Sciatica can strike anyone

What do football manager Thierry Henry, actress and singer Olivia Newton-John and Jean-Claude Juncker, the former President of the European Commission, all have in common? Not much on the face of it, but the fact is that all three have, at one time or other, been battling sciatica.

The former Arsenal striker went from strength to strength following a bout in 2006. Grease star Newton-John was forced to cancel several concerts two years ago while the painful condition was blamed – amidst much speculation – for the 64-year-old Juncker’s stumbles during a recent Nato summit.

What is sciatica?

The older generation will be more familiar with it as Lumbago, but Sciatica (as it’s now called) is an unpleasant and disruptive condition that can potentially afflict anyone – of all ages and levels of fitness!  It’s often confused with other types of back pain and occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed or injured. This nerve is the largest and longest in the human body. It runs all the way from the lumbar region in the lower back, through the buttocks and down both legs to the feet. Symptoms can make themselves felt anywhere along the nerve, from the lower back, through the genital region and all the way to the feet.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • Stabbing, burning or shooting pains along the sciatic nerve in the:
    • lower back, hip and/or buttock(s)
    • backs of the thighs and down the legs
    • feet and/or toes
    • genital area
  • Burning or tingling (pins and needles) in the legs and/or feet
  • Numbness and weakness in affected areas
  • All of the above made worse by prolonged sitting, standing or walking, heavy lifting and any activity with an impact on the spine (eg running)

Causes of sciatica

The vast majority of sciatica cases are caused by:

A herniated or protruding disc: Positioned between the vertebrae (bones in the spinal column) discs act as shock absorbers or cushions with the lower spinal discs taking on most of the upper body weight. Over time their hard, fibrous outer structure may develop tiny tears, usually as a result of overload or poor posture. This allows their jelly-like inner core to herniate or protrude, irritating the sciatic nerve. and often referred to as a ‘trapped nerve’.

Poor posture: Sitting incorrectly with more weight on one hip than the other can irritate or compress the sciatic nerve.

Degenerative Spinal Arthritis. Osteoarthritis in the spine can damage the cartilage (connective tissue) on the joints and discs in the neck and lower back, producing spurs of bone that press against the sciatic nerve.

Impingement of the sciatic nerve along its course:  the sciatic nerve can be affected by the pelvic joints (sacroiliac joints) or if the nerve passes through the Piriformis muscle (deep in the buttock region), where tightening of the muscle can give sciatic-type symptoms. 

Treating sciatica with Robin Kiashek

The condition may improve on its own after four to six weeks, although this largely depends on the patient’s age, medical history, lifestyle and, importantly, whether he or she heeds my advice! Try not to let it interfere with your daily activities. You can help yourself in battling sciatica via:

  • Avoiding prolonged sitting
  • Keeping moving but only if this doesn’t cause you pain
  • Using cold hydrotherapy (sitting in a cool bath or gentle swimming) to relieve pain on the lower spine
  • Avoiding high impact activities
  • Not sleeping on your front and either putting a pillow under your knees if sleeping on your back, or putting a pillow between your knees if side-lying

Does sciatica go away on its own?

If your symptoms show no sign of improving after a few days, please make an appointment at one of the Robin Kiashek Clinics. I will take a full case history and perform a clinical examination to determine the exact cause of your pain. We will then agree on a treatment plan which may also include advice on exercise, posture, pain management and how to prevent any future attacks.

To get in touch please call 020 8815 0979 or click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stretch before exercise

It’s that time of year – the clocks have gone forward, the days are longer and spring is definitely in the air. And, as people ditch winter woollies for T shirts and cotton frocks, their thoughts inevitably turn to getting toned and fit for summer. It’s time to build a healthy exercise habit!

Some will dust off their trainers and enrol in a gym (or return to the one they joined in January!). But if the prospect of pounding the treadmill or sweating your way through a spin class leaves you cold, there are many other ways to achieve your fitness goals, whatever they may be.

