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Best Sciatica Exercises & Stretches

Best Sciatica Exercises & Stretches

Posted 1 Apr

The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, it runs from your lower back and branches through your hip and bottom, down through your legs. Sciatica is a term that describes common pain that affects the sciatic nerve.

Like most nerve pain, sciatica often feels like a short shooting pain that comes on suddenly. This type of pain is caused by irritation, inflammation, pinching or compression of a nerve. The most common way that this can happen is through a herniated disc in the vertebrae that compresses part of the nerve. However, there are many other ways that sciatica can be triggered.

There are a few myths about sciatica that are widely accepted to be true. Firstly, it's assumed that sciatica is a condition - it's actually not a condition, but rather, it's the name given to a symptom that is suggesting a problem with the nerve.

Secondly, it's widely thought that sciatica refers to pain in the spine. Again, this isn't true. The sciatica nerve runs all the way from the spine, and down both legs, so this sciatic pain can appear anywhere along the sciatic nerve. In fact, it's possible to have sciatica (nerve pain) in just the legs, and not in the back.

One last misconception about sciatica is that it will cause pain only on one side of the body. While this is true in the majority of cases, in rare cases it's possible to have pain on both sides of the body that is sciatica. So, if you feel nerve pain on both, sides of your body, you shouldn't rule out sciatica.

In most cases, sciatica is treated through rest, ice, exercise, stretching and physical therapy. However, some chronic cases may require surgery.

As well as positively contributing to healing, stretching and light exercise can help relieve the pain associated with sciatica.

Below, is a look a general look at what sciatica is, and six easy rehabilitation exercises that can be done at home to encourage recovery.

Common sciatica symptoms

People with sciatica may experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:

Strengthening exercises for sciatica


Lower trunk rotations

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. slide up both knees so that they are bent and pointing at the ceiling, with your feet still flat on the floor.
  3. Hold both of your knees together, and rotate your knees to one side, and try and get them touching the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and hips.
  4. Hold for five seconds.
  5. Contract your abdominal muscles and slowly move your legs so that they rest on the opposite side.
  6. Hold for five seconds.
  7. Bring your knees back to the centre.
  8. Repeat this exercise a total of ten times to complete a set.
  9. Complete a total of three sets.


Opposite arm and leg extensions

  1. Position yourself on all fours, so that your weight is evenly distributed through your hands and knees.
  2. Make sure that your back is flat and your abdominal muscles are contracted.
  3. Slowly raise one leg out behind you and straighten it.
  4. At the same time, extend the opposite arm straight out in front of you.
  5. Hold this position for five seconds.
  6. Return to your previous position on all fours.
  7. Repeat this exercise a total of ten times to complete a set.
  8. Complete a total of three sets.


Bridge

  1. Lay on your back with both knees bent pointing towards the ceiling, and with your arms by your sides.
  2. Slowly lift your pelvis off the floor and press it towards the ceiling.
  3. Avoid arching your back and aim to align your back in a straight line from the shoulder to the pelvis.
  4. Hold this position for ten seconds.
  5. Return to your previous position.
  6. Repeat this exercise a total of ten times to complete a set.
  7. Complete a total of three sets.

Stretches for Sciatica pain relief


Lying knee to shoulder stretch

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet flexed outwards.
  2. Bend your right leg and clasp it with both hands.
  3. Gently pull your right leg towards your left shoulder as far as it will comfortably go.
  4. Hold it there for 30 seconds.
  5. Return to your previous position.
  6. Complete the same movement on the other leg.
  7. Repeat this exercise a total of ten times to complete a set.
  8. Complete a total of three sets.


Standing hamstring stretch

  1. Find a surface that's a slightly lower height than your knee, a chair usually works well.
  2. Extend your leg so that the heel is resting on the chair, with your other leg standing straight.
  3. Flex your foot.
  4. Slowly bend towards your foot. Bend until you feel the stretch, but not so far that it hurts.
  5. Hold there for 30 seconds.
  6. Return to your previous position.
  7. Complete the same movement on the other leg.
  8. Complete a total of three stretches on each leg.

Standing piriformis stretch 

  1. Stand with your weight evenly distributed, and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your left leg and bend it, so that the foot is resting on your right knee. You can use a chair to lean on if you need help with balance.
  3. Bend forward at the hips while holding onto your left ankle.
  4. Hold there for 30 seconds.
  5. Return to your previous position.
  6. Complete the same movement on the other leg.
  7. Complete a total of three stretches on each leg.

Aerobic Exercise for sciatic nerve pain

Whether or not aerobic exercise is recommended, will depend on your specific type of sciatica pain. If you suffer from discomfort or pain, you should always consult a medical professional before undertaking a new exercise program.

If a medical professional does recommend aerobic exercise, they will likely suggest something that's low impact, like walking or water aerobics.

Tips to prevent sciatica

Stay physically active

Keeping your body healthy can help you avoid developing sciatica. Exercising improves the circulation within your body and strengthens muscles. Both of these factors contribute to a healthy back. Furthermore, exercise will improve the health of the muscles and joints in your spine, reducing the amount of pressure that's put on disks. So, finding thirty minutes of physical activity per day can significantly reduce the chances of developing sciatica.

Perfect your posture

Poor posture - particularly positions that see someone hunched over all the time, can play a major part in the development of sciatica. Slouching puts strain and pressure on particular areas of the spine that aren't designed to handle it. This added strain can cause the back muscles to spasm. Because the sciatic nerve runs through the back muscles, if they spasm, there is a chance that the sciatic nerve will become irritated.

So, it's important to practice good posture in your day-to-day life. If you find yourself in a position at work where you're slouched over a desk for long periods, try to schedule some regular works and periods of standing into your day.

Keep a healthy BMI

Excess weight is one of the biggest causes of sciatica. It can also cause the associated pain to be significantly worse. Extra weight puts additional pressure on the lower back and pelvis, which can cause a nerve to become irritated.

To ensure that you don't create extra stress for your back and that your body is functioning healthy, you should try and keep within the BMI guidelines. Your BMI is a figure that measures your body fat based on your height and weight. A healthy BMI is a weight status between 18.5 and 24.9.

Shorten your stride

Doing something as simple as shortening your walkings can both help prevent sciatica, and help alieve sciatica pain if you are experiencing it. Long steps can compress your lumbar disks and irritate your sciatic nerve. So, the act of walking a little slower, and taking smaller steps, can be hugely beneficial.

Improve spine alignment with yoga

Practising yoga is a great way to increase flexibility, align your body correctly and keep the spine healthy and flexible. Many positions involve the stretching of the hip flexors, the hamstrings, and the glutes - all of which are closely associated with sciatica. As well as correct spinal alignment, yoga strengthens local muscles, which can help to release excessive tension in the spine.

If you already have sciatica, you should always check with a health professional before undertaking any new fitness or workout plan.

When to see a podiatrist?

A podiatrist is a medical professional who specialises in conditions and symptoms that appear in the feet and lower body. Because the sciatic nerve runs through the back, bottom and lower legs, podiatrists have extensive experience in treating this symptom.

