Sciatica is a term used to describe symptoms of leg pain, along with numbness and/or weakness in the leg that originates in the lower back and travels through the butt and down the sciatic nerve in the back of your legs. It can also involve burning and tingling along your leg. Sometimes the rear or leg pain is worth when sitting, and it can extend to the foot and even the toes.
Sciatica is not the cause of the condition, or a condition in itself. Rather, it is symptom of another condition. That condition may be one of the following or something else entirely:
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Herniated or Slipped Disc
- Lumbar Herniated Disc
- Piriformis Syndrome
- Spinal Stenosis.
Some people experience mild sciatic nerve pain that is episodic and infrequent, albeit annoying. Mild sciatica will often go away within a few weeks. Other people experience severe and debilitating sciatica pain.
You should seek immediate medical care if you experience the following:
- Sudden and severe pain in lower back or leg along with numbness or weakness in your leg.
- The sciatic pain follows injuries, like those that occur in an auto accident.
- You are having difficulty with bowel and/or bladder control.
If you’re suffering from general sciatica symptoms or if you already know the underlying condition causing your sciatic nerve pain, consider the following five stretches to help relieve the pain.
1. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Ease pain and tightness to your hamstrings related to sciatica by performing this stretch.
You’ll need a chair or other elevated surface, below the level of your hips, for this exercise.
- Place one foot on the elevated surface, flexing the foot so that toes and legs are straight (if you tend to hyperextend your knees keep a slight bend in your knee).
- Bend your body forward slightly. The further forward you bend, the deeper the stretch. While you want a good stretch, you do not want to experience pain.
- Hold the position for approximately 30 seconds to one minute and then switch legs.
2. Press Up Extension
Relieve pressure from the sciatic nerve by doing the following exercises that create space between bulging or herniated discs in the spine. Some people call these exercises the cobra and the modified cobra stretches as well.
- Lie on your stomach with legs stretch together behind you. Bend your elbows with your palms resting on the floor by your chest.
- Push through your palms so your elbows partially straighten and lift off the floor to approximately 45 degrees.
- You may hold this position for about five seconds before returning to your starting position or extend the press up by fully straightening your arms so that you lift your chest further off the floor.
- The goal is to keep it pain-free. If you feel pain when moving to the fully extended position only go to the partially straightened position.
- Repeat exercise ten times.
3. Frog Pose
Prevention recommends the frog pose stretch for relieving pain related to sciatica.
- Begin on all fours. You want your palms on the floor and your knees on a blanket or yoga mat.
- Widen your knees slowly. Don’t go too far too fast. You want to widen the stretch so that you feel a comfortable stretch along your inner thighs.
- Keep your calves and feet in contact with the floor and your ankles in line with your knees.
- Lower yourself down to your forearms and hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
- Push up carefully and bring your knees back together before relaxing.
4. Knees to Chest
The knees to chest stretch helps create spaces between the vertebrae making them less likely to pinch the sciatic nerve.
- Begin by lying on your back.
- Slowly hug your knees to your chest (allow your back to round while doing this)
- Hold the position for 30 second to one minute.
- Repeat three times.
5. Seated Spinal Twist
Sciatic pain is often triggered because vertebrae in the spine become compressed. The seated spinal twist helps to create space in the spine which relieves pressure on the nerve.
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Bend your right leg, placing the foot flat on the floor outside your left knee cap.
- Put your left elbow outside your right knee, gently turning your body to the right.
- Hold the stretch 30 seconds then return to your original position.
- Switch sides.
- Perform three reps on each side.
As always, it’s important to be careful when starting new exercises. If your sciatic pain does not diminish greatly after a few days of these exercises, consider scheduling an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist, physical therapist, or chiropractor to explore other options for pain relief. Surgery is rarely necessary to eliminate sciatica, but there are times when it can be beneficial.