What Is Sciatica
Sciatica is the name given to pain caused by sciatic nerve irritation. This pain branches from your lower back through your hips, glutes and down each of your legs. It can also cause muscle weakness, numbness and unpleasant tingling in your leg, foot and toes. Some people with sciatica feel sharp or shooting pain. Others may feel burning or stabbing pain. The pain may be constant or it might come and go, and it might feel worse if you sit or stand for long periods.
Any condition that may structurally impact, compress, or otherwise irritate the sciatic nerve may cause sciatica symptoms.
Sciatic Nerve Pain Symptoms
People describe sciatica pain in different ways, depending on its cause. The symptoms of sciatica include:
- Moderate to severe radiating pain from your lower back to your buttocks and down the back of your leg
- Numbness or weakness in your lower back, buttock, leg or feet
- “Pins and needles” feelings in your legs, toes or feet
- Sharp pain that can worsen when you cough, sneeze and sit for a long time
- Loss of bowel and bladder control (in severe cases)
Where Is The Sciatic Nerve?
The Sciatic Nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body and originates in your lower back/gluteal area. It is made up of five nerve roots: two from the lumbar spine (the low back) and three from the sacrum (the bony part at the bottom of your back). The five nerve roots come together to form a right and left sciatic nerve. It passes deep in the buttock and down the back of the thigh to the heel and right into the sole.
How To Get Rid Of Sciatica Pain?
Yoga practices with gentle poses can help strengthen and stabilize your core muscles, increase flexibility in your hips and spine, and reduce lower back pain and sciatica. Yoga helps address postural imbalances which could be an underlying factor of sciatic nerve pain.
Stretching your deep glute muscles can relieve the compression on the nerve and help reduce pain. The piriformis muscle is often tight due to long hours of sitting, vigorous exercises or other strain, and can irritate the sciatic nerve. Incorporating a few piriformis stretches can help you relax your piriformis muscle and ease sciatica pain.
Physical therapist specialists help with providing medical care and treatment for radiating sciatic nerve pain through physical therapy.
Their primary goal in the therapeutic approach is to reduce tension on the sciatic nerve by using a combination of manual therapy and sciatica exercises, thereby managing pain.
Chiropractors are an integral part of a healthcare team focusing on treating radiating sciatic nerve pain.
Chiropractors aim to reduce pain and inflammation by using a combination of gentle manual therapy, exercise prescription and modifications of activities of daily living.
5 Sciatica Stretches To Relieve Back Pain
The following simple exercises can help provide sciatica pain relief by decreasing muscle tension, reducing compression on the sciatic nerve, addressing core stability, and improving a person’s posture. One should do each of the stretches for sciatica pain within a range that is pain-free and stop immediately if they experience any pain.
Reclined Pigeon Pose
This stretch can help relieve tension in the hips.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees. Place your right ankle over your left thigh, with your right knee at a 90-degree angle.
- Lock your hands behind your left thigh and pull them gently toward your body.
- Hold this position for as long as feels comfortable (approximately 20 to 30 seconds) and then repeat on the opposite side. If you experience discomfort in this stretch, discontinue stretching immediately.
The cobra pose works on spinal extension. Sometimes sciatic pain can be caused by a bulging disc causing pain on the spinal nerves. Extending the spine helps alleviate pressure from a herniated disc. The idea is that extension will gently ease the disc back between the vertebrae, and reduce the pressure that it’s putting on the spinal nerves.
- Lying on your stomach, extend your legs straight back together and bend your elbows, placing your palms on the floor by your chest.
- To carry out a full cobra, fully straighten your elbows, lifting your chest as far as possible off of the floor. Hold for 10 seconds at the top and then return to the starting position.
- If the full cobra is too much for you, perform a modified cobra instead. Push through your palms and partially straighten your elbows to lift your chest off the floor to about 45 degrees.
- Perform 10 repetitions of this exercise.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
This stretch can help ease pain and tightness in the hamstrings caused by sciatica. Many of us sit for several hours per day, which can cause tight hamstrings. Given that the Sciatic nerve goes down the back of the leg, it stands to reason that very gently stretching the hamstrings (which are located on the back of the leg), will help reduce some of the pain.
- Place your right foot on an elevated surface at or below your hip level. This could be a chair, ottoman, or step on a staircase. Flex your foot so that your toes point to the ceiling and your leg is straight. If your knee tends to hyperextend, keep a slight bend in it.
- Bend your body forward slightly toward your foot. The further you go, the deeper the stretch. Don’t push so far that you feel pain.
- Release the hip of your raised leg downward as opposed to hiking it up. If you need help easing your hip down, loop a yoga strap or long exercise band over your right thigh and under your left foot.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
This stretch works by improving core strength to encourage spinal stability, and also improves balance while working in extension. It can also improve the function and balance of the gluteus muscles, which will reduce pain in the sciatic nerve.
- Start on all fours on a yoga mat.
- Reach your right arm straight out ahead of you, imagining that your fingertips are touching the wall in front of you.
- Then straighten your left leg so that you imagine your left toes are reaching out to touch the wall behind you.
- Remember to stay balanced in this – do not rotate the pelvis, keep your pelvis balanced.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds, and then return to the starting position and do the same with the left arm and right leg
- Repeat five times per side.
Swimming is a fabulous exercise for those with sciatic nerve pain. Swimming naturally puts the body into extension, which is supportive of the sciatic nerve and should help reduce symptoms. It will also help to strengthen core musculature and move those muscles that may not get used very often for those of us that spend our days sitting.
- Swimming need not be overly strenuous. Begin by aiming to swim at least 20-30 minutes 2-3x/week
- Vary your swimming position so that you are doing a combination of strokes on your stomach (front crawl, butterfly, etc – whatever is comfortable for you) and on your back (back crawl, etc).
Pelvic Bridges assist with core strength and spinal stability, but because this exercise will also put the back into extension, it can be used as an extension exercise to help reduce sciatic nerve pain. In addition to reducing sciatic pain, the pelvic bridge is a great exercise for helping to rehab the typical flat bum that is common after pregnancy.
- Begin lying on your back on a yoga mat. Take a few breaths here and settle in.
- Bend your knees to 90º and keep your feet about hip-width apart.
- Push through your fit to lift your bottom – go as high as is comfortable, but don’t go too high. The goal of this exercise is to find balance and stability, not to lift your bottom super high.
- Stay in that elevated position for 5 seconds or so, squeeze your buttocks while you are in that position, and then lower your bottom back down to the mat, keeping your knees bent.
- Repeat 10-20 times.
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