Sciatica Pain in the Feet
Whenever we experience foot pain, we typically associate the pain with external factors, such as unsupportive footwear, repetitive stress and overuse; and problems with the foot itself. Little that we know, foot pain can also result from issues involving different parts of the body, including sciatica — a condition that originates in the lower spine and travels down the lengths of your legs to your feet.
What is Sciatica Pain
Sciatica, also called lumbar radiculopathy, is a painful condition that occurs when the sciatic nerve is impinged or compressed. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It runs from both sides of the lower backbone, to the buttocks, and all the way down to both legs and feet. This is why sciatic nerve pain can occur at any point where the nerve is located, including the feet.
Causes of Sciatica
Compressed nerves are the main cause of sciatic pain. The pressure on the nerve results in pain that seems to radiate from the lower back through the legs, and finally ending in your foot.
Lower back conditions that may contribute to sciatic nerve pain include:
Herniated Lumbar Disc. Between each vertebral body is a cushion called an intervertebral disc. This is responsible for the flexibility and stability of the spine. A herniated disc occurs when the disc's inner core is pushed out or leaks through its outer core.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. Lumbar stenosis refers to a condition where the spinal nerve roots are compressed due to the narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Spondylolisthesis happens when one of the bones in your spine, known as a vertebra, slips out of position.
Symptoms of Sciatica
Sciatica often affects only one side of the body. The symptoms may be persistent and get worse over time, or they can be intermittent.
Symptoms of sciatica include:
- Radiating pain down the hip and leg
- Pins and needles sensation
- Discomfort in the leg and buttocks
- Leg numbness and muscle weakness
- Sudden shooting pain in the leg
If you are experiencing all of these symptoms, and pain extends from your buttocks to your feet and toes, you're more likely to have a pinched sciatic nerve. Sciatica may also lead to specific foot issues, such as:
- Heaviness or weakness in the feet (foot drop)
- Difficulty when raising the foot (heel walk)
- Difficulty when walking on tiptoes
How is Sciatica Treated
Sciatic nerve pain treatment involves both nonsurgical and surgical options. The majority of sciatica cases resolves within a few weeks of physical therapy and self-help measures such as bed rest, over-the-counter painkillers, hot or cold packs, and stretching exercises.
Exercises and Stretches
Here's a number of sciatic nerve pain exercises that you can try to help you find relief and comfort.
Reclining Pigeon Pose
- While on your back, bring your right leg up to a right angle. Clasp both hands behind the thigh, locking your fingers.
- Lift your left leg and place your right ankle on top of the left knee.
- Hold the position for a minimum of 30 seconds.
- Do the same exercise with the other leg.
Single Knee-to-Chest Stretch
- While lying on your back, place your hand behind one knee and gently pull it towards your chest.
- A comfortable stretch should be felt in the lower back and buttock.
- Hold the stretch for 5 to 10 seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your other leg. Aim to complete 4 to 6 repetitions of this exercise on each leg.
Sciatic Nerve Glide Exercise
- Sit upright on a chair and straighten one knee while keeping your other foot flat on the floor.
- Slowly bend your ankle so that your toes are pointing towards you.
- Continue to bend your ankle back and forth, pointing your toes away from you and then toward you.
- As tolerated, to put more tension on the sciatic nerve, try the same nerve glide with your head bent forward, bringing your chin toward your chest.
- Pump your ankle up and down 15 to 20 times and then repeat the exercise with your other leg.
- Aim to complete 3 rounds for each leg, twice a day.
If despite all efforts with conservative treatment, your pain becomes progressively worse, or if there is a loss of sensation in the affected legs, or loss of bowel or bladder control, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Surgery may be an effective way to eliminate pain and restore function.
DeNiel Foot and Ankle Center is a foot and ankle clinic in Houston, Texas, that serves the surrounding communities of Cypress and Katy. Ejodamen Shobowale, DPM and her highly trained staff provide individualized, comprehensive care for all of your podiatry and sports medicine needs. Dr. Sho, as she is affectionately known, can get you back on your feet in no time, whether the condition is foot-related like hammertoes or toenail fungus, or involves discomfort in the heel, nerves, or joints.