5 Big Mistakes Made By Individuals Suffering From Sciatica

If you’ve ever dealt with sciatica, the very mention of it may give you the chills. It can be rough and nearly mind-bending discomfort –– or you could experience it as “tingling” or “tightness” that comes and goes.  I would describe sciatica as symptoms radiating down the back of the glute, thigh, lower leg and foot. This is a gross oversimplification, but at least it embraces many of the phenomena that would qualify as stemming from your sciatic nerve.  If you’re like most people, you’ll probably either let it go and think it’ll eventually go away on its own, or you’ll make one of the common mistakes below.  Unfortunately, these mistakes can land you in a heap of trouble and you may find your life becomes more limited in the process.  Take a look and see if you may be making these mistakes:

1. Thinking if it’s not pain, it’s not sciatica:

I prefer to use the word “symptoms” as opposed to “pain” for good reason.  Individuals with this condition will describe their sensations as numbness, tingling, prickling, strangeness, tickling, grumbling, and many other terms.

2. Thinking it’s not sciatica if it starts in the lower leg or foot.

Nerves can be strange and I’m always fascinated by how yours can be wired differently from other people.  It’s really common for people to come to me with an irritation in the lateral (outside) part of the calf and think it’s a tight muscle.  You may even claim to have plantar fasciitis.  If I can change your symptoms by treating your spine, it’s likely not just a tight calf or plantar fasciitis.

3. Thinking it’s just a hip or hamstring that needs to be stretched.

This and #5 are probably the most common mistakes you’ll make.  A lot of times, the symptom of “tightness” is really just your body’s way of trying to protect a nerve or other deeper structure.  Your brain considers your nerve tissue crucial material and if it senses any encroachment on these structures, it will begin to sound off the alarm bells.  Nerves make up only 7% of your body weight, but demand about 30% of your body’s blood flow. Giving you a sensation of tightness is a great way to provoke you to start moving.  Moving means blood flow and your brain feels like it’s mission is accomplished. However, if you feel this tightness coming back consistently, you need to take this message in a different light.  It’s probably not just a tight muscle.

4. Thinking it’s not sciatica because it goes away sometimes.

During an examination, I’m pretty specific with how I ask questions about where/what you’re feeling in your body.  A frequent comment is, “I feel a tightness in my butt when I sit too long, but I get up and walk and it starts to go away. This used to happen after I sat for a couple hours, but now it happens after just an hour.  It’s no big deal, though, because it goes away.”  Once again, your body is trying to get a reaction from you and tell you there’s a problem you need to solve.  Especially if your symptoms come and go, that’s a great time to intervene and take care of the problem.  If you attack it early when symptoms are intermittent, you’ll have an easier battle ahead of you.

5. Stretching your leg/hip all the time thinking it will help.

Stretching seems to be a common recommendation or even a frequent request.  I’ve had people work with me and specify: “I just need some stretches for_____.”  Usually stretching is not the answer because they’ve looked up stretches on the internet and they’ve been doing them all the time.  If this is you, be open to changing your mindset.  You may need something completely different than what you think.  If you’ve been doing a ton of stretching for a couple weeks and your symptoms are remaining about the same, you probably don’t just need a bunch of new stretches.

Ask yourself: Am I making any of these mistakes?  

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

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Ed Foresman, PT, DPT, OCS

Lead Physical Therapist / VP of Online Learning
Ed Foresman is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) with more than 12 years of clinical experience in outpatient orthopedics in the Denver area. Ed serves as Lead Physical Therapist and VP of Online Learning at Activcore in Denver, Colorado, located just a mile from the popular Cherry Creek Shopping District.
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