What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the general term used to describe pain along the sciatic nerve distribution.
The sciatic nerve runs from the lumbar spine, down the leg, and into the bottom of the foot. It can be irritated by a myriad of conditions including lumbar stenosis, herniated discs, and tight musculature through the lumbar spine and glutes.
Importance of Stretching for Sciatic Relief
Stretching is just one of several ways you can reduce tension on the sciatic nerve. It can target the muscles that get tight and cause compression of the nerve.
Once this pressure is relieved, many people experience relief from their symptoms.
It is important to ease into stretching as you do not want to provoke your symptoms or increase stress on the nerve. Listen to your body as you stretch and use it to determine how deep of a stretch is comfortable.
Effective Stretches for Sciatic Relief
For these exercises, you will need a comfortable surface to lay on. If you are comfortable getting on and off the floor, you can use a yoga mat. If not, lay in your bed to perform these stretches.
Exercise 1 – Sciatic Nerve Glide
This exercise will help glide the nerve through its pathway and reduce irritation. Do not push into pain with this exercise. Keep the movement comfortable.
- Begin laying on your back with your legs stretched out.
- Lift your affected leg into a 90-degree position and use both hands to hold onto the leg. Grab just below the knee for the most comfortable grip.
- Point your toes and begin straightening your leg until you feel a pull in the back of your leg.
- Gently pull your toes towards you. You should feel like the stretch gets more intense.
- Point your toes again and allow your leg to relax, bending at the knee.
Repeat 10 times, gently going through each step of the exercise.
Exercise 2 – Supine Piriformis Stretch
This is a great exercise to stretch your hip external rotators. This muscle group often gets tight and causes compression on the sciatic nerve.
- Begin laying on your back with both knees bent.
- Cross your affected leg over your non-affected leg, resting your ankle on your knee.
- Gently pull your knee towards your opposite shoulder until you feel a pull in the back of your leg and hip.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 2 times on each leg.
- To deepen the stretch, move your supporting a leg little further out to the side before you pull your knee towards your opposite shoulder.
Exercise 3 – Prone Press Up
This exercise will help improve your lumbar range of motion and relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. It is especially helpful for individuals whose symptoms are brought on by prolonged sitting.
- Begin laying flat on your stomach with your hands placed on either side of your shoulders.
- Gently press up, extending your elbows until you feel a pull in your lower back. Keep your hips on the floor.
- Hold for 10 seconds before returning to your starting position.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
For a modification, press up from your elbows instead. Work your way up to using your hands to press up.
Exercise 4 – Quadruped Rockback
This exercise helps stretch the muscles in your lower back which can relieve tension on the sciatic nerve. It also helps desensitize the nerve to reduce irritation.
- Begin in a quadruped position on your hands and knees. Your knees should be about hip width apart.
- Slowly push your hip back until your arms are extended in front of you and your hips are resting on your lower legs and feet. You shoulder feel a pull in your lower back.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds before returning to neutral.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Incorporating Stretches into Your Daily Routine
It is important to try to add exercises like the ones mentioned above into a regular stretching routine if you suffer from low back pain and sciatica.
Once you determine which muscles are usually tight on you and the best stretches for them, keeping up with a routine can help reduce pain and prevent future flare ups.
How long does it take for these stretches to provide relief?
- Most of these stretches should provide some relief in the first week or so. I often caution patients if their pain is chronic in nature, it may take several weeks to see improvement. Applying ice to the lower back while stretching may also be helpful!
Can I do these stretches even if I am not diagnosed with sciatica?
- Of course! All the exercises discussed in this article are gentle on your body and should be very comfortable to perform. They are great to maintain the flexibility of your lower back and hips as well.
How many times per day should I perform these stretches?
- 1-2 times per day is typically a good amount. I usually recommend my patients get into a routine of performing stretches before they get out of bed in the morning and before they go to sleep at night. This helps reduce stiffness after lying in bed all night or working all day.
I feel more pain while stretching, is that normal?
- You should not feel more pain when stretching. It is normal to feel aching, soreness, tired, or even a little uncomfortable; however, you should not be feeling sharp, stabbing or shooting sensations. Contact your primary care physician or see a physical therapist if you are unable to exercise without drastically increasing your pain.
Can these stretches prevent future sciatic flare-ups?
- A regular stretching and strengthening routine can reduce the frequency and intensity of flare ups. It takes consistency but you should notice an overall improvement and reduction in symptoms. It is important to stick to your routine even if you start to feel better.
Leg Stretches for Sciatica Pain - Watch Full Youtube Video Below