A Bout with Sciatic Pain

Pain in the a$$ is never fun. Especially for a cyclist and/or triathlete. We spend countless hours “sitting”. What makes matters worse is that it is not just on the bike, but at home, at work, in the car, in bed, etc. Therefore, when there is discomfort, especially shooting pain, it is troublesome. (Now, I am not a doctor, nor should you use this as doctor’s advice) This entry is about my mild bout with sciatic pain.

Last year I was training for my first 70.3 Ironman event taking place in September 2010 (sorry, I have to scratch out the Ironman because I haven’t done a 140.6 yet.) I had accomplished a few shorter distances and had my eyes set on the next step. Little did I know that I was going to totally revamp my work-out routine.

I was a mountain biker turned cyclist and have raced road bikes for eight years now. I have a very strong cycling background. However, I was nuked by the triathlon bug and have been doing that for the past two and a half years (that story at another time). When I first started my triathlon training, I was working out once a day, but upon discussing with one of my riding buddies/former teammates/peer/IM junkie, I soon realized, high school two-a-days were making a come back (May 2010). (Sorry, LL Cool J (first :13 sec are all you need)). It was (and, is still at times) rough adapting to the lifestyle change. I had started practicing yoga earlier in February to help nimble up my hips and legs. I had received my wake up call that the 10s of 1000s of miles I have done on my bike, strictly as a cyclist, had made me rather tight.

Jump ahead a few months to the end of July / beginning of August. I started riding my road bike in my aero-dynamic position with clip-on aero-bars (pre-TT bike). As I started ramping up my mileage, I began noticing a pain in my lower back / upper glute muscles. When ever I shifted in my saddle or lowered into my aero-position, I had a shooting pain. At work, sitting in my chair was painful at times when I shifted into certain positions.

So, now that you have a little background information, I wanted to reference the article that inspired me to write this post. From Triathlete Magazine’s May 2011 issue, page 36. What is Sciatic Pain? To quote a couple sections:

Sciatica, or sciatic pain, refers to an irritation of the sciatic nerve. The nerve is large and rope-like and is made up of several nerve roots that exit from the lumbar segments of the spinal cord…
pain comes from two locations: the spine (discogenic pain) or the hip (piriformis syndrome).

What are the symptoms?

Discogenic: Pain is felt all the way down to the foot, especially if the individual bends forward. It is the harder to treat of the two and requires “some combination of medication, physical therapy and sometimes and injection of cortisone”. Riders feel this the most when moving into the aero-position. As I write this, I am so glad my pain was very localized.
Piriformis: Pain emanates from muscles deep in your buttocks that pinch nerves as it passes through. The symptoms are typically pin-pointed to one side and remain centralized.

The last thing I needed or wanted was an injury keeping me from completing the Augusta 70.3. My best friend, who was doing the race with me, was in law school at the time so we were keeping each other motivated via “training phone calls” and the last thing I wanted was to not be able to compete because of pain.

The Cause

So, my tight cycling hips and riding too many miles too fast in the aero-position caused some rather unpleasant pains.

The Fix

How did I go about fixing it? I was icing a lot. Continued to ride, but reduced my duration and frequency a little bit. I amped up my yoga time. I needed to further stretch out my hips and overall body. (If you don’t have time to go to a studio, here’s a great at home yoga DVD from Endurance Films & Sage Rountree) Finally, I started popping some ibuprofen. Upon doing utilizing this trifecta of resources, I was “back to normal” within a couple weeks.

Every triathlete at one time or another, bites off more than they can chew. I was confident *cough* delusional *cough* that due to my great cycling background I could immediately start cranking out time in the TT position while also adding two-a-day workouts, I was wrong. The adaption period to this lifestyle takes a lot of time. Fortunately for me, my issue had a “quick fix” that did not drastically delay my workouts. I completed the Augusta 70.3 without any pain from the nerve.

Have you ever dealt with sciatic pain before? Discogenic or piriformis? How long were you sidelined for?