Hey everybody, this is Mike Uhrlaub with another episode of Power Your Life. Many of us have had an episode of sciatica or know somebody who has, it’s a common term. It’s thrown around all the time, “my sciatica is acting up”. If you’ve ever experienced sciatica, you will never forget. It can be one of the most unrelenting back issues around and I’m speaking from experience. About four years ago I had a bout of sciatica and it was miserable.

Sciatica is Literally a Pain in Your Butt; a Deep-Seated Pain.

For me, it was in my left buttock cheek that went all the way down into my left ankle. It is hard to describe because it was like this really deep-seated pain with a tingling that shot down my leg. That tingling was constant and there was nothing I could do to get rid of that pain. There was no stretch or position that alleviated my pain.

What Happened with Me and My Sciatica…

Man sitting in a car causing sciatica pain
Man sitting in a car causing sciatica pain

What Exactly is Going on When you Have Sciatica?

Sciatic Nerve
Sciatic Nerve

Think of This Like a Garden Hose

When the garden hose is all the way open and you’ve got the faucet turned on, the water’s running through the hose. That’s like the spinal cord, the brain sending the signals through the spinal cord, the nerve, then down into the muscle and skin. It’s like that water flowing through the garden hose. You’re watering your yard or washing the car and everything’s going along great. Then all of a sudden, the water cuts off and you can’t figure it out. You look back and you see the garden hose is kinked. That’s what happens when the nerve gets kinked or pinched.

Why Does This Happen?

The sciatic nerve gets pinched because of the imbalances within your body that have been created by too much sitting, too many repetitive movements, different job tasks, or even past injuries. One of the ways you can get sciatica is slip and fall landing right on your rear end earning a big bruise. That contusion causes swelling in the nerve making all the muscles around tighten up.

Hip Flexors

The psoas muscle (key to the spine and lower back), comes right off of the spine, joins up with the iliacus, which lines inside the pelvis, and attaches to the femur. Remember, when that muscle contracts, it allows you to lift the leg up. When it gets tight, it creates other problems.

Weak Glutes

Glute Muscle
Glute Muscle

Tight Hips

Can’t lift the leg up as far, can’t rotate it many times. I see this; Where somebody can’t sit in a figure four. Sitting in the chair, they can’t put their foot on top of the knee because they’ve lost that ability to rotate it to the outside. We call the femur rotating out external rotation. Test this yourself. Can you put your foot on top of your knee? Can you sit in a figure four position? If you can’t do that, your hips are too tight and you’re losing the mobility.

Abdominal Muscles

The lower half the muscles below the belly button. Muscles that include the internal/external obliques, the transversus abdominis, these lower abdominals, that attach to your pelvis. When they’re strong enough, they help keep your pelvis in a good position.

Psoas Muscle

The psoas muscle is in a longer position when you’re standing. When you’re sitting for a period of time, whether it be in a vehicle, at work, or home watching too much TV, the psoas muscle gets shortened. When you stand up or move from sitting too long your psoas muscle goes into a spasm that creates compression or pull on the lumbar spine. This also causes the pelvis to tip forward called the anterior pelvic tilt.

Internal Rotation

Inside your buttock muscles (gluteal muscles) is a little tiny muscle, the piriformis. This runs from the femur and comes across. That muscle is important because as the sciatic nerves coming down it goes either under that muscle, over that muscle, or right through that muscle. It varies from person to person. Due to this relationship of the piriformis to the sciatic nerve; when the femur gets rotated in because the pelvis is tipped forward, it puts that piriformis muscle on a bit of a stretch. Muscles don’t like that, they don’t like to be stretched out, especially this one in particular. The muscle then gets mad and starts to tighten up.

Reciprocal Inhibition

What that means is your hip flexor shuts off that gluteal muscle making it get even weaker. If your gluteal muscle gets weaker, your psoas muscle can overpower that and tip the pelvis more. If this is left unchecked and not fixed, the lower abdominals get stretched out from the tipping forward. You may have seen people like that. Looking at them from the side, their hips are kind of tipped forward and they have a bit of a protruding belly. Their lower abdominals aren’t strong enough to hold everything up in neutral and they start to get stretched out.

You have to correct the issue with the hip flexors, the psoas and the lower abdominals. Stretching alone will NOT fix the issue.

You can’t just inject the hip or take pills and decrease the inflammation because the problem with that sciatic nerve is mechanical. It’s being pinched and compressed because the entire pelvis, lumbar, and lower spine is out of position. It all starts from that psoas muscle.

Wife driving her husband
Wife driving her husband

My advice to you:

If you’re suffering from this, take the time, work on each of those areas.

  • Hips
  • Glutes
  • Lower Abdominal Muscles

I am a Physical Therapist and CEO/Owner of Flex Physical Therapy.