Healthy Spine 1: Sciatica Sufferers… Is ‘Stretching’ Making Your Pain Worse?

“I’ve had pain in my right hip and down back of leg for nearly 2 years, there’s no hope for me.”  

Said a frustrated Donna (age 51), who injured her back during a ‘boot-camp’ exercise class almost 2 years ago…

She’d been suffering from that deep ‘tooth-ache’ like feeling in her right hip (literally a pain in the butt) which shot down her leg any time she’d try to sit or bend forward. (commonly known as ‘sciatica)

Could this be happening to you?

Sciatica problems are becoming more common every single day, because as a society we are spending more time sitting and less time moving than ever before.

Sciatica is usually caused by just one root problem, a spinal disc, an irritated nerve, a spinal joint or a tailbone (sacroiliac joint) is out of position and causing muscle spasm, guarding and considerable pain which shoots into your hip and down your leg.

Common causes are the prolonged sitting, sitting on your foot or wallet, improper ‘bending’ of the back, or taking a “bad step” which you didn’t expect.  Disc pain is typically caused by a ‘bulging’ (aka herniated) disc which forms from increased pressure over time.

There are many misconceptions today about how you should fix sciatica…

Unfortunately, like Donna, I’ve found too many people have become victims of bad medical advice when treating their sciatica.  This often leads to months (even years) of unnecessary sciatica suffering.

“I’ve tried rest, exercises, medicine, chiropractic and even massage and nothing has helped.  I’m still in pain daily, mostly when I sit  for a while but it’s also when I walk.  I got an MRI and it said I have 2 bulging discs in my lower back.  I don’t want to have surgery, please help!”

At the time she’d injured herself, during her ‘boot camp’ workouts, she’d been losing pounds and was looking great, feeling confident, and was starting to feel like her old self again…

But when her ‘sciatica’ struck, it didn’t just take away her ability to exercise…

Sitting, driving, bending, and just doing normal daily tasks wore on her.

The shooting pain in her hip just never seemed to go away. (it didn’t help she had two teenage daugthers at home to care for.)

She had tried EVERYTHING:

She tried sitting on a tennis ball.

She tried stretching her ‘hamstrings’ and ‘piriformis’…

She even tried doing exercises for her ‘core’, but found NO relief.

It had gotten to the point where she considered surgery due to 2 ‘bulging discs’ in her back.

Why weren’t these treatments working?

Donna, like so many others had fallen into the trap of trying to fix the ‘symptom’ of pain.

She had spent countless hours (and dollars) on Massage, Chiropractic, exercise and even rest, just trying to fix her RIGHT hip, but the pain never went away…

Even though those treatments temporarily got rid of the pain, it was making her injury worse.

Why was it making it worse?

Like ‘picking a scab’ that is trying to heal…

The more she tried to stretch and massage the RIGHT hip (the painful one) the more irritated it became…

But Donna was FINALLY able to find relief by focusing her attention on taking pressure, tension, and strain OFF her hip (instead of doing treatment directly on her hip.)

What do I mean by taking strain OFF her hip?

You can choose to believe it or not, but everything in our body is truly “connected.”

And a combination of old injuries, poor posture and bad habits all placed tension and pressure ON the discs in her back…

and THIS was causing her ‘sciatica’.

This is a phenomenon known as ‘compensation’…

And for Donna, we identified FIVE areas of her body which had been largely ignored since she’d been SO focused on trying to fix the ‘symptom’ of her sciatica.

  1. Her pelvis was crooked/twisted (this is kind of like when a shirt is buttoned on the whole button whole… it doesn’t do any good to keep buttoning the others until the crooked one is put back in the proper place… and then the shirt is lines up right.  The whole body works better when it gets lined up, and then exercises can become helpful and help keep the changes. But if the “button” is in the wrong whole, it doesn’t matter how many other things (like exercise or stretch) you do, the shirt just doesn’t work right… until the button holes are fixed!)
  2. Tight “hip flexor” muscles (these are the muscles in the FRONT of the hip, which can create ‘pulling’ on your back.  And for Donna, it came from tons of driving, and sitting)
  3. An old knee injury from a ‘meniscus’ surgery 10 years ago that never quite got to 100%.  Having one leg stronger (and straighter) than the other created an “uneven” pelvis. This put much more strain on ONE side of her back.
  4. A muscle spasm in her ‘middle-back’ that was ‘pulling’ on her lower back.  This made it impossible for her to bend forward to tie her shoes without massive amounts of sciatic pain.
  5. Tightness and tension on her ‘good side’ which was always ignored.  She had spent the better part of almost 2 years ‘stretching’ her painful side, but since she never did anything for her non-painful side, it created more of an ‘imbalance’.

And by addressing these problems with a mixture of:

  • Hands-on therapy techniques to soften the tightened muscles of her hip and thigh and to gently correct the mis-aligned pelvis (getting the “button” in the correct button whole)
  • Getting rid of old scar tissue and ‘knots’ in the muscles along her right knee
  • Alleviating the tension off the angry, spasmed muscles in her upper back
  • Teaching her the proper ‘stretches’ for her ‘good side’ and correcting the proper form with her ‘exercises’

The discs finally had the space to breath…The muscles in her hip started to let go…

And FINALLY, she found relief…

…and the sciatica? the piriformis pain?

it simply MELTED away…

And as a result?

She’s back to exercising with NO pain.  (and with much better form and body awareness, and even 10 lbs lighter again)

She did NOT need any form of injection or surgery

She could finally drive to work, pick her kids up from sports, and just get back to living her normal life without feeling the constant burden and stress from her sciatica pain

Even though Donna had sciatic pain for close to TWO years, and was diagnosed with 2 ‘bulging discs’by taking a big-picture, full-body approach to rehab, Donna was finally able to heal.

Could YOUR ‘sciatica’ problem be coming from somewhere else in your body?

If you’ve been struggling with sciatica problems for longer than a month, and you want to learn more about what these ‘root causes’ could be we offer FREE mobility screens at our ‘Discovery Sessions’

You will have a private session with a movement specialist here at Jeff Rau R&R Physical Therapy, where you’ll get the chance to:

  • Share you concerns, problems and frustrations you may be having
  • Meet us in person, to see if we’re a good fit before you ever decide to work with us
  • A glimpse into your own ‘mobility profile’ to help you see exactly what could be causing your injury, and tell you the ‘root cause’ of WHY you may be hurting.

All you need to do is fill out this web form; and tell us a bit more about what’s going on, and we will have a conversation about how we may be able to help.

Jeff Rau PT MS MPT CFMT FFMT FAAOMPT

Specialist Physical Therapist at Jeff Rau Physical Therapy
Jeff Rau first trained with a Master of Science in exercise physiology then after working in California and Texas gained a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy (MPT) in 2000 from University of Texas SouthWestern at Dallas (UTSW). He then added years of training as a functional manual physical therapist (CFMT) because he saw first hand the immediate benefit of and lasting changes made with skilled manual therapy.

Passion-driven to further help people who had tried and failed with traditional treatments of stretching, exercises or just taking pills, Jeff completed Fellowship training with the Institute of Physical Art (FFMT). He is also recognized as a Fellow by the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (FAAOMPT). Jeff pulls from both traditional training and an alternative mindset for an innovative and personally tailored approach to physical therapy and he stands among a very small percentage of physical therapists who look beyond your diagnosis to offer the most complete, effective, and efficient treatment possible.
Jeff Rau PT MS MPT CFMT FFMT FAAOMPT

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