Sciatica causes pain to radiate down the sciatic nerve, whether it be a mild weakness in the buttocks or leg, or a more intense pain felt all the way down the leg. Either way, the feeling can be exacerbated by exertion such as walking, or it may come on when sitting or standing in a certain position, says Rod Dunn, Ph.D., of the Sciatica Clinic. But several other conditions cause similar pain, so seek medical assistance for a proper diagnosis.
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If you suffer lower back pain, but not pain in the thigh, you might have pseudo-sciatica – that is, pain referred from the smallest of the gluteal muscles: the gluteus minimus, says Dunn. Walking too far or too fast can trigger pseudo-sciatica, as can an imbalanced gait caused by walking over uneven ground or painful blisters or other injuries.
Lying deep in the buttocks, the piriformis muscle allows the hip to rotate outward and controls how far the hips move inward when walking. Sustained tension can exacerbate sciatica or damage the SI joint, which lies between the spine and the pelvis. As it has similar symptoms to a herniated disk, it is important to correctly diagnose piriformis syndrome so as to avoid unnecessary surgery, says Dunn.
The powerful iliopsoas muscle is what enables the hip to move, but only athletes usually suffer tension here, as the muscle lies so deep. Nevertheless, symptoms are similar to those of sciatica. Those who practice long-distance running – especially hill running – are more likely to suffer hamstring syndrome, or tendonitis, than walkers, according to the Pain Clinic website, but the symptoms are similar to sciatica. Tendonitis is typified by pain at the front of the sitting bone.
How to Avoid
Although no one knows the exact cause of sciatica or related conditions, you can lower your risk of suffering by strengthening your core. Rod Dunn suggests you lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Slowly tip your pelvis toward your belly button, flattening your back, and loosening the curve in your lower back. You will notice your abdominals have contracted and your tailbone has lifted from the floor.
Arch your lower back so your stomach sticks out. Examine these two extremes, and then find somewhere between the two. This is your neutral position. From neutral, inhale deeply and relax your abdomen. Exhale and draw in your belly button. Hold for 10 seconds then release and repeat 10 times. If you continue to suffer pain when walking, speak to a doctor.