The Link Between Fibromyalgia and Sciatica Pain (And How Fascial Counterstrain Can Help You Find Relief)

by | Oct 18, 2021 | Physical Therapy

Fibromyalgia and sciatica pain often occur together. While one condition doesn’t necessarily cause the other, they require different treatment plans and options that may at first seem to conflict with one another. Those with Fibromyalgia may find it beneficial to learn about conditions that often accompany their illness, especially if they experience severe pain in the hip, backside, and leg area — symptoms commonly associated with ‘sciatica.’ I will address a physical therapy technique, known as Fascial Counterstrain, that can successfully treat both conditions.

Fibromyalgia vs. Sciatica Pain

If you live with Fibromyalgia, you are familiar with the widespread joint and muscle pain, the incredible fatigue, and the memory and sleep issues. These individuals tend to live with chronic pain for many years, impacting their quality of life. The activities they used to love are often no longer within their grasp.

While medications can help with pain relief, they do not address the symptoms in the long run. The presence of pain, regardless of diagnosis, always impacts and alters motor control or how the nervous system activates our muscles for movement and function. Usually, there is a balance between the large and small muscles surrounding a joint that allows for both support and high-quality movement. 

Fibromyalgia pain changes the muscle firing pattern at the hip joint, shutting down or inhibiting the typically dominant large muscles, especially the gluteal muscles. This change shifts the muscle dominance and function to the smaller or stabilizing hip rotator cuff muscles.

One such small muscle is called the piriformis muscle. The smaller hip rotator cuff muscles, whose initial job was to provide stability to the hip joint, must also be responsible as the prime extension mover of the hip joint. Over time, the prolonged increased muscle activation causes the muscle to become tight. It creates dysfunctional muscle imbalance around the hip joint, known in the medical community as the Piriformis Syndrome. Piriformis Syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle compresses or pinches your sciatic nerve, which leads to symptoms such as buttock pain, tingling along the back of the leg, and muscle tenderness.

Many individuals with Fibromyalgia often simultaneously experience sciatica. ‘Sciatica,’ simply put, is the medical word for leg pain. Your sciatic nerve is a collection of individual spinal nerves originating from the lower back. Converging as one large nerve deep within the pelvis, the sciatic nerve exits out of a hole near or through the piriformis muscle.  The sciatic nerve courses a pathway through the buttocks and down the backside of the leg. This collection of nerves within one nerve carries messages to and from the spinal cord via sensors within the leg’s skin and muscles.

As a result, people who suffer from ‘sciatica’ often experience pain, tingling, or numbness along the backside of the leg.  The source of ‘sciatica’ or pain in the leg can originate from a pinched nerve root in the lumbar spine because of a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or compression of the sciatic nerve at the buttock level because of a dysfunctional muscle imbalance around the hip joint such as Piriformis Syndrome.

Traditional Treatment Options

Many people with ‘sciatica’ or leg pain and people living with Fibromyalgia adjust their lifestyle to cope with the pain. This can mean creating workarounds for activities that involve walking, sitting, bending, and leaning. Pain medication, therapeutic injections, and physical therapy are often part of a standard treatment plan.  Back surgery may be an option for some if traditional treatment strategies cannot resolve the herniated disc or spinal stenosis. Additional treatment strategies for Fibromyalgia pain involve biofeedback, yoga, acupuncture, and antidepressants for fatigue and sleep disturbances.

Fascial Counterstrain: An Effective Treatment for Both

Fibromyalgia and ‘sciatica’ pain sufferers can see hope in fascial counterstrain. If you are someone who experiences both, this physical therapy intervention can provide relief for each condition as it identifies and targets the precise tissue level where inflammation is trapped. Fascia is the connective tissue covering every structure within your body. It can contract or withdraw a body part or tissue level for protection when there is the threat of injury and trauma.

This withdrawal is a part of the natural healing process. The immune system responds to trauma or strain by contracting the affected area and sending inflammatory cells needed to start healing. However, trapped or unresolved inflammatory processes can cause a chronic state of pain within the body’s nerve, muscle, vascular, bone, or articular joint structures. Immune cells produce inflammatory chemicals that, although initially helpful, can lead to unresolved pain, swelling, and muscle tightness or guarding if prolonged or unable to drain correctly from the area.

Fascial counterstrain is a gentle physical therapy technique that manually assesses the appropriate location and level of the trapped inflammatory cells. This physical therapy intervention releases the contracted fascial tissue. It allows you to reset your muscles and all levels of fascial tissue, thereby restoring normal lymphatic drainage and immune system functioning. Fascial Counterstrain can normalize the dysfunctional relationships in the body, turning off the chronic inflammatory process that exacerbates the chronic pain cycle.

Relieve Your Fibromyalgia Sciatica Pain

To discover the details behind fascial counterstrain, I have written a previous post that will give you more insight into this innovative treatment. You can read it at your leisure here.