Finally, a clear explanation of why your sciatica is worse when you bend forward! Pain is confusing. It sucks not understanding your pain or why it hurts when you do certain things! Especially with something as painful as sciatic nerve pain, it is crucial to understand these triggers so you don't risk making the situation worse, and so you can provide a better environment for healing.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is known as pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve from the lower back down the back of the leg. Now not always does the pain radiate down the back of the leg but sometimes the outside of the leg or even the front. In certain circumstances individuals may feel groin or inner thigh pain as well which is still a result of nerve radiation. This pain is most often a result of disc herniation and nerve root irritation.
What Causes Sciatica?
A low back injury causing a disc herniation sometimes results in the disc material pushing out and compressing the exiting nerve root. This compression causes nerve root irritation which sends signals of nerve pain down the tract of that nerve. This is direct mechanical compression of the nerve root. Direct mechanical compression is not the only thing that can cause sciatica though. If the disc is injured and is causing a lot of inflammation, that inflamed environment may leak over to the nerve root and irritate the nerve root as well. So you do not need to "see" a disc compress a nerve root on an MRI for there to be sciatica. This is a fallacy.
What Movements Make Sciatica Worse?
Commonly, forward bending motions trigger sciatica the most. Typically first thing in the morning when trying to put on socks/shoes or picking things off the floor may be quite sensitive as well for that nerve. Some individuals in slightly less common circumstances may experience sciatica when bending backward into extension. The focus of today's conversation will be on the majority of individuals with sciatica that feel the sciatica increase and experience sciatic pain when bending forward. It is important to understand WHY these movements trigger this so you can better understand your condition and be in the driver's seat. My ultimate goal is to teach you how to fix yourself through a proper online coaching program, so let's get started!
Why Does Bending Forward Increase My Sciatica?
Typically the reason your sciatica gets worse when bending forward is because of nerve tension. The video at the beginning of this article shows me displaying this but I will break it down here as well. You need to imagine your sciatic nerve is tied from the back of your head down the back of your body all the way to the bottom of the feet. This is not really where your sciatic nerve goes but you need this visual to understand nerve tension.
When you are neutral standing up, the nerve is neutral as well. There is no increased nerve tension. This does not mean some people won't experience nerve pain when standing for long periods, but just in the acute movement.
Now when you bend forward, that nerve that goes on the back side of your body stretches just like a rubber band as shown in the graphic below!
This forward-bending motion often increases your sciatica because of something called nerve tension. If your sciatic nerve is sensitive and inflamed due to disc herniation or nerve root inflammation then the nerve will increase its sensitivity to stretch. If you try to stretch a sensitive nerve it will not like that very much and will cause increased nerve pain as most feel during forward bending with sciatica! This is just like if you tore your bicep muscle then immediately tried to stretch it. Not a good idea! The nerve doesn't want to stretch but this motion forces it too and therefore sciatica increases.
Hamstring Stretches for Sciatica WRONG?
Now that you understand nerve mechanics and how stretching the nerve by bending forward may cause problems, you should begin to understand why hamstring stretching may be a very bad idea in the acute phase of sciatica!
Just like how bending forward puts a stretch on that sensitive nerve, trying to "stretch the hamstrings" is the exact same mechanism! This is stretching the nerve all the same! This is why so many people that have sciatica that attempt to stretch where they feel the pain often end up feeling worse after stretching their hamstrings because they are repeatedly pulling on that sensitive nerve! There is a time and place for slowly re-exposing the nerve to stretch that I take my online clients through in my online low back program, but this has to be implemented in the right phase otherwise you will just continue to make it worse and prevent recovery.
Why This Information is Worth $1000
This information you just read is worth $1000 easily because if you truly understand the rubber band on the back of your body through your leg analogy then you will immediately be able to apply this to any and all exercises/movements you are currently doing. Now you understand why those leg raises for a strong core may not be a good idea, or why grabbing a band and yanking your hamstring back to try and find relief could be a terrible idea. This information will help stop you from making your situation worse, and arms you with the knowledge to promote an environment of healing throughout your rehab program. This will save you from making the situation worse and requiring $$$ injections or surgery! The more you know the more you will find long-term relief for life and that is the goal of my program.
What is the Next Step?
Simply avoiding these aggravating movements for your sciatica is ultimately not a solution. Will it help your recovery? Yes. Is avoiding things for life a solution? Not at all and is a terrible idea. YOU NEED A PLAN! Now to resolve this and find long-term relief can vary from person to person but in my experience with online clients around the world there is a similar pattern among many individuals with disc herniations or sciatica that is commonly missed. The majority of my clients in the RehabFix Online Low Back Program have had low back issues for years and have tried Chiro, PT, medication, injections, orthopedists - you name it! It seems like they all were missing some key components..... First I would recommend my FREE Low Back Webinar that discusses multiple factors that contribute to lower back pain!
Then if you still feel like you are
missing out on your life at 100%
wasting thousands $$$ on interventions that aren't producing results
working with someone you feel does NOT care about YOUR GOALS
worried about this leading to drugs or surgery
Then it's time to take action! No time to waste!
✅ Ready to ATTACK Low Back Pain or Sciatica?
✅ Are you sick of guessing your way through this low back pain?
✅ Want to prevent drugs or surgery?
Thanks for reading! -Dr. Grant Elliott