Hi, I’m a ballet dancer too and having huge trouble at the moment with bad sciatica pain. I’ve searched google for some advice but any exercises are for non-dancers or for people who do dance for fun. However ballet is my life and taking it easy is just not an option, which I’m sure you understand! It was reassuring to read that you have a similar problem to me and I wondered if you have any advice or exercises that could help? The pain gets worse with arabesques and back bends and working on turnout, but these are things that I have to keep working on! The pain gets better only when I take time off, but as you know these days we’re expected to be like contortionists so I really can’t give stretching a rest. However the pain is terrible and leaving me very miserable. I’d really, really appreciate any advice you have for relieving pain and also how to prevent it! I do pilates and I always warm up gently and slowly, but this doesn’t seem enough…
Hope to hear from you soon!
Thanks in advance,
Oh Kate – I know what you are going through. The pain associated with this type of injury can be unbearable at times. I thought the pain would never go away, but it has significantly subsided over the last couple of months. I still have it, but it does not get as inflamed as it used to. Thank you, Jesus.
The sciatic nerve is a big, nasty ropy nerve that runs down your butt and into your legs. Activity like working your turn out and stretching your hamstring muscles can cause inflammation in the surrounding ligaments and thereby irritate the sciatic nerve. Hence, why you have pain when you practice or stretch and have none when you rest. The only cure for sciatica when you are a dancer is not to dance. Not an option, so the question is what can you do to help alleviate the pain while continuing to pursue your passion? Here is what I did:
The pain got so bad I went and saw my doctor. I was terrified that he was going to tell me to stop dancing. Quite the contrary. He actually said, “Well, it hasn’t stopped you yet. Why would my advice change your activity now?” So right. My doctor wanted to do an MRI of my lumbar spine. I say (politely), “Hell-to-the-No”. Why? As an injury lawyer I know a lot about the costs of certain medical procedures and what happens after the MRI is administered. I’m sorry, but for $1,000 I just didn’t think it was going to tell me anything I didn’t already know. Then my doctor suggested physical therapy. I gave him another “no”. Why? Once again, cost and the fact that two of my husband’s best friends are physical therapists. I see one in particular all of the time and he already said he would give me exercises to do (which I will get to later). I asked him whether he could give me some cortisone to help with the inflammation (who is the doctor here?). I got one of those 7 day packs and I have to say it helped a lot. I think the inflammation was so bad that Advil was just not cutting it. So, I suggest that you contact your doctor and see if this is an option for you.
As for physical therapy, my husband’s friend stated that I may be having so much pain because my hamstring muscles and the muscles around my hip flexors are not as strong as they should be. He said the stronger your muscles are, the more control you have in your movement and the more protected your surrounding ligaments are and may prevent inflammation. Makes sense to me. He gave me a couple of exercises to do at home and, once again, I have definitely seen improvement. The exercises are as follows:
Tie the theraband to the bottom of a sturdy post. I usually use the bottom of my bed or the couch. Lie on your stomach in front of the post, wrap the theraband around your calf muscle and pull your leg towards you. Do you feel your hamstring working (not to mention your butt)?! You should! Here is a picture to illustrate this (I drew it myself!)
The next exercise is similar. Turn over onto your back and put the theraband on your knee. If the band is too high, it is going to roll down and that hurts! Now pull the knee to your chest. You should feel this in your hips and abs muscles. Then, try the same exercise but pull your knee to second position. Think Grand Battement, but with only your knee. DO YOU FEEL THAT NOW?! Holy crow. THEN try the same two movements together! Front to side, side to front (and so forth). Good stuff. Here is another picture!
If you are having pain when doing arabesques and back bends, you may need to work on your back muscles as well. The exercise I do to strengthen my back is lie on my stomach and while keeping my legs and hips to the floor, pull my chest up as far as I can. You can use your arms to push your back further. Hold the position for 60 seconds and then do it again. Make sure you are forcing your back muscles to hold the position (as opposed to your arms). I also grab my ankles and rock back and forth on my stomach. I can’t draw this one, but I think you understand what I am talking about.
Well, there you have it. Beyond sitting/sleeping on ice packs and taking Advil (which I also suggest your do) this is what I did to finally address my ass pain, I mean, sciatica. I really hope this helps, Kate.
Remember, I am not a doctor. These are just of the things I did to help my pain. If your pain does not resolve within a month or two, go see a doctor. OK?