The sciatic nerve is vital to the functioning of your legs. The nerve is like the information highway for your sense of feeling and movement, connecting the nerve-endings of your leg’s skin and muscles to your brain.
It is the longest, thickest nerve of your body. At its thickest point, it is about the width of your little finger. The nerve emerges from your lumbar area and sacrum and runs right down the leg.
This is an excellent video showing how the nerve exits the spinal column and sacral area:
What causes sciatic nerve pain?
We experience sciatica when the sciatic nerve is compressed or inflamed. This is usually due to poor postural habits or excess muscular tension in our body. The pain starts where the nerve gets pinched; most often near the nerve’s base, around the pelvis and lumbar area. Here, the nerve can get sandwiched between muscle, bone or discs (between L4 right down to S5).
The strong buttock muscles can also compress the nerve. A postural muscle called the ‘piriformis’ can squeeze the nerve when overly tensed. When this happens, the symptom may be called ‘Piriformis Syndrome‘.
What causes pain in the sciatic nerve?
It’s a mistake to believe the nerve itself causes your pain. While the pain does, of course, come from the nerve, the nerve doesn’t cause pain because it’s ‘bad’ or in need of ‘treatment’.
We experience nerve pain when a nerve is compressed (or in very rare cases damaged). In other words, the pain we get is just a symptom. When we accept this, the next logical question is what is causing the compression.
Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture of you as a functional whole, we start to see that, excluding external factors, there are only three main ways to compress the nerve. Either muscular tension or some other tissue such as bone or disk.
In the majority of cases, the pressure is almost always down to how a person is moving or functioning in their daily life. A bulging disk may be pressing on the nerve, but again this leads us to ask — why would a disc bulge? This brings us back to muscle tension and unnatural body mechanics.
How I help people overcome pain in the sciatic nerve
By learning how to move more naturally, the way you did when you were a child, you can alleviate the imbalances, pressures and strains that generate excessive muscle tension. When you move in balance, your muscles and spine naturally decompress. Decompression means there’s more space around your sciatic nerve — it is no longer pinched, and the pain goes away.
In other words, unnatural movements can cause sciatic nerve pain, and re-learning how to move naturally is the solution.