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Driver Lifestyles

Sciatica Prevention and Releif

By Gary Addis
Posted Dec 13th 2011 5:01AM

If the inside of your cab is anything like the inside of the trucks my wife and I drove for 23 years, there is never enough space.  The top bunk in most team trucks becomes a storage shelf; crisscrossed Bungee cords transform the shelf into a cabinet.  Driver, whatever would truckers do without Bungee cords, Velcro strips and duct tape!  But, uh, what happens when one end of the cabinet "door" escapes its tether?  Like the elastic band it is, that Bungee cord is going to retract to its packaged size, and things are gonna practically leap off the bunk.

Near the tendinous attachment of every muscle of every living thing is a group of nerve receptors called the golgi tendon organ.  When this bundle of specialized nerves senses that one of your muscles is being stressed almost to the breaking point, it will block signal to the motor nerves that power the muscle, in effect saying, "Driver, this far and no more."  Ideally, the entire muscle will relax when you give up the stressful effort.  Ideally, but not always.  Sometimes, the system malfunctions, and a few motor neurons within a strand of muscle doesn't receive the command to relax.  This knot of taut tissue is what medical practitioners call a trigger point.  Because the muscle can't relax, it can't receive oxygen or nutrients.  It can, however, still let the body know that it is hungry.  This asking for attention is what we call pain.  

Sometimes, the request is a whisper...a nagging ache, an aggravation you've lived with for years.  Sometimes, the demand is a scream of agony, as intense as a bee sting or a toothache that will not be ignored.  

Sciatica, pain that radiates down the leg into the feet, can be a combination of the two.  Too often, it feels like pins and needles prickling your calves or toes; at other times, the pain is a knife stabbing your hip or thigh or calf every time you lift your foot off the accelerator.  You intend to have it taken care of someday, when you have more free time...when you're a few hundred dollars ahead of your bills...when you can afford to take a few weeks off.

However, all sciatica isn't created equal.  Axial sciatica arises from compression of the sciatic nerve before it leaves the spinal column; appendicular sciatica is pain caused by nerve entrapment by muscles deep in the posterior hip or the posterior thigh.  

Chiropractic manipulation of the offending vertebrae can often eliminate the need for back surgery-- in fact, surgery isn't required in 95% of cases.  And a single session with a massage therapist will usually relax the hyper-tense muscle responsible for compression of the nerve.
   
ASSESSMENT TESTS
    
Straight Leg Test
The Straight Leg Test (SLT) is a reliable method for identifying lumbar spine compression of the nerve root, and determining whether the sufferer should visit a specialist.  

Here's how it is done.  Sit on the edge of a chair.  With the knee extended, lift the foot off the floor.  The test is considered positive, but not definitive, for lumbar spine nerve impingement if:
1.    Sciatic pain is reproduced between 30° and 70° of hip flexion.
2.    Pain worsens with ankle dorsiflexion (i.e., toes are brought toward the body), slumping of the spine, or dropping the head toward the chest.
3.    Pain is relieved by bringing the knee toward the chest.
    
Piriformis Test
Regardless of the result of the SLT, you'll want to check for muscle impingement of the nerve.

While still seated, pull the knee of the affected leg to your chest, and across the body to the opposite side.  Pain during this hip flexion, and adduction of the knee indicates that the sciatic nerve is being compressed by one or more of the six adductor muscles of the hip.  The most likely culprit is the piriformis.      

TREATMENT OPTIONS

As previously mentioned, if the result of the SLT is positive you should be evaluated by a chiropractor or a neurologist.  If, however, the SLT is negative for axial sciatica and the Piriformis Test is positive for appendicular sciatica, self-treatment might provide significant relief.  

To Treat the Piriformis
The piriformis originates on the sacrum and attaches on the femur, making it roughly 3-4" long.  In about 25% of the population, the sciatic nerve passes through the piriformis on its way into the leg; in everybody else, the nerve passes beneath the piriformis.  When overstretched or overstressed, the muscle can develop one or more of the aforementioned trigger points and become hyper-tense; it can compress the sciatic nerve and interfere with nerve conduction and create the sometimes debilitating and sometimes merely aggravating, persistent pain of sciatica.

To self-treat piriformis entrapment of the sciatic nerve, carry either a golf ball or a tennis ball (a golf ball, being harder and smaller, is preferable) in your shower bag.  While taking a shower, lie on the floor with the ball positioned in the middle of the gluteus maximus (your butt) of your affected leg, and roll around on it.  When you find a tender spot, press into the ball and maintain the pressure until the spot is no longer tender.  Now roll the ball around until you find another tender spot-- if there's one piriformis trigger point, there'll be at least one more, one close to the sacrum (the broad, flat bone in the middle of your butt), and two near the big bone in the thigh.  Driver, it is important that you remember this: to achieve relief, you must maintain the slightly painful pressure on the tender spots until they are no longer even slightly tender, which can take anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or so.
    
