Sciatica pain can be close to paralyzing -- a numb, tingling, or burning sensation that runs down the back of your leg, calf and the soles of your feet.
The pain comes and goes unpredictably and any physical movement is extremely painful. Playing tennis under these conditions can become almost impossible.
The good news is that in reality, you could have a tight and overused piriformis muscle, which is very common among tennis players. Luckily, it is easy to correct.
Piriformis is the largest of the six hip muscles responsible for external rotation of the leg. If your leg is planted, the piriformis turns the body in the opposite direction, a movement that tennis players do repeatedly thousands of times.
An overused and tight piriformis muscle causes a lot of misery and pain in your sacrum, glutes, and hips. It will twist your sacrum a little bit, causing a short-leg syndrome that adds to the problem. It can also compress the sciatic nerve and as a result, causing you to experience "sciatica" pain.
Quick directional changes in tennis impose a high risk on your piriformis' well-being, especially if you are not well conditioned. Therefore, it is important to work on strengthening of your glutes and hips with squats, lunges, bridges, and deadlifts, accompanied by static stretching.
Prolonged inactivity or sitting puts the piriformis muscle in trouble. If you sit at work or school most of your day and then start sprinting around the tennis courts, you may be creating future problems. An overused, shortened, and sometimes even inflamed piriformis muscle contains painful trigger points that further inhibit proper function of the muscle.
To remain pain-free, you need to stretch the piriformis to its original length with the pigeon static stretch and external hip stretch. Additionally, you need to reach deeper into the muscle and eliminate the trigger points with self-myofascial release.
Piriformis Myofascial Release to Relieve Sciatica Pain
You can use a 6-inch, firm foam ball (a foam roller is OK, but doesn't do as good job), or a softball, or a lacrosse ball. A tennis ball is too soft and doesn't apply enough pressure.
- Sit down on the floor, bend your legs, and place your left foot on the top of your right knee.
- Place the foam ball under your left glute and tilt a little bit to the left toward the outside.
- Roll around slowly until you find a surprisingly tender trigger point. Stay on it and wiggle around a little bit while breathing deeply, until the pain goes away.
- Keep rolling the entire area to find and eliminate all the trigger points.
A regular self-myofascial release will be less painful over time and your sciatica problems will be gone almost immediately. For more intense sensation or to reach the deepest, stubborn trigger points, use a softball or lacrosse ball.
Keeping your piriformis healthy and free of trigger points, you will be able to train harder, more often and without pain. As a result, your tennis game will improve steadily.
Suzanna McGee is a former Ms. Natural Olympia bodybuilding champion, currently nationally ranked tennis player and athletic trainer with focus on sport conditioning and injury prevention. Her book Tennis Fitness for the Love of it: a Mindful Approach to Fitness for Injury-free Tennis will teach you the techniques that allow you to play pain-free tennis for the rest of your life. To learn more, visit TennisFitnessLove.com.