A pinched nerve is just as uncomfortable as it sounds, and even worse if it’s somewhere along your back. Formed by nerve roots originating from the spinal cord and inserting into the lower back, the sciatic nerve runs through the buttocks and down the back of the leg. So believe me when I say that a compromised sciatic nerve can result in very far-reaching consequences.
Speaking from first-hand experience, sciatica is a bane of everyday life. I had pretty severe neuropathic pain for the first three months after a training injury. Walking was a chore – I could not go for more than 10 minutes without getting an extreme burning sensation in my right buttock, calf, and foot.
Common symptoms of sciatica include numbness or weakness and is also characterised by lower back pain on one side that extends down the leg and the pain. It is this radiation of pain down the leg that differentiates sciatica from other forms of back pain. Sciatica is rarely a condition on its own and is typically indicative of an underlying issue.
Research suggests that piriformis syndrome is a more common cause of sciatica. This is relevant to athletes because piriformis syndrome is frequently a result of an overuse of the piriformis. The piriformis is a muscle in the buttocks attaching at the sacrum and the femur that abuts the sciatic nerve. When the piriformis is injured or goes into spasms, it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Treatment for this annoying and troubling injury varies depending on the cause. Medical professionals may prescribe rest, ice, or physical therapy. They may also choose to administer cortisone injections to reduce inflammation in more serious cases.
As a naive and ambitious powerlifter, I was against medicinal intervention as I feared that it might have adverse side effects. In the end, I dabbled with active release techniques (ART) to help relieve the pressure of the piriformis on my sciatic nerve. Following my treatment, I engaged in frequent bouts of stretching and mobility work.
Most doctors had told me to avoid any physical exercise, so I was very nervous for this new approach, but I was willing to try anything. I followed a stretching protocol religiously and did a lot of work for my hips, low back, and abs. Eventually, my efforts in rehab were paying dividends as I noticed small, incremental improvements and I was able to function better.
Poor form makes the best recipe for disaster – I knew my a** was done for when I couldn't activate my hamstrings and had to rely on my back to move 180KG during my deadlifts. Most instances of sciatica can be easily avoided if you pay strict attention to how you move weight, especially if it involves your lower back to any degree. You’re training to improve your health, not your doctor’s revenue stream!