Pinched Sciatic Nerve: The Root Problem and Solution

A pinched sciatic nerve is one of the most common problems we treat at our physical therapy clinic in Durham, NC. In today’s blog post we want to help you understand what a pinched sciatic nerve should feel like (and what is something else), and how to get rid of the pain without pain meds and surgery.

Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It exits the spine from the lower back as it makes its way through the glute region (back of your hip) and traverses down the back of your leg and into the foot. 

Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatic nerve pain, better known as sciatica, has many different presentations (i.e. pain patterns). When a pinched sciatic nerve is the cause of your pain you should feel tingling, numbness, or burning sensations along the path of the sciatic nerve (discussed above). 

The tingling, numbness, or burning can be felt in the buttock, back of the leg, or as far as your foot. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily feel these symptoms through the entire leg. Symptoms could only be present in the buttock region. Or, they could only be felt in the lower leg. However, a pinched nerve must cause tingling, numbness, or burning. If you feel none of these and only present with a “dull ache” sensation it’s likely that you don’t have a pinched sciatic nerve. You have referred pain coming from the hip.

You will want to rule out the possibility of piriformis syndrome causing your pain. 

What’s the Cause of a Pinched Sciatic Nerve

Many people will be told the cause of their sciatica is due to arthritis, herniated disc, bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, or lumbar radiculopathy. However, many recent and past research studies have proven these diagnoses typically don’t cause pain. In other words, many people have been shown to have arthritis, herniated/bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis and yet they don’t have pain (see image below).

What we have found to be the cause of a pinched sciatic nerve is one (or a combination) of the following: 

Limited Spine and/or Hip Flexibility

Most of the time pain is the cause of a movement problem. And a stiff spine and/or hip joint can be what’s causing a pinched sciatic nerve. Typically, we find the spine is limited in extension (i.e. bending backward). However, rotation or flexion (I.e. bending forwards) can also cause these symptoms, although rarer. 

Likewise, most of the time the hip(s) will be stiff in rotation or flexion. Hip extension is rarer. 

Poor Balance

If you have sciatica with standing or walking then the poor balance may be to blame. This is because you need balance to stay upright and if it’s sub-par then it leads to overworked hip muscles, namely the glutes and piriformis muscles. The overworked muscles can pinch the sciatic nerve, thus causing symptoms in the leg.

Are you able to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without swaying? 

If not, then the balance may be part of your problem. Poor balance could be a cause of stiffness or weakness at the ankle(s), knee(s), hip(s), or spine. All of these must be looked at for the source of the problem.

Spine and/or Hip Weakness

Weakness leads to compensation. For example, if the hip is weak then the knee, ankle, and spine must compensate. Likewise, if the spine is weak then the hip, knee, and ankle must compensate. Oftentimes, the weakest area isn’t where the pain is felt, it’s where the compensation occurs. 

We see people with weak hips (no pain) and strong knees (that are painful). The weak hip is the root cause of knee pain. 

A pinched sciatic nerve requires a thorough examination of the spine, hip, knee, and ankle to rule out any problems which can be causing sciatica. 

Specialized Physical Therapy: Fixing a Pinched Sciatic Nerve Without Pain Meds or Surgery

As we said before, many people will be told they have arthritis, herniated/bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis. However, these are rarely the root cause of the pain. Science has proven this time and time again. 

It’s important for the doctor or physical therapist to take a close examination of the spine, hips, knees, and ankles which could be the root cause of the pain. Finally, most people with a pinched sciatic nerve will have stiff and/or weak spines or hips which are the root problem causing pain.

If you’re looking for a long-term pain solution without pain meds or surgery then we’d like to invite you to schedule a 20-minute complimentary call with our physical therapy clinic in Durham, NC. This call is designed to ask you more questions about your pain so we can find out if our therapy is the best fit for you.

Medical Disclaimer:

All information on this website is intended for instruction and informational purposes only. The authors are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your injury. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied on this website.