A BETTER CHOICE

Rather than lying down on the cold, wet, hard floor of a truckstop shower, take your muscular aches and pains to a professional...to a board-certified, fully licensed massage therapist.  You needn't suffer till you're home for your days off.  To find a qualified therapist wherever you are presently located, click on this link:
www.amtamassage.org/findamassage/index.html

While you're in a clicking mood, please visit my website, at www.garyaddis.massagetherapy.com, and stay awhile.  Browse the pages, and discover the benefits of therapeutic massage.

PREVENTION

As with all illnesses, treatment plays second fiddle to prevention.  You prevent colds by keeping your hands clean, by eating more of the right kinds of foods and less of the bad, by not allowing your body to become run down.  You prevent sciatica, which tends to restrict your movements, by moving more.    

The sciatic nerve passes through your posterior hip.  That sitting for long periods on your tush is bad for you is a fact attested to by desk jockeys and truck jockeys the world over.  Wrap your right hand around your left wrist, and squeeze.  Within a minute or two both of your hands will begin to complain (both, because both are being compressed).  You can't sit on your hands and drive your truck, obviously.  But the big, round thing that holds up your pants in the rear and provides you with a soft cushion upon which to sit is also living tissue.  

Prolonged compression of your wrist cuts off nerve and nutrients to your hand.  Likewise, as anyone who has ever been wheelchair bound for longer than a day can attest, prolonged sitting seriously interferes with blood flow into your legs and feet.  There's a lot of padding back there.  So, you can drive ten-hour stretches for days, months, and years without noticeable harmful effect.  

Then one day you notice a little pinprick tingle in your lower body. You've noticed it before, certainly.  But, before, a wiggle, an adjustment of your seated position, and it went away.  This time, it doesn't.  Over the next weeks and months, the tingle gradually increases in intensity; it doesn't go away even when you're lying down and trying to sleep.  

If you aren't experiencing sciatica yet, driver, it is a virtual certainty that it is in your future.  So, how can you prevent it from occurring?  You prevent colds by avoiding exposure; you prevent hypertonicity that limits the free flow of oxygenated blood into your bottom by getting off it.  You can't stop on freeway shoulders for ten minutes of every hour.  You can, however, invest a few minutes in your health when you do park for any length of time.  IOW, driver, get of your butt, get out of your truck, and walk.  Walking is a great exercise.  A few minutes of Army basic training calisthenics is better, but, seriously, how many drivers have you noticed doing jumping jacks in truckstops?

Instead, use your imagination.  If bringing your knee to your chest or bending over to tie your shoelaces painfully stretches your hamstrings and hips, then, driver, you need to stretch every day at least to the point of pain (and if you can stand it, slightly beyond the onset of pain).

Stretch tight muscles, driver.  Stretch your shoulders in doorways, stretch your legs and hips by bending over to touch your toes, stretch your forearm muscles and your wrists and fingers.  Stretch and strengthen the piriformis muscle by extending your leg out to the side, as wide as possible several times per week.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned the indispensable Bungee cord.  You've seen those exercise bands sold on TV, right?  Yep, you guessed it: they're Bungee cords...considerably weaker than those you are used to.  Be inventive.  Tie knots in longer cords, hook one end in a crevice, hook the other over a short stick-- you've just made yourself a nifty exercise device.  Do some biceps curls, some knee extension-- be creative.  

The important thing, driver, is that you get off your buns and MOVE.  And keep this in mind.  If you always stop after doing five push-ups, the sixth one will always be killer-difficult; but when you can do ten, you'll perform the sixth with ease.  

You'll own several trucks and cars in your lifetime.  You can't trade your body in for a newer model: you must take care of the one you've got.

4 Comments

  • - February 1, 2012
    Jim-=|=-At 73yrs old I act and feel 15 yrs younger than a lot of guys I see out there for exactly the reasons mentioned above,stretching,walking and jogging.A body in motion.....(You know the term)
    Jim
  • - February 1, 2012
    Jim-=|=-At 73yrs old I act and feel 15 yrs younger than a lot of guys I see out there for exactly the reasons mentioned above,stretching,walking and jogging.A body in motion.....(You know the term)
    Jim
  • - March 2, 2012
    alex-=|=-Well Mr. Addis,
    As a recent back surgery patient, and an orthopedic surgery poster child; I welcome the golf ball trick! I will deffinately try it!
    Your other advise is right on! I hear similar instructions from my physician and physical therepist!
    Hopefully someone else who suffers from all of this will heed your advice!!
    Jesus loves you bro!!
  • - March 2, 2012
    alex-=|=-Well Mr. Addis,
    As a recent back surgery patient, and an orthopedic surgery poster child; I welcome the golf ball trick! I will deffinately try it!
    Your other advise is right on! I hear similar instructions from my physician and physical therepist!
    Hopefully someone else who suffers from all of this will heed your advice!!
    Jesus loves you bro!!

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