Sciatica Exercises: The Best Stretches for Optimal Pain Relief

February 21, 2024

Sciatic nerve stretches are a variety of stretching exercises performed to relieve sciatica-related pain. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and it's triggered by a variety of conditions and injuries. Sciatica is a symptom of pain in the lower back, or buttock, that typically radiates down the leg to the ankle or foot. Common causes of sciatica include degenerative disk disease, lumbar spinal stenosis, pregnancy, or a herniated disc. These small muscles are the piriformis muscles, and the sciatic nerve runs very close to - or even through - this muscle. Even when the origin of the pain is not due to these muscles, sufferers still find it beneficial to stretch them and the surrounding area when experiencing sciatica. Many experts agree that stretching the piriformis muscles and the hamstring muscles have success in alleviating pain. The following stretches are among some of the most recommended to achieve pain relief.

Seated Chair Hamstring Stretch

Pain from sciatica is most commonly felt in the area of the hamstrings. Although the hamstrings are not the muscles causing pain, it is still important to keep them stretched. Start this stretch sitting up tall with a straight back (applying perfect posture) on the edge a chair, with hands on the hips. The knees and hips should both be at ninety degrees. One foot is then extended straight forward, placing the heel on the floor, attempting to point the toes backward. While gently continuing to point the toes backward, begin to bend forward at the waist. Continue downwards till a good stretch is felt. Hold for twenty seconds then alternate to the other leg. Repeat three times, each time attempting to go a little deeper.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

The standing hamstring stretch is performed to alleviate sciatica-related pain and constriction in the hamstrings and lower back. You can do the stretch on a flat or elevated surface. On a flat surface, start by positioning your left foot a few inches in front of your right foot. Bend your right knee slightly and lift the toes of your left foot. Gently tighten your abdominal muscles and lean forward from your hips. Place your hands on your right thigh, but keep your shoulders relaxed. Don’t round your lower back or lean forward too much. You may lose your balance or strain your lower back. Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tight. Repeat the steps with your left leg forward. You can also stretch your hamstrings by using an elevated surface like a chair or staircase step. Place your right foot on the elevated surface at hip level. Flex your foot and straighten your toes and leg. Don’t lock your knee. Bend your body forward as far as possible without causing pain. The hip of your raised leg should be released downward. Hold the stretch for thirty seconds and repeat on the other side.

Seated Sciatic Nerve Flossing

When the sciatic nerve is compressed, flossing allows the nerve to loosen free from impingement. Sitting in a chair, with perfect posture, begin to extend the knee into a straight leg, while keeping the toes pointing back. Once the knee is extended, tilt the head backward as far as possible. Slowly lower the foot back down, while simultaneously - at the same speed – tilt the head down as far as possible. The head should be as far down at the same instance that knee is fully flexed. Straighten the leg again while bringing the head back up. The head should be as far back as possible at the same moment the knee becomes extended. Repeat this movement fifteen to twenty times.

Spinal Stretch While Sitting

One of the triggers of sciatica is compression of the vertebrae in the spine, which creates pressure on the sciatic nerve. A spinal stretch while sitting can help make space in the spine to relieve the pressure. This stretch can also relieve tension and keep the spine flexible. This stretch can be performed in two ways. First, sit on a chair and spread your knees apart. Bend your neck forward until your chin touches your chest. Slowly bend over and lower your chest between your legs. Hold this position for three to five seconds while relaxing your hands and arms between your legs. Slowly rise back up to starting position and repeat three to five times. Another way to do the spinal stretch is by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Flex your feet and keep them pointing upward. Lift one leg with the knee bent across the opposite leg and place the foot on the floor outside the opposite knee. Gently turn your body away from your bent leg by placing the opposite elbow against the inside of your bent knee. Hold the stretch for thirty seconds and repeat it three times on each side.

Knees To Chest

Also known as the posterior pelvic tilt, the knees to chest stretch is relatively simple to do, and it can help loosen tight hip muscles. Bringing the knees to the chest stretches the muscles of the lower back, as well as allowing the decompression of the spine, which helps decrease the pain of sciatica. This stretch starts with lying completely flat, with the back on the ground. Bring one knee up toward the same shoulder, and grab the knee with both hands. Pull toward the same shoulder till a good stretch is felt. Hold for twenty seconds then alternate to the other leg. Repeat three times, with each leg, each time attempting to go a little deeper. Then lift both knees to the chest, grabbing each knee with the respective hand. As the same with the single knee, pull both knees to the chest. Hold for twenty seconds, repeating three times.

Reclined Pigeon Stretch

The pigeon pose is a popular and well-known yoga pose, and there are many variations of this stretch. The reclining pigeon pose is one of the easy versions, and it helps open the hips. It also helps stretch a very small muscle named the piriformis. Some conditions can cause this muscle to become inflamed, and it can subsequently exert pressure against the sciatic nerve and cause pain. Start this stretch with lying on the ground facing up, the back and the feet flat on the floor. Lift one foot to cross over to rest the ankle just above the opposite knee. Then lift the other leg, bringing the knee up toward the chest. Take both hands and clasp them behind the knee, while keeping the back flat on the ground. If the back of the knee cannot be reached, a band or strap should be used instead. Pull the knee towards the chest, in line with the same shoulder. Keep pulling till a good stretch is felt, hold for twenty seconds, then switch to the other leg, repeating three times.

Pigeon Stretch

Start this stretch in a kneeling position on the ground, on all fours. Place one knee slightly forward of the other. Then take the opposite leg and straighten it out backward. With the leg that is now supporting most of the weight, that foot can be brought across the body and placed directly under the hip of the extended leg. The top of the back-foot is placed on the ground and slowly slid backward, while keeping the back leg straight. Lower the chest down, with hands and forearms on the ground. Sink into a good stretch, hold for twenty seconds then take a break, and repeat three times. Once completed, repeat the stretch on the other leg.

The Press Up Stretch

Also known as the cobra in yoga, the press up stretch can help individuals experiencing sciatica from bone degeneration. This condition can cause the vertebrae to pinch the sciatic nerve. The press up stretch is one of the stretches that can help generate space between vertebrae, which may decrease the episodes of this painful condition. This stretch starts with you lying on your stomach with your elbows right under your shoulders. Your forearms should be flat and parallel to each other in this position. Lift your chest and try to elongate the spine by stretching from the bottom of your spinal column to the top of your neck. Your back should be slightly arched. Breathe deeply while you hold this stretch for thirty seconds. Do two more repetitions if this position eases the pain.

Conclusion And Additional Tips

Stretching is a great way to help alleviate the symptoms of sciatica. In many cases, the pain will go away entirely after four weeks. This routine should be done at least once a day but can be done more if desired (in moderation). Staying as active as possible is ideal. It is once believed that bed rest was optimal for sciatica, but that is no longer recommended. The pain typically causes individuals to be more sedentary, but moving around will help. Losing weight can also reduce the stresses being applied to the spine, resulting in decreased sciatic pain. Implementing an exercise and diet plan into your lifestyle can have many advantages.

Any stretch or physical activity should be stopped if it causes extreme discomfort or pain. Attempt to keep a good posture when sitting and lift objects appropriately and in moderation. Inflammation is certainly playing a role in the symptoms of sciatica. Therefore, taking over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (as directed) could help reduce swelling. If pain continues to persist, consult a physician. It is best to be treated by a physical therapist, which will prescribe a tailor-made plan to treat specific symptoms or ailments. Unfortunately, there are cases where more invasive procedures may be required.

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