If you feel that all too familiar shooting pain down the back of your leg, you probably have researched sciatica pain treatment.

I’ve worked with a number of clients who report sciatica pain and have found that the most common solution they hear is to stretch the hamstrings.

So you set out to stretch those “tight” hamstrings on a daily basis and the sciatica persists.  So what gives?

Causes of Sciatica Pain

There are multiple reasons why you might be experiencing sciatica pain.

  • Spinal Compression – This means that your vertebrae or SI joint has less space than normal.  Your joints will compress typically to make up for instability somewhere else in the body.  It’s a protective mechanism.  And if you’ve fallen on your bum a lot, you may have spinal compression that causing sciatica pain.
  • Pinched Nerve – When you think about a pinched nerve, you think that happens in the spine.  And it does.  But the nerve can also get “crushed” by muscles.  As you know, the sciatic nerve runs through your deep gluteal muscles, the hamstrings, and the calf.  If the nerve is irritated anywhere along that path, you could have sciatica symptoms.

There are other causes of sciatica as well, so it’s best to get checked by a chiropractor, physical therapist, or NKT practitioner (like me.)

Sciatica Pain Treatment

Because I’m the Uncool Trainer, I’m going to discuss a less common treatment for sciatica pain.  I’m going to tell you to stop stretching your hamstrings.  Wait, what?!  That’s so uncool!

I’m going to tell you to sit on a tennis ball.  More on that in a minute.

Those deep muscles that are underneath your glutes are all fighting for space in the pelvis.  It’s crowded in there.  And the sciatic nerve runs right by several of them: most notably, the piriformis and obturators.

sciatic nerve and surrounding muscles

Sciatic nerve

If the piriformis or obturators are overworking for your glute max or hamstrings, that irritation could be pressing on the sciatic nerve.

When big muscles, like the hamstrings, get weak and a little muscle like the piriformis has to pick up the slack, pain is not far behind.

This is also why you should not stretch your hamstrings.  If they’re weak and you constantly stretch them instead of strengthening them, they’ll stay weak.  The cycle of stretch to temporarily feel better will persist because the root cause is not addressed.

What you really need to stretch (aka, release) is the piriformis.  An easy way to do that (and release the obturators too) is to sit on a tennis ball for 1-2 mins.

I find sitting on a tennis ball is more effective than the typical Figure 4 stretch.  The tennis ball is more pin pointed.

Watch the video for placement.  If you put the ball under your sit bones, that’s right where the hamstrings attach.  And we’re trying to avoid releasing them.

Corrective Exercise

After releasing the deep muscles, you want to strengthen the hamstrings.  You can do this by lying on your stomach and bending the knee, bringing your heel towards your butt.  Repeat until the back of your thigh fatigues.

On a daily basis, sit on the tennis ball and immediately follow with a strengthening exercise for at least 2 weeks.

Remember…. this is one scenario of muscle imbalance.  So this approach may work if your other approaches are not providing lasting relief.