Is the shooting pain of sciatica keeping you from your running routine? To find sciatica relief—and put you back in charge of your running schedule—try these 4 tips to lessen your sciatic pain while running or jogging.
Learn more: Common Running Injuries: Back Pain
Sciatica is a lay term that describes the symptoms of pain that originates with a lumbar nerve problem in your lower back and travels down your sciatic nerve—the nerve in the back of your leg.
1. Loosen up with heat therapy
If light aerobic activity isn’t enough to relax your lower-back muscles prior to a run, consider making heat therapy the first part of your warm-up routine.
- Applying heat to your lower back/buttock for 10 to 20 minutes can loosen the muscles around your sciatic nerve and encourage healing in the area.
- There are numerous inexpensive options for heat therapy—including hot water bottles and steamed towels.
- You can apply additional heat therapy during your run with a back wrap that holds reusable and removable heat packs. Or try adhesive wraps that deliver continuous, low-level heat over several hours.
The corollary is to apply ice if you feel pain after your run; ice application after a workout can help soothe inflammation and activity-related pain.
2. Consider ditching your shoes
Some people find that running barefoot relieves their sciatica symptoms—though experts disagree over the potential merits and drawbacks.
Here are a few pointers if you want to give it a try:
- Start slowly—begin with a few days of walking barefoot and gradually build your way up to running.
- Use the track at your local high school—it’s typically softer than concrete and will minimize foot discomfort. Don’t forget to check to see if they allow outside runners.
- Go back to your shoes if you develop any troublesome symptoms.
To find information about running barefoot, as well as other tips about shoes, you can read this Spine-health.com article Running and Back Pain.
3. Practice yoga to build your supporting muscles
Yoga can reduce the pressure that running places on your sciatic nerve roots by helping you build core muscle strength and increase your flexibility.
- Many basic yoga poses can be modified if your sciatic pain is severe, and you can begin with as little as 5 minutes 3 times per week.
- Select poses that correspond to the underlying cause of your sciatica. For example, some of the poses for sciatica caused by lumbar spinal stenosis are the opposite of poses for sciatica from a herniated disc.
- Find an instructor who has advanced training in working with people with sciatica if you’re interested in taking a class. Yoga instructor certification is not well regulated, so it’s a smart idea to research the certification your instructor received.
- Be patient—it may take up to 6 weeks to see a reduction in your sciatic pain. On the other hand, never push through the pain—if yoga is making your symptoms worse, stop and consult your physician.
4. Alter your running form to ease sciatic pain
You can’t prevent the jarring of your spine that occurs while running, but you can alter your form to help minimize it.
These tips can help you correct form errors that may be contributing to your sciatica:
- Avoid a straight up-and-down running form and instead focus on forward motion—lead with your chest and keep your head tall and balanced over your chest.
- Avoid striking the ground with your heels or pumping your arms across your body.
- Engage your abdominal and lower-back muscles to provide needed support for the spine.
- Focus on one aspect of your new form at a time; for example, concentrate on avoiding heel strikes until you get the hang of it—then worry about your head or chest position.
Consult with a doctor prior to starting or continuing a running regimen if you have sciatica symptoms.
For nonsurgical treatment options, see Sciatica Treatment on Spine-health.com
If you’re cleared to run, give these 4 tips a try and you might find significantly less pain and more enjoyment.