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Hiking with sciatica - 4 tips on how to deal with it

29th January 2021 - 3 minute read
Five years ago, I had a bad hip injury while practicing Muay Thai in Thailand which left me with persistant sciatica in my left leg. Although it has never gone away, the symptoms have improved and I've become a lot better at managing them. In this article, I'll share with you my top four tips to manage sciatica when hiking.

1) Take a lacrosse ball for myofascial release

This is one of my favourite tools in dealing with sciatica (and for wellbeing in general). Myofascial release works by pressing the ball into a muscle, for example your glute and applying pressure for 10-60 seconds. The idea is that this pressure literally loosens up the muscle fibers that you are pressing on, which can provide you with a lot of relief in that muscle. You can watch a tutorial here.
When on the trail, I like to start my morning by releasing my glutes, my hamstrings and my hip flexors as those areas all get tight for me. It takes me about 10 minutes in total and this relieves pressure from my lower back and reduces the symptoms of my sciatica throughout the day. If I feel especially tight during the day, I'll get my ball out and just do it again.

2) Improve your core strength

One of the best ways that I've been able to manage my sciatica is by improving my core strength. Sciatica is just a symptom and there are various issues which can cause it. However, I think that improving core strength is beneficial for all types of people suffering from sciatica.
There are many different ways to improve your core strength but when researching, make sure to focus on core strength as opposed to getting abs - they are two very different goals. This programme has a great plan for improving core strength which you can look at as an example.

3) Don't just eat crappy food

When on a multi-day hike, it's tempting to eat crappy food because it's usually abundant and your body craves the calories. For me, too much crappy food can make my sciatica worse. This makes sense - crappy food has been proven to cause inflammation in the body. Bad news for sciatica sufferers.
When on the trail, I try to eat as much whole foods as possible. Things like oat cakes, cheese, dried meat, lentils, soy protein, eggs, avacadoes and any fresh fruit/veg that I find on the way. What you eat will of course vary depending on where you're hiking and what your budget is. Generally speaking though, if you make a concious effort to eat better, you probably will.

4) Go lightweight

Lightweight backpacking is very popular on the internet - The Reddit sub has 290k subscribers at the time of writing - and it's something that us sciatica sufferers should take advantage of.
I believe that the overall philosophy of lightweight backpacking is that you should take only as much as you really need. By taking a very critical look at what you pack, you can really reduce the amount of things you take. Alongside this, there may be lighter alternatives to your gear that you can take. These choices will leave you with a light pack which will in turn relieve some stress from your lower body and back.
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