Sciatica pain from running
My first experience with sciatica pain from running or more accurately in my case sprinting, was about three years ago. I’ve been jogging and running for more than a decade, but about three years ago, I started introducing a lot of speed work and sprinting into my running program. One particular weekend, my husband and I were running several sets of fast 1000 meter runs. I think I did six in total, running each at a pace of 55% – 60% of my fastest 100m sprint speed, with 8 minutes rest between each set.
After completing our 1000 meter fast runs, we were to do several sets of 200 meter sprints, at a pace of 100% maximum effort. As I completed the second set and began decelerating at the 200 meter mark, I felt a searing pain in my left hip. The pain was incredibly intense and I couldn’t finish the workout. Later instead of subsiding, the pain got worse and ran down the entire length of my leg.
I took several days off of running, and eventually the pain eased to the point where I could run again. But I’ve been plagued with sciatica ever since.
What is sciatica?
In more than 90% of cases, sciatica is caused by a disc herniation in the lower back that causes inflammation and pressure on the lumbar or sacral nerve roots. This injury causes pain and tenderness through the lower back, extending down the hip and through the leg and foot. If sciatica is in fact caused by a prolapsed disc, in most cases healing will take place in about 6 weeks if the tear in the disc is able to heal and the inflammation in the surrounding tissues can subside to the point where there is no more pressure on the sciatic nerve. If the disc does not heal properly or completely, then chronic sciatica may result.
Where Sciatica hurts
For me, the pain starts in my hip socket, goes through my glute and radiates down the back of my leg through my hamstring and the back of my knee, down the side of my calf muscle, and into the ankle joint.
When it’s really flaring up, the pain is bad, from top to bottom. Often times though, there’s just an omnipresent dull ache in my hip, with varying degrees of pain radiating through the rest of my leg.
Sprinting is one of the biggest triggers of sciatic pain for me. I’ve tried changing my shoes, changing my stride and form, warm ups, cool downs and stretching. Those have helped to a small degree, but regardless of what, sprinting always causes a flare up.
Standing in one spot is ok but sitting in the car for long periods of time creates pain. It’s not quite as bad if I’m the passenger in the car and I can shift around a bit, but when I have to do the driving on a long trip, my leg is often radiating with pain by the time I arrive at my destination. Actually sitting in any position for extended periods is sure to cause a nasty flare up.
Cold weather makes it worse. So does walking barefoot on the ceramic tiled floors of the house in winter.
Sleeping in one position is a problem too. I need to roll around all night or I’ll wake up with a nasty flare up.
Old shoes. If I try to run in shoes that are miled out, I know I’m going to have problems.
Things that don’t provide relief much for me
I’ve seen a doctor, done a ton of research online and tried several medications. Many people find medication helpful, but for me, muscle relaxers and pain medication provide little to no relief.
Warm baths do nothing to help me.
For some people, yoga, pilates, and static stretching really help. But static type stretching provides absolutely no relief or prevention for me.
I know that for some people, rolling the affected areas on a tennis ball or foam massage roller offers some relief, and for me, those do help a little, but only if they are a complement to some of the other things I use for relief. I do give my foam roller a regular workover, but rolling on it’s own is not the cure.
I’ve read that some people use an inversion table, but that isn’t something I have tried yet.
Things that do offer relief
Occasionally I use a cold pack. I put on a pair of comfy sweat pants, get an ice pack from the freezer and use a tensor bandage to wrap it on my glute. It doesn’t take the pain completely away, but it does offer a bit of relief.
The gym. A combination of lying leg curls, stiff legged deadlifts and weighted goodmornings was one of the first things that helped bring some real long term relief to the pain. Building up the muscles in my hamstrings and glutes has been instrumental in bringing my sciatic pain under control. I use moderate weights, nothing too heavy.
Dynamic stretching. While I found that doing static stretching movements offered no relief, doing dynamic stretches, especially before a run, made a huge difference.
Running. When I run, even at a reasonably fast pace, the pain melts away within the first ten minutes of the run. Where sprinting really aggravates the problem, jogging and running are the best way to get rid of the pain, even if it’s only for the day.
Where to from here
On that fateful day of 200 meter sprints, it was my left leg that became inflamed by sciatica. After a few years in the gym strengthening my hips and legs with deadlifts and leg curls, my left leg actually healed up; no more pain. But alas, my right hip and leg decided to take over for my left leg, and it’s now in chronic pain. The pain does come and go, depending on many of the factors I’ve mentioned in this post.
Would I give up sprinting? No, sprinting is part of what I love about being a runner. When things get really bad, I take a few days off from running, wrap a cold-pack on my butt cheek for an hour or two a day, and try not to sit in one spot for too long. But I know that real relief doesn’t come from sitting around. It comes from getting in the gym and doing several sets of curls and deads, followed by some dynamic stretches and finally a nice run.
Recently I was chatting with a fellow runner on Instagram, and she too has been living with sciatica pain from running. Similar to me she found that while running she finds relief but after the run the pain tends to start.
I’ve done a lot of reading and research, and tried many things to relieve the pain. What works wonders for some people hasn’t done anything for me and vice versa. Sciatic pain is miserable, and it may take some experimenting to find a method of relief that works for you. If it’s really bad, make sure you visit a good doctor.
I’m hopeful that my right leg will follow my left and I can eventually overcome the pain altogether.