Sciatica Flare Ups, Causes, Symptoms (And How To Deal!)


Oh, Sciatica – you strike with the subtlety of a lightning bolt, and we wish you’d return and remain with Thor or Zeus - or whoever dispatched you!


Hold up, folks. Sciatica isn't some mystery force that randomly happens; there are actually three very specific causes! Allow us to shed some light on things so that you feel less anxious, more empowered, and prepared to feel better faster.

Understanding Sciatica: It’s A Nerve Issue

Sciatic Nerve

The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in your body. It stems from your spinal cord in your low back and runs down through each leg to supply them with the motor neurons needed to bend your knees and wiggle your toes. It also allows you to feel things on the skin of your foot and lower leg. 


Sciatica pain is like a signal flare - it’s a signal that something's not quite right in the nerve department.

Symptoms Of Sciatica

  • Pain: typically a burning or electric shock sensation that shoots or radiates down one leg. You’ll most commonly feel this when you cough, sneeze, bend or lift your legs upward when lying on your back.
  • Tingling or “pins and needles” (paresthesia): similar to the feeling you get when your leg falls asleep.
  • Numbness: you can’t feel sensations on your skin in areas of your back or leg. This happens because signals from your back or leg are having trouble getting up to your brain.
  • Muscle weakness: a more severe symptom that means your muscle command signals aren’t getting to their destinations in your back or legs.
  • Loss of control of your bladder and/or bowels (when you don’t have an obvious stomach bug): this is a very severe symptom. It means signals that control your bladder and bowels aren’t reaching their destinations at all.

Primary Causes of Sciatica Pain

Pseudo Sciatica or Sciatica?
  • Herniated Discs: Your spinal discs are like jelly-filled donuts that act as cushions between your vertebrae. An aligned spine will allow the pressure on these discs to be evenly distributed so all is right in their world. However, when your spine is in an overly flexed (rounded) position, it puts a ton of pressure on only one side of the disc. This makes it bulge (herniation) out the opposite side. That bulge then presses on the sciatic nerve and…. ZING! You get lightning down the leg. 
  • Spinal Stenosis: This is when the spinal canal narrows, leading to increased pressure on the sciatic nerve. Aging, excess weight, past injury or surgeries to a joint, and misaligned joints can all contribute to this.
  • Piriformis Syndrome: True sciatica originates at the lumbar nerve root. However, because these tissues are all so snuggly within the space of the hip socket, a tight piriformis muscle can squeeze the sciatic nerve like a Boa Constrictor. The pain from this can mimic sciatica 🤯. New research also suggests that an overly developed piriformis muscle can crowd the space it has in the hip socket, leading to the same effect.
  • SI Joint DysfunctionDetermining the source of pain in the low back and hip can be challenging because the entire pelvic girdle houses a lot of tightly integrated and interconnected tissues. Herniated/bulging discs, sciatica, SI joint pain, and piriformis syndrome can all share symptoms.

What Causes A Sciatica Flare Up?

We’ve covered the root causes of sciatic pain, but if you’ve experienced it, you know that it can come and go - seemingly at random. These things can trigger a sciatica flare up:

  1. Muscle Strain or Overuse: When you strain the muscles in your low back and glute region, it can lead to inflammation. This really irritates the sciatic nerve. Zing Zing futhermucker.
  2. Prolonged Sitting: Sitting for long periods, especially with poor posture, can compress the sciatic nerve and lead to pain. Aim to change your positions throughout the day. Variety is the spice of life.
  3. Obesity: Excess body weight can put additional stress on the spine and nerve roots, increasing the risk of sciatica.
  4. Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage.
  5. Sudden or awkward movements: these are usually done without a lot of body awareness or control. If you’re training your body with good form, you can likely handle these random acts of awkwardness. 
  6. Heavy or improper lifting techniques: We love heavy lifting, but if you load up beyond what your body is prepared for and form suffers, you’re going to have a problem, Houston.
  7. High-impact activities like running or jumping: Again, we love movement, but if your body isn’t training for stability, strength, and alignment, you’ve got a higher likelihood of triggering the sciatica nerve.

Our Approach: Fix Yo Sh*t and Find Relief from Sciatica Pain

We know sciatica pain can be scary, but you don’t need to be afraid of it. Remember, it’s a signal! Listening to it when it’s talking to you quietly is always best, but no matter where you are on the pain scale, you can do something about it!

