5 stretches to relieve sciatica pain

Sciatica can be a pain in the butt, literally. It is the common name for lumbar radiculopathy, a condition involving compression of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the back of the hip and leg. Compression of this nerve can cause pain that is localized anywhere along its course or that radiates throughout the body, according to Libby Bergman, DPT, OCS, physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist. This condition can make everyday movements uncomfortable, to say the least. Fortunately, there are some easy sciatica stretches you can do at home to help relieve symptoms.

“Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated disc and age-related changes in the lumbar spine, also known as the lower back,” explains Dr. Bergman. “Common symptoms occur in predictable patterns in the lower body. These can include changes in sensation or numbness, pain and even loss of strength in the legs in severe cases.

Although many people who experience pain that originates in the lower back and radiates down the leg automatically assume it is sciatica, Dr. Bergman says that sciatica is not the only condition that can cause these symptoms. “Therefore, a thorough physical exam by a physical therapist is crucial to obtaining the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan,” he advises.

Who is prone to sciatica?

While Dr. Bergman says that sciatica can affect people of any age, “in general, younger people are at higher risk for sciatica due to a herniated disc, while older people are at higher risk for arthritic changes,” he explains.

In general, men, as well as anyone with a high body mass index, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, people who smoke, or those with too much stress are at higher risk for sciatica, adds Dr. Bergman. She says that additional risk factors for sciatica include genetics/family history, and having occupations that require heavy or repetitive lifting, twisting, or sitting for long periods of time.

How Stretching Can Help Ease Sciatica Symptoms

In most cases, treatment for sciatica is multifaceted and depends on your specific symptoms, history, and cause. Stretching is often a helpful component of treatment for many people, as is strength training. It’s a good idea to work with a physical therapist, at least initially, to help ensure you receive a proper diagnosis and have a personalized treatment program that addresses whatever is causing your sciatic nerve irritability.

“In general, the goal of stretching is to decrease pressure on the nerve root and relax surrounding tissues that are contributing to pain due to spasm and constriction of blood flow,” says Dr. Bergman. “However, stretching too aggressively or too early in the course of the condition can aggravate sensitized neural tissue.”

5 stretches for sciatica

1. Figure 4 Stretch

This stretch relieves sciatica since this nerve runs right through the center of the piriformis, a muscle in the butt located near the top of the hip joint, says Dr. Bergman. “This muscle often goes into a standby state, like a knot or spasm, in the presence of nerve inflammation,” he explains. “Regular, painless stretching can help relieve muscle pressure on the sciatic nerve, particularly in the later stages of recovery.” She says to do this stretch on both sides, even the side that doesn’t hurt, if she has time.

How: Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross the ankle of the sore leg over the thigh of the opposite leg, just above the knee. Gently press down on the inside of the raised knee until you feel a stretch in the front or side of your hip or back. Alternatively, try pulling your raised knee toward your opposite shoulder from this position instead of pushing down. Dr. Bergman says that depending on which muscles are specifically involved, one position may feel better than the other, and you can try both and choose the one that feels best. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat several times a day.

2. cat/cow

According to Dr. Bergman, this gentle stretch mobilizes the spine and can reduce sciatic pain. “Movement is lotion! Gently moving your spine into a ‘weightless’ position will help relax tight muscles,” he notes. “By doing so, this will encourage better circulation to the affected areas to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Overall, it will help you feel more confident in your back’s ability to move without pain.”

How: Get on your hands and knees with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Inhale as you move into the “cat” position gently rounding your back toward the ceiling, thinking of bringing your nose closer to the belt buckle. Hold for a few seconds, then exhale as you move into “cow” position by lowering your belly to the ground, arching your back, and looking forward. Dr. Bergman says to think about tilting your pelvis forward or sticking your butt out while he does this. Repeat 10 to 15 times through a pain-free range of motion several times a day.

3. Sciatic nerve slip

Dr. Bergman says that in some cases of sciatica, local inflammation of the nerve can lead to an area of ​​restriction that exacerbates symptoms, particularly when symptoms begin to subside. “This exercise is intended to help the nerve restore its ability to glide through surrounding tissue, like dental floss gliding between teeth,” he says, adding that this exercise works best in later stages of recovery and is not recommended. when it causes pain during the stretch

How: Lie on your back with the hip of your sore leg flexed at 90 degrees, so your kneecap points toward the ceiling and your shin is parallel to the floor. Hold this leg at the back of your thigh. Flex your foot and maintain this ankle position throughout the exercise. Slowly straighten your knee until you feel an easy stretch down the back of your leg. If your symptoms are acute or it causes pain, DO NOT push in or through the pain. Repeat 10 to 15 times through a pain-free range of motion several times a day. Repeat 10 to 15 times through a pain-free range of motion several times a day.

4. Push-ups in the prone position

Dr. Bergman says that this stretch is best for people experiencing a herniated disc as the cause of their sciatic pain. “It can help desensitize the nerve to reduce the symptoms experienced,” he explains. “When you do this [stretch] constantly for several days or weeks, the pain you experience in your leg should ‘centralize’ or move to your buttocks. This is a sign of improvement in your condition!”

How: Lie on your stomach with your hands flat below your shoulders. Gently press up with just your hands, allowing your back to arch away from the bed or floor, letting your legs and pelvis press into the surface below you. This can cause a sensation or stretch in the back of the affected leg. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower back down. Repeat 10 times.

5. Double knees to chest stretch

According to Dr. Bergman, for people with arthritic sciatic pain, this gentle spinal flexion position feels good on stiff joints. “This stretch provides a temporary increase in space for the nerve, giving it time to heal,” he adds. However, he says this exercise is not recommended for anyone with a suspected herniated disc because it can aggravate symptoms.

How: Lie on your back and gently hug both knees to your chest. Hold this position with a few deep breaths for up to 30 seconds. Lower your legs down. Repeat three times and throughout the day for best results.

Best Stretching Practices for Sciatica

Stretching can definitely be an integral component of an effective sciatica treatment plan. Dr. Bergman highly recommends seeing a physical therapist to help find the cause and get you back to moving as productively as possible.

Either way, always use the pain as your guide. Listen to your body, and if a stretch seems to be aggravating your pain, stop. Be kind to yourself. However, movement can be medicine, so don’t be afraid to try some of these stretches for sciatica and see if they help.

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