Practicing martial arts over a long period of time can put pressure on the spine because of the nature of the activity. Damage and stress to the spine can occur not just from strikes and tumbles, but also from repetitive twisting motions, kicking and punching heavy bags, and jumping.
All of these factors can put enormous stress on the lower back, the L5 vertebrae in particular. This is the lowest vetebrae in the spinal column, so it bears the most burden, both from twisting motions and from impact to the spine.
This is also the area of the spine where the sciatic nerve joins the spinal nerves that run from the brain to the spine. The sciatic nerve runs from the base of the spine to the feet, and is the longest nerve in the body.
Irritation of the sciatic nerve and the resulting pain and numbness is known as Sciatica.
What are the symptoms of Sciatica?
Although the irritation or damage to the nerve originates in the lower spine, the effects are felt in the buttocks, hips, legs, and feet. There may be pain in the buttocks and hips, making walking difficult and painful, muscle spasms in the legs, or numbness in the feet.
How should a martial artist curtail their training when experiencing sciatic pain?
Most episodes of Sciatica are of short duration. A few days rest will usually be sufficient, then lighter low impact training can resume. Either periodic heat or icing can be used for muscle spasms caused by sciatic nerve irritation.
It's best to resume physical activity after a few days even if some residual pain is present. This will prevent muscle stiffness and further irritation of the sciatic nerve as well as release endorphins, nature's painkillers released by the brain through physical activity.
Of course, if the pain is severe and doesn't subside in a few days, the martial artist should seek medical attention.
How can chiropractic care help to prevent irritation of the sciatic nerve and the resulting pain and discomfort?
Sciatica occurs because the vertebra become misaligned. This may happen because of a sudden impact from being struck in the spine or thrown to the floor, or it could just be a cumulative effect of many small stresses to the lower back.
A chiropractor can determine if your vertebra are out of alignment and use manual manipulation to realign the vertebra, relieving the pressure on the sciatic nerve and allowing the spinal nerves to transmit nerve impulses to all areas of the body.
This helps the body to better realize its full potential for healing and overall better health.
If you continue to train in martial arts, it's always a good idea to visit a chiropractor before pain occurs. It's best to get a spinal tuneup and avoid the pain than go in for a repair job after the damage is done.
This is especially true for older practitioners of martial arts, who are more likely to suffer from the cumulative effects of training over a period of years. However, sciatic pain can happen at any age for those who engage in high impact activities.