’s training at a halt.
In today’s, I’ll spill the beans on what you need to know about sciatica.
More specifically, I’ll look into:
- What is sciatica?
- Symptoms of sciatica
- The causes of sciatica
- Treating sciatica
- Dealing with sciatica
- How to run with sciatica
- And so much more
Let’s get started.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the layman’s term inflammation of the sciatic nerve. In most cases, the pain starts with a lumbar nerve problem in the lower back and shoots down the sciatic nerve.
The pain may radiate from the lower back, down the backside, and into the leg, often affecting one side of the body. The pain can be unilateral—as in, one side of the body—and follows along the sciatic nerve path.
But what is the sciatic nerve, and how come it has such an impact?
The sciatic nerve is the longest in the human body, originating with the nerve roots within the lower back—the lumbar spine—which then travels down your hips, glutes, legs, and feet with a diameter of up to two centiamperes.
This nerve is mixed, which means it has both sensory (sensation) and motor (movement) fibers.
The main job of this nerve is to provide sensory and motor supply to the skin and muscles of our feet, legs, and thighs.
In other words, it allows allows us to stand, walk and even run.
Additional Resource – Your Guide to Groin Strains While Running
The Symptoms Of Sciatica
The “condition” can feel different, depending on where exactly the irritation or injury in the sciatic nerve is.
Although most people may experience different types of pain, in most cases, common signs of sciatica include:
- Numbness, burning, or tingling pain in the leg
- Weakness in the muscle of the foot or leg
- Pain in the back of the thigh and the calf
- Pain radiating from the lower spine
- Shooting pain in the back, hip, or outer side of the leg
- Electric jolts shoot down the buttocks or leg
- Pins-and-needles or tingling sensations
- Dull or sharp pain starting in the lower back
- Dull or Sharm numbness, pain, or weakness in the back of the thigh
- Pain gets worse after prolonged sitting
- The affected region may feel weaker than usual
- Instability in the affected side
- Back pain—in some cases but not all.
Additional resource – Running with osteoarthritis
The Causes Of Sciatica In Runners
Sciatica can be caused by various things that can cause compression on the nerve.
Two common causes are bone spurs or herniated disks, which put pressure on the sciatic nerve. This leads to inflammation and irritation.
In runners, it’s believed that sciatica might be caused by tight Piriformis muscle, which is the tiny muscle nestled deep in the buttocks that helps in leg rotation and keeping balance on one leg.
But what’s the link here?
The sciatic nerve passes through your buttock muscles—including your piriformis muscle. This is why if the piriformis is too tight, it can rub on the sciatic nerve and cause pain along the nerve’s path.
Other variables could cause—or contribute—to sciatica pain.
- Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine
- Overuse injury from endurance activities, such as running
- Occupational risks such as. Lifting, bending, twisting, etc.
- Trauma or injury
- Jobs that required long periods of sitting
Additional resource – Labral tears in runners
Does Running Cause or Make Sciatic Pain Worse?
Asking yourself whether you should be running with sciatica? Worry no more.
Fortunately, it’s not only safe but might be what you need to soothe some of the symptoms. Of course, the high impact and repetitive nature of running may aggravate some of the symptoms, but inactivity is worse.
That’s why some experts recommend physical exercise to manage sciatica pain.
Research has shown that becoming a couch potato, especially sitting for prolonged periods, can worsen Sciatica symptoms, and physical exercise is one of the best treatments.
However, whether it’s a good idea to run with sciatica or not will depend mainly on the location and the severity of the pain.
For example, if your sciatica is caused by a medical condition, such as a herniated disc, it’s key to follow your doctor’s instructions.
What’s more? The high-impact nature of running makes the symptoms worse. As I explained earlier, some of the most important running muscles—the calves, hamstrings, and glutes—are all entwined with the sciatic nerve, so it’s possible to make your sciatica pain worse by running.
Additional Resource – Can You Run With An Abdominal Strain?
