October 24, 2011

Is Sciatica Hurting Your Game?

What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a general term for pain radiating along the course of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body (as big around as the pinky finger) and supplies nerve input to the back of the thigh and the entire leg below the knee.

Sciatica is a general description of the pain, not a diagnosis. It usually begins in the lower back or buttocks, and radiates down the posterior thigh to the knee or foot.

Sciatica is often divided into “true sciatica” and “false sciatica”. “True Sciatica” refers to injury to the nerve roots that make up the nerve itself, usually due to sudden trauma. “False sciatica” is due to something external to the nerve, causing irritation to it as it courses down the leg.

A common cause is strain of the piriformis muscle called “Piriformis Syndrome.”


The piriformis muscle crosses both sacroiliac and hip joints. It is one of a group of muscles called the deep lateral rotators because they help laterally or externally rotate the hip. The piriformis muscle lies overtop the sciatic nerve while the others lie below the nerve. Irritation to the piriformis muscle can cause it to clamp down on the sciatic nerve, creating pain along the distribution of the sciatic nerve (false sciatica).

During the backswing, internal rotation of your back leg/hip causes a quick stretch on the piriformis; which you then quickly tighten as you start moving your hips forward in the forward swing phase. This quick contraction as the muscle lengthens towards the top of your backswing places heavy loads on the muscle, which can cause damage and irritation. This is compounded if there is gluteal (butt muscle) weakness on the back leg, for which the piriformis must compensate as well.

This stretching/quick contraction also occurs in the lead leg as you stop your hips short to create a whipping action in your shoulder/arm complex. As your hips come through the front leg is internally rotated, then quickly stopped.

The internal rotation places a stretch on the piriformis, which then contracts to bring a quick halt to the hips. Weakness and fatigue in this area will cause you to loose club head speed. These motions can create “piriformis syndrome”, a cause of sciatica or radiating leg pain.

What to do?
Stretching the piriformis is easy and can be done while sitting in your desk chair. Simply cross the ankle of the affected side over the opposite knee, sit up straight, and bend forward at the waist keeping your head up/back straight.

The stretch you feel in your buttocks is your piriformis muscle. This stretch, like all stretches, should be held for 20-30 seconds, and if performed while sitting throughout your workday, should reduce your discomfort. It can also be performed in the cart or on benches while waiting to tee off.

If continued play causes the leg pain to radiate further down the leg, or if you begin to experience it even while playing, a visit to a qualified medical professional is recommended.


Contributed by ActiveCare Chiropractic and Rehab

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