Sciatica is the name given to a painful condition that originates in the lower back and triggers a “shooting” pain down the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the body1 and attaches at five points in the lower spine. It runs down the entire leg to the foot—and believe me, it is not a nerve you want to be playing up.

There are a few extremes in sciatica, ranging from a constant annoyance that ruins your life because you can’t think about anything but how sore your back or butt is, right up to not being able to put one foot to the floor without screaming in agonizing pain. In rare cases, both legs can have symptoms, and I cannot even comprehend how painful that would be.

If you have had a fall or recent lifting incident and this is your first experience with sciatica then I’d recommend getting a medical professional’s opinion to make sure there is nothing structurally wrong, but chances are if you are reading this you’re a long term battler of indomitable sciatica—and you’re getting pretty fed up with it!

What Are the Causes of Sciatica?

A lot of terms like degenerative disc diseases, compressed nerves, protrusions, and slips can be thrown about. They sound scary, but you really need to constantly remind yourself that pain usually will go away eventually. The body heals and adapts all the time. A major realization I had when studying this subject was that if someone can be in a car accident and have their spine smashed to bits and eventually be fine, then how is “a bit of nerve pain” not able to be fixed?

Super Secret Sciatica Tip 1: Belittling pain is a good place to start. Your attitude and the way you think about your pain is your first step. Don’t let it control you.

So, instead of resigning ourselves to it’s just part of our anatomy now and that’s that, how about these more workable reasons:

  • Reason 1: Your hips are subtly twisted or misaligned.
  • Reason 2: You’re overly dominant to one side.

Both these reasons could result in your discs or nerves being pissed off due to extra pressure on one side. Simply having a major imbalance in strength can trigger pain on the stronger or weaker side due to your spine being inadequately protected.

Yes, you could have a structural issue or internal damage, but you can’t change that. We now have two possible causes that we can be proactive about fixing. It has been estimated that up to 50% of 40-year-olds have “bulging discs” and feel no pain.2 Chances are that if you work on these imbalance issues you may get rid of your symptoms anyway, so why worry?

Super Secret Sciatica Tip 2: Getting stressed about things you can’t change just makes the pain worse.

How Do I Check For Imbalances?

First, stand up, put your feet together then close your eyes. Are you favoring one side? Do you find it easier to lean into one leg or one hip than the other?

It might be obvious, or quite subtle. Or potentially because you know you’re checking your balance you may subconsciously even yourself up, but you may find a shift to one side or the other.

Second, either in front of a mirror or record yourself on your phone, just move and down a few times to relax your body and hips… then stop and see where you stand. Does anything look off? Visually is one hip higher than the other? Or one side twisted more forward?

Both of these are “superficial” imbalances in the sense that you can easily fix them with some conscious movement. You can bring balance back into both legs or manually shift your hips so that they sit straight.

The challenge is getting your body to exist like that naturally. This is a relatively easy, albeit potentially slow, fix. The combination of good side stretches for your obliques and core activation drills like the Copenhagen plank are a fantastic way to correct posture quirks.

The next thing to check is your single leg balance—a much more significant marker of unequal strength and potentially the cause of the above imbalances.

Provided you aren’t currently in a lot of pain, stand on one leg. Then stand on the other. See how each side feels. Can you easily stand on one side for a minute, but the other you’re wobbling around and barely lasting 10 seconds?

If one side is performing significantly different from the other (note that the worse side won’t necessarily be the side of pain), then you are lacking a basic element of strength and stability which might not be the sole cause of your pain, but definitely won’t be helping.

Super Secret Sciatica Tip 3: Get excited when you find an imbalance or a “problem. This means you can actively work on fixing it!