October 26

How Do You Get Sciatica? Enter the Pain Cycle

If you have sharp pain shooting down your leg from your lower back, then it may be sciatica pain. Regardless if you had an accident or can't find the source of your sciatica, There's a good chance you're stuck in the pain cycle. Learn all about the pain cycle and what it has to do with sciatica.

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The Pain Cycle

Has this ever happened to you? You end up having sciatica or lower back pain for a few weeks, and then it goes away only to return again 3-6 months later? This is an example of the pain cycle in action.

So what is the pain cycle?

The pain cycle is a continuous cycle of discomfort, pain, and changes you go through with a total of 6 stages. Those 6 stages are:

  1. Tissue Damage
  2. Inflammation
  3. Muscle Spasms
  4. Adhesions
  5. Muscle Imbalances
  6. Compression

Now I did no make any of these up. In fact, they come from a popular model used by many health care professionals called the Cumulative Injury Cycle. The biggest difference is I updated the model a little more to help everyone understand this cycle better.

Let's look at each one really quick to understand them better.

Tissue Damage

Tissue damage can be anything from a papercut on your finger, a broken bone, or even damage to the sciatic nerve. All of these examples and more will fall under tissue damage.

Inflammation

After there is damage to our tissue, next comes inflammation to help begin the recovery process for the wound. This could cause redness and swelling within the skin.

Muscle Spasms

Right after inflammation begins muscle spasms to help protect the damaged tissue and prevent it from moving, almost like a cast would. You may end up getting things like muscle cramps along with spasms within this stage.

Adhesions

Fascia and scar tissue begin to form where the damage was and creates adhesions within the body.

Muscle Imbalances

When there are adhesions within the body, this will create a limited range of motion within the muscles, causing one muscle to become tight, shortened, and overactive. (Pretend this was your bicep for a moment).

This also forces its opposite muscle to become weakened and stretched out. (This would then be your triceps)

And because of this imbalance, the joint these muscles attach to begins to become altered and move out of place. (This may be your elbow)

A tight muscle, a weak muscle, and an altered joint in how you get muscle imbalances.

Compression

When a joint or muscle becomes imbalanced, it can cause compression on arteries, veins, and nerves. In case you're wondering, Sciatica pain will fall under compression because the pain comes from the sciatic nerve becoming compressed by either discs or muscles.

When you end up compressing the sciatic nerve for too long, then it can cause tissue damage, which will restart the pain cycle all over again.

How Most of Us Get Sciatica

Some of us will develop sciatica pain without any previous injury; And if that's you, then chances are your sciatica is coming from your posture. And another way to think about your posture is a muscle imbalance.

spinal cord

How Muscles Form our Posture

A muscle will never understand what you are doing; it only knows what you tell it. This means your muscles don't realize you're sitting all day and only think they are in a supported squat position.

The same thing for your bicep; It will never know if you're talking on the phone or curling a 1 pound dumbbell. This means if you're on calls all day holding your phone up to your ear, then that bicep may get stronger and begin to stay that way. This will result in the bicep becoming tighter, stronger, and shorten up (which is how muscles contract).

And because the body is constantly adjusting to our current lifestyle, your arm may begin to adopt a bent elbow posture because all that arm remembers is being on the phone. Have you ever been on a diet with it going great, and then all of a sudden, you begin to plateau? It's because your body began to adjust to your new food intake. The same thing happens with our muscles and our posture.

The reason I bring this up is because every-time you sit for long periods of time, you are "training" your hip flexors "HF" way more than your hip extensors "HE." In terms of muscles, the hip flexors may be the front of your hips like the quads, psoas, TFL, etc. and the hip extensors could be the glutes, hamstrings, or even lower back.

So, just like the bicep in my example, the HF's will begin to become tighter, shorter, and stronger while the HE's become stretched and weak.

The Hips, the Anchors, and the Seesaw

Your HF's attach to the front of your pelvis while the HE's attaches the back of the pelvis. So when you look at it from the side, you can see almost a seesaw like pattern with 2 anchors on both sides. The pelvis is the seesaw, the HF's and He's are the anchors, and your legs when you stand are the pivoting point.

And because the pelvis acts like a seesaw and because the HF's are tighter and stronger than the HE's, the HF's will pull down on the pelvis anytime you stand up or lay flat. And when the front of the pelvis gets pulled down because of tighter and stronger HF's, the back of the pelvis gets pushed up into the spinal discs because the HE's aren't strong enough to prevent it. This is how you create compression on your sciatic nerve.

What about Piriformis Syndrome?

This is a similar situation, but with a different muscle. This time the muscle is the piriformis that lies underneath the glutes. When this muscle gets tight and short from sitting too long with your legs rotated out, then it will end up compressing on the sciatic nerve that runs directly underneath this muscle.

Summary

The pain cycle is a continuous cycle of 6 stages you can go through after an injury. Those 6 stages are Tissue Damage, Inflammation, Muscle Spasms, Adhesions, Muscle Imbalances, and Compression. When we sit for too long, our HF's become too tight and cause a muscle imbalance. This leads to compression within the sciatic nerve, which causes your sciatica pain.

Now that you have a better understanding of where your sciatica pain comes from, it's now time to learn how to get rid of it with what I like to call the Triple Treatment.

Click here to learn the triple treatment for reversing sciatica pain.

About the author 

Adam

Adam is the owner of Train and Massage and has earned multiple certifications including Human Movement Specialist, Certified Massage Therapist, Certified Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and More.

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