There is an epidemic happening in offices everywhere! There is a large number of people complaining of low back pain that radiates or spreads down to their foot. When a person suffers from such ailments, they automatically assume that they have sciatica. Hmmm… that may not be entirely true.
The radiating pain that you experience may indeed involve the sciatic nerve, but that may not mean that you have true sciatica.
The sciatic nerve originates from the lumbar (specifically the third lumbar vertebra). When the 3rd lumber vertebra or L3 has a problem with its disc, it may pinch, impinge, or squeeze the sciatic nerve. This causes a low back pain and a radiating pain down the leg to the top of the foot as it is the direction the that nerve travels. When the problem arises from L3, it is sciatica. This problem can be caused by trauma, inflammation or something hereditary. This is a much harder problem to solve.
The epidemic, that is arising in offices everywhere, is the piriformis syndrome. I have said this many times before and I still believe it: the human body is the most efficient and smartest machine. The body knows when to regulate temperature and defends the body against bacteria and viruses. But as great as this machine is, it has a big flaw: the sciatic nerve is sandwiched between two muscles in the buttocks. These two muscles are the gluteus and pirifomis. When these two muscles get tight or spasm, they squeeze the poor sciatic nerve causing pain to radiate up the low back and down the leg (depending on severity). And one of the causes for piriformis syndrome is sitting too long at an office desk.
Office workers tend to suffer a lot from “sciatica.” This isn’t surprising. You sit staring at a computer screen all day long and because you have a deadline to meet you stay staring at your computer screen when you should stand. You are sometimes so immersed that you skip lunch, forget to pee and some of you hardcore driven office workers purposely deprive yourself of liquids so you wouldn’t have to pee. And so, you remain sitting for almost most of the 8 hours you are there to work. This causes weakening of the muscles all over the body which causes tightening of muscles, which then leads to pain.
Side note: tight muscles does not mean that the muscles are strong. It most often times means that it is so weak that it is in a constant state of contraction because if it relaxes it may not be able to support you.
The muscles that are getting especially weak are the muscles in the buttocks. It’s getting pancaked and weakened by the rest of your body weight. And after all that sitting, you stand, activating weak and lazy muscles. This can cause sudden tightening and spasms. Think of it this way. If you haven’t been weight lifting awhile (or ever) and a person suddenly tells you to lift 50 lbs off the ground, you would protest, too. And when the muscles in the butt protest, they tighten around the poor sciatic nerve and then BAM —>HELLO, PAIN!
STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH
Go back to basics. The best way to prevent piriformis syndrome is to regularly stand and walk around every hour. During this time try doing some exercises that help strengthen the muscles in the butt. Exercises that help are squats and lunges. Go to this link for simple variations and instructions on how to do these exercises.
Stretching is also great at preventing tight muscles in the glutes. Go to this video to learn a quick stretch that you can do at work.
When the pain is unmanageable, getting acupuncture for your sciatica or piriformis syndrome is great. My patients have reports immense relief from acupuncture treatments.
Treatments differ from patient to patient and from acupuncturist to acupuncturist. But whatever the treatment, acupuncture bring great relief to patients suffering from sciatica. The reason for this is because underlying all of these treatments is a similar protocol and base. The acupuncturist is either trying to fortify the area or trying to move blood and qi to move the pain out of the site.
To have a better understanding as to how acupuncture works, please read this article.