Sciatica can be a pain in the butt—literally. This is the common name for lumbar radiculopathy, a condition involving compression of the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower back to the hip and back of the leg. Compression on this nerve can cause pain that is either localized anywhere along its course or that radiates throughout, according to Libby Bergman, DPT, OCS, a physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist. This condition can make everyday behaviors uncomfortable, to say the least. Fortunately, there are some easy stretches for sciatica that you can do at home to help ease symptoms.
“Sciatica is often caused by disc herniation and age-related changes in the lumbar spine, also known as the lower back,” Dr. Bergman explains. “Typical symptoms occur in predictable patterns in the lower body. These may include changes in sensation or swelling, pain, and in severe cases leg stiffness.”
Although many people who experience lower back pain radiating down the leg automatically assume it’s sciatica, Dr. Bergman says sciatica isn’t the only condition that can cause these symptoms. “Therefore, a complete physical examination by a physical therapist is important to obtain the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan,” she advises.
Who is at risk of sciatica?
While Dr. While sciatica can affect people of any age, Bergman says, “In general, younger people are at higher risk for sciatica due to disc herniation, while older people are more at risk due to arthritic changes,” she explains.
Overall, men, as well as anyone with a high body mass index, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, smokers or people with a lot of stress, have a higher risk of sciatica, Dr. Bergman adds. She says additional risk factors for sciatica include genetics/family history, and occupations that require repetitive or heavy lifting, bending, or prolonged sitting.
How stretching can help relieve sciatica symptoms
In most cases, the treatment of sciatica is multifaceted, and depends on your specific symptoms, history, and cause. Stretching is often an adjunctive component of therapy for many people, as is strength training. It’s a good idea to work with a physical therapist—at least initially—to ensure you’re properly diagnosed and have an individualized treatment program that addresses the cause of sciatic nerve irritation.
“Generally, the goal of stretching is to relieve pressure on the nerve roots and relax the surrounding tissues that contribute to pain due to spasms and blood flow obstruction,” Dr. Bergman says. “However, stretching too aggressively or too quickly during the condition can irritate sensitive nerve tissue.”
5 stretches for sciatica
1. Figure 4 Stretch
This stretch relieves sciatica because the nerve passes through the center of the piriformis, your buttock muscle located at the top of the hip joint, Dr. Bergman says. “This muscle often goes into a holding state in the form of a knot or spasm in the presence of nerve inflammation,” she explains. “Regular, non-painful stretching can help reduce muscle pressure on the sciatic nerve, especially in the later stages of recovery.” If you have time, she says to do this stretch on both sides—even the non-painful side.
How: Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross the leg of the painful leg over the thigh of the opposite leg, just above the knee. Gently press into the inside of the upper knee until you feel a stretch in the front or side of your hip or back. Alternatively, try pulling the top knee from this position to the opposite shoulder 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 per day.
Dr. According to Bergman, this gentle stretch mobilizes the spine and can reduce sciatica pain. “Motion is the lotion! Gently moving the spine into an ‘unweighted’ position will help relax any tight muscles,” he notes. “In doing so, it will encourage better circulation to the affected areas to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Overall, it will help you feel more confident in your ability to move your back pain-free.”
How: Get down on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Breathe into a “cat” position by slowly rounding your back toward the ceiling, thinking about bringing your nose to your belt buckle. Hold for a few seconds, then exhale as you move into a “cow” position with your stomach down toward the floor, arching your back and looking forward. Dr. Bergman says to think about thrusting your pelvis forward or sticking your butt out as you do this. Repeat through pain-free range of motion 10 to 15 times per day.
3. Glide the sciatic nerve
Dr. Bergman says that in some cases of sciatica, local inflammation of the nerve can cause an area of restriction that exacerbates symptoms, especially after symptoms begin to subside. “This exercise is intended to help restore the nerve’s ability to glide through the surrounding tissue like floss glides through your teeth,” she says, adding that this exercise works best in the later stages of recovery and isn’t advised when it’s painful. expansion.
How: Lie on your back with the hips of the painful leg bent at 90 degrees, so that your knees are pointed toward the ceiling, and parallel to the floor. Hold this leg behind your thigh. Flex your legs and hold this leg position throughout the exercise. Slowly straighten your knees until you feel an easy stretch in the back of your leg. If your symptoms are severe or cause pain, do not inject or inhale the pain. Repeat through pain-free range of motion 10 to 15 times per day. Repeat through pain-free range of motion 10 to 15 times per day.
4. Prone press-ups
Dr. Bergman says this stretch is best for people experiencing disc herniation as the cause of their sciatic pain. “This can help desensitize the nerve to reduce the symptoms experienced,” she explains. “When you do this [stretch] Over several days or weeks in a row, the pain you experience in your leg should ‘focus’, or move towards the buttock. This is a sign of improvement in your condition! “
How: Lie on your stomach with your arms flat under your shoulders. Press gently with your hands only, allowing your back to arch away from the bed or floor, leaving your feet and pelvis pressed against the surface beneath you. This may cause a sensation or pull down the back of the affected leg. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower down. Repeat 10 times.
5. Double knees to stretch the chest
Dr. For people with arthritic sciatica pain, this gentle flexed position of the spine feels good on stiff joints, according to Bergman. “This stretch provides a temporary boost in place for the nerve, giving it time to heal,” she adds. However, she says this exercise is not recommended for anyone with a suspected disc herniation because it can worsen symptoms.
How: Lie on your back and gently bring both your knees to your chest. Hold this position with deep breaths for 30 seconds. Lower your legs back down. Repeat thrice and throughout the day for best results.
Stretching for sciatica best exercises
Stretching can certainly be an integral component of an effective treatment plan for sciatica. Dr. Bergman highly recommends seeing a physical therapist to find the cause and help you get back to moving as productively as possible.
Either way, always use pain as your guide. Listen to your body, and if a stretch seems to be increasing your pain, stop. Be gentle with yourself. However, movement can be medicine so don’t be afraid to try some of these stretches for sciatica and see if they help you.