Instead of slapping a bandaid on your sciatica symptoms, address the root cause. Strengthen your muscles, improve your spinal alignment (including when you sleep!) and enhance your movement mechanics for a healthier and happier body.

Three Exercises To Help Relieve Sciatica Pain: No Equipment Required

Since a major cause of sciatica is misalignment in the spine, one of the best things you can do is to strengthen your body into better alignment. However, we hear some of you asking, "What can I do to relieve my pain now?"

1. Supine Leg Over

Showing Supine Leg Over Stretch

Dr. Mike says this is “the best release movement of the lower back” he knows! Here’s the “how to”:

  • Step 1: Start by laying on your back. 
  • Step 2: Bend your right knee and grasp it with your left hand.
  • Step 3: Keeping your right knee bent and shoulders on the ground, cross the right knee over the body toward the floor. You can keep the left leg straight or you can hook your right foot behind your left knee as shown in the above picture.
  • Step 4: Reach your right arm out to the side and turn your head toward to face it.

Aim for 5 repetitions on each side, holding the position for 30 seconds each and remembering to breathe.

2. Pelvic Tilts

Showing Pelvic Tilt Setup Position

Being able to fully flex and extend your lower back is essential for maintaining your range of motion. Once you’re familiar with your body’s end ranges, you can use joint centration to find your aligned “middle space” between the extremes. 

This is always a good “go to” exercise when experiencing a pain flare up in the low back. Work within your pain free range of motion.

  •  Step 1: Set up on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Knees should be stacked under hips and wrists under shoulders. You can remain here or, if you find it difficult to keep the upper spine still, you can lower yourself down to your elbows.
  • Step 2: Gently brace your core. Now imagine a metal rod running through your hips from one side to another, pinning your pelvis in place. This is an isolation exercise. Slowly ‘swivel’ your pelvis around that imaginary rod, tucking your pelvis under as much as you can without moving the rest of your torso at all. You should feel a contraction in the lower abdominals. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds.
  • Step 3: Now slowly swivel the pelvis the other direction. It’s very important to keep the mid and upper back completely still so the movement is isolated to the pelvis only. You should feel a contraction in the low back muscles. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds. Repeat this cycle 10 times.

Tip: You can also do these lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor.

3. Figure 4 Glute/Piriformis Stretch

Stretches aren’t technically “exercises'', but can still offer temporary relief. This one will help relax the piriformis muscle and the muscles in the low back. If you lack flexibility, you may need to modify this slightly. Look to feel this in the glute area.

  • Step 1: Lie on your back with legs bent. Raise your right ankle, and rest it on your left quad just above your knee. 
  • Step 2: Using both hands, lace your fingers behind your left thigh and gently pull it toward you, keeping your head and back on the floor.
  • Step 3: Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Remember to breathe, which will help your muscles relax.
  • Step 4: Repeat with the other leg. Do 2 to 3 repetitions with each leg.

If you can't reach your thigh easily, you can loop a towel around the thigh and use it to pull your thigh toward you.

Things To Avoid With Sciatica

  • Sitting for long periods of time with no breaks (or sitting for long periods of time at all).
  • Lifting weights or high intensity movement with poor form and little to no warm up.
  • Worrying about it - that just creates more stress which is counterproductive.
  • Rounding your back every time you bend over. Learn to hip hinge and squat well!
  • Lying in bed all day. Quality movement is medicine.

Ways the MoveU Programs Help You Get Rid of Sciatica

Showing Bird Dog Exercise
  • Helps You Learn Proper Muscle Activation: Strong, active muscles provide support to your bones and joints. Some of your muscles are ‘sleeping’ due to lack of use and demand. We help you wake them up - which helps you have more awareness and control over your body - and ultimately your pain. 
  • Teaches You Posture Correction: Good posture is a game-changer for your spine. Becoming aware and then being able to correct your posture throughout the day as needed can do wonders in preventing sciatica woes.

Understanding sciatica is the first step to conquering it. More education, exercises, and coaching can all be found in the MoveU Membership. Embrace the Fix Yo Sh*t mindset and take control of your body. Let's leave the lightning bolts for the gods of the land of ice and snow.

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