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 buttock and 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 causes sciatica buttock pain?
The sacral plexus is a network of intersecting nerves that provide motor and sensory nerves for the pelvis, hips, legs and feet. The sciatic nerve network begins in this plexus which starts at the L4 vertabrae and continues down to the S3 vertebrae in the spine. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the entire body.
In more than 90% of cases, sciatica is caused by a disc herniation in one of the discs between L4 and S3, which in turn causes inflammation and pressure on the lumbar or sacral nerve roots. Basically, if you injure one of the discs in your lower back, you are likely to have sciatica problems.
This injury causes pain and tenderness through the lower back, concentrating in the buttocks, 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 – pain in buttock cheek
For me, the most intense pain is in my buttock cheek and hip socket. It radiates down the back of my leg through my hamstring and the back of my knee, down the outside of my calf muscle, and beside the ankle. Since the sciatic nerve runs down both legs, sciatica can affect either or both legs.
When it’s really flaring up, the pain is bad, from top to bottom. It’s the kind of pain that will keep you awake all night. 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.
If one of the discs in your back is injured, you need to stop exercising until it has time to heal properly and completely. If the inured disc does not heal completely or remains deformed after healing, you will likely have chronic sciatica and be vulnerable to flare ups. Your susceptibility to these flare ups and their intensity will largely depend on how well you take care of the damaged disc in your spine. Taking part in activities that aggravate the damaged disc will trigger a painful sciatica flare up. Staying pain free means making adjustments in your lifestyle and exercise regime.
Sprinting and high impact exercise are some 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 an instant flare up.
Sitting in any position for extended periods is sure to cause a nasty 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. Sitting at my desk can also be a problem if I don’t make the effort to shift around in my seat.
Cold weather makes the pain 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. Proper running shoes that suit my stride are essential. In fact any shoes, whether they are dress shoes or garden boots, will give me problems if they don’t have proper cushioning or cushioned insoles.
Things that don’t provide sciatica pain relief for me
Muscle relaxers. 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. If you’re having problems, I wouldn’t rule them out, they may work for you. But they have not worked for me.
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 pain prevention for me.
Things that provide minor relief from sciatic pain
Foam rollers and tennis balls. 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.
Car seat position. I drive an economy car, but fortunately it’s capable of making numerous seat adjustments; lumbar, side support, etc which help reduce and prevent pain while driving. I keep the whole seat slightly reclined. Additionally the bottom/back of the seat, under my butt, is also slightly reclined and the the front of the seat, at my knees is slightly elevated. Lastly, the lumbar and side support is increased. I almost feel like I’m sitting in a jet-plane seat, but it helps minimize the pain from long driving sessions.
My Desk Chair. Like I already mentioned, making the effort to shift around in my seat while working at my desk helps. I’ve also experimented with several cushions and I use extra cushions on my desk chair which helps minimize flare ups. Additionally, I use a foot stool to keep my feet elevated which also helps.
I’ve read that some people use an inversion table, but that isn’t something I have tried yet.
Things that do offer relief from sciatica pain
Ice Packs. I put on a pair of comfy sweat pants, get an ice pack from the freezer (like this one from amazon) and use a tensor bandage to wrap it on my glute. It doesn’t take the pain completely away, but it does offer considerable relief. Once you’ve used an ice pack, I guarantee you’ll be heading to the freezer the next time you’re having a really bad flare up,
Weight Lifting. A combination of lying leg curls, stiff legged deadlifts and weighted good-mornings 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 heavy, and train the affected area twice a week.
Dynamic stretching. While I found that doing static stretching movements offered no relief, doing dynamic stretches, especially before a run, made a huge difference. What is dynamic stretching? Check out this video:
Cycling. (post update) I’ve gotten a lot of relief from sciatica pain from cycling. In fact over the last 2 years since I originally wrote this post, I have drastically reduced the amount of running I do, and replaced most of my cardio sessions with cycling. Running, and especially sprinting, are impact exercises and impact makes sciatica worse. There is virtually no impact from cycling. Not only that but the very muscles targeted while cycling are the ones that, when strengthened, reduce sciatica pain. Where I used to run 5 days and 20-30km a week, I now only run 2 times a week. Now I cycle 5 times a week with an average of 400-500 km per month.
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 buttock, 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? Sprinting is part of what I really love about being a runner, but unfortunately, I seldom do full-speed sprint sessions anymore. They just cause too much pain.
When sciatica pain gets really bad, I take a few days off from exercise, 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 long term relief doesn’t come from sitting around. It comes from getting in the gym and doing several sets of leg curls and dead-lifts, followed by some dynamic stretches and either a low impact jog or an hour or two on the bicycle.
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 she’s running(not sprinting) she finds immediate relief. But later, several hours after the run, the pain returns and tends to increase. I’m wondering if the endorphin release and increased blood flow while running provides temporary pain relief, but the impact from running irritates the damaged disc, causing inflammation and pain later on.
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 have read that sciatica surgery is an effective option, but hopefully most of us won’t have to resort to that.
Since I started doing exercises that target sciatica, along with making some lifestyle modifications, I can keep my sciatica under control. When I do get a flare up, I now know how to minimize it and shorten it’s duration. I’m hopeful that my right leg will follow my left and I can eventually overcome the pain altogether.
Best wishes in your quest to find relief!!