How To Run with Sciatica
So how do you actually keep on running—and exercising—when you’re experiencing sciatica?
The following guidelines should put you on the right path.
A good measure to help you run with sciatica is to form a consistent stretching routine before and after each run.
You should focus on hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves stretching on both sides of your body—not just the affected side or leg.
Pre-run stretching, when performed in a dynamic manner, just like explained here—can help loosen up your muscles and joints before training.
Post-run stretching—especially when performed in a static manner—can help improve blood flow and allow oxygen and nutrients to reach your muscles following a workout.
Here are three dynamic stretches to perform pre-run
Here are three static stretches to perform post-run
· Hamstring stretches
· Active stretch: Hamstring sweeps.
· Hip flexor stretch
Additional resource – CBD oil for runners
Try Some Heat Therapy
If warming up and dynamic stretching isn’t enough to loosen up lower back muscles before a run, you should try some heat therapy as a part of your warm-up routine.
Apply heat to your lower back and buttocks muscles for 10 to 15 minutes.
Applying heat can boost circulation, ensuring that your lower back receives the remedial oxygen and nutrients it needs. It also improves flexibility and soothes muscle stiffness, improving your overall range of motion.
So how do you apply heat?
You have many options for heat therapy, including steamed towels and hot water bottles. You can also try applying a heating pad or taking a hot shower before heading out for a run.
Additional resource – your guide to running with metatarsalgia
Change Your Running Form
Your running technique, as in the way you hold your body while running, can impact your sciatica pain.
Sure, it’s not possible to stop the spine jarring when logging the miles, but you can optimize your form to help reduce it.
Pay attention to your body while running and follow these steps to build proper running form.
- Minimize vertical oscillation, which is the exaggerated up and down movement. Focus on forwarding motion while keeping your back flat and leading with your chest.
- Take short steps. Shortening your stride may prevent your sciatic nerve from fully extending, which might be the culprit behind sciatic pain when running.
- Avoid heel striking. Research suggests that heel striking may put a lot of stress on your body. Instead, aim to land on your forefoot. Think of quick steps.
- Activate your core. Your core muscles are key for supporting your support. Therefore, engage your abdominals, obliques, lower back, and glutes muscles when running.
Additional Resource – Can you run again after knee replacement
If you often run on hard surfaces such as sidewalks or asphalt, consider switching to softer terrains like trails, grass, or your local track, then see if the pain subsides.
Running on less-than-merciful surfaces may increase the amount of compression on your back, which, again, may contribute to pain, and you don’t want that.
You should also change directions when running on a track to help balance your running.
Overall, the most common culprit behind sciatica pain, and other pains and injuries, is doing too much too soon.
If you’re experiencing sciatica pain when running, you’ll need to make your running plan fit your current health level.
Logging too many miles, as I’ve already explained, can put extra stress on an already irritated nerve, causing more and prolonging the length of time you have pain. And you don’t want that.
Pay attention to your training load, and make sure to scale back whenever your sciatica pain is getting worse.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you’ve all the classic sciatica red flags, make an appointment with your doctor for a thorough diagnosis. They’ll help determine the exact cause of your pain and what to do next. You can also discuss with your doctor if it’s possible or not to keep running with sciatica.
Just make sure to choose a physician who understands what it means to be a runner as well as the demands of the sport. A sports physician is the ideal candidate.
You should also talk to your doctor if your sciatica pain doesn’t improve and/or worsens with running, which may suggest a more severe injury to the sciatic nerve root.
Additional resource – Single leg bridge technique
The most important thing to remember when running with sciatica is not to overdo it. When your sciatica nerve is already compromised, it doesn’t take much to trigger symptoms.
Keep a keen ear on your body and slow down or stop if you experience any pain. If you aren’t sure if it’s safe to keep running on your own, consult a doctor or a physical therapist who can help design a training program that’s best for you.
Don’t take your health for granted. Ever.