The benefits of regular exercise are many and proven. Think increased energy, improved immune system function, lower risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, reduced stress and better mood.  Not to mention toning up and looking better.

Build a healthy exercise habit

But here’s the thing about exercise: achieving any fitness goal requires consistency (coupled with healthy eating), and the motivation to continue until it becomes routine. That’s not always easy so check out our eight top tips to help you build a healthy exercise habit:

Pick an activity you enjoy

You can burn a zillion calories on the rowing machine but if (and when) boredom sets in you’ll quit. Finding an activity that grabs you may take time and research but it’s worth it. Heading into spring, you can take advantage of the lighter evenings outdoors by walking, cycling, jogging, playing tennis or kicking a ball around with your children. Or if you like dancing, why not have a go at Zumba or salsa? For more sociable and/or competitive souls, a team sport like netball or football might be just the thing. Remember, too, that your chosen sport should align with your fitness goals. Yoga or weight training won’t increase cardiovascular strength, while running doesn’t build flexibility!

Indoors vs outside?

Various studies, including one in 2011 published by Environmental Science and Technology, have highlighted the health benefits of exercising outdoors, especially in a park or green open space. These include improved mood, increased energy, a more varied workout (based on your surroundings), and all for free!

Start exercising gently

If you haven’t exercised for some time (or at all), ease yourself into it by doing a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time and the intensity. Always warm up beforehand and stretch afterwards to avoid injury.

Schedule in exercise

Turning your chosen activity into a habit is all about regularity. Choose a convenient time and diarise the session just as you would a work meeting. Do allow enough time too. Some sports are more time-consuming, especially when factoring in travelling, showering and changing. If you lack time, consider exercising at home. You can do it at any time and you’ll never have to wait for the elliptical trainer – unless your exercise buddy (see below) or other half is hogging it.

Buddy up

Several studies have shown that people are more likely to stick with an activity if they receive support from close friends and family* or if they partner up with a friend or family member. That’s as true for Zumba or team sports as it is for ‘solitary’ activities such as swimming, cycling, weight training or exercising at home. Buddies share your highs and lows, helping to motivate you to achieve your goals. You’re less likely to skip a workout if it means you’re letting your exercise partner or the team down. There are other benefits, too. A 2011 study published in in the American Journal of Health Behavior showed that exercising with a buddy increases feelings of energy, enabling you to keep going for longer, compared with exercising alone. The same study found that it elevates mood and reduces stress.

Give self-control a helping hand

Relying on self-control doesn’t work. Barbara Brehm, author of Successful Fitness Motivation Strategies, says that “self-control is a limited resource and that the stress we experience during the day gradually erodes our willpower to exercise”. This is why morning exercisers are more likely to stick to a workout routine. By the end of the day we don’t have enough self-control to exercise, especially if it’s raining or there’s something good on TV. So remove barriers to making the ‘right’ decision to exercise by… picking something you enjoy, diarising it, buddying up and so on.

Consider safety

Some activities aggravate existing injuries or illnesses so seek advice from a doctor (if you have high blood pressure, for example) or an osteopath. With hip, knee or ankle problems avoid running or jumping and opt for lower-impact activities. So try rowing, walking/hill walking, stepping, cycling, swimming or weight training instead. Don’t be fooled by the term ‘low impact’ – you’ll still work hard and burn calories! With an exercise class, talk to the instructor beforehand. They will advise about avoiding specific moves, possibly suggesting alternatives.

Be Patient

Sometimes it takes time to achieve your goals. You can’t build a healthy exercise habit overnight. It’s normal for motivation to dip when you get sore or don’t see quick results. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Simply acknowledge the obstacles and use the tips outlined above to help you achieve the outcome you want and deserve.

If you’d like advice on which exercise is right for you, why not book an appointment with osteopath Robin Kiashek.

*The influence of close others’ exercise habits and perceived social support on exercise – Susan D.Darlow and Xiaomeng Xu, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Vol 12, Issue 5, September 2011, Pages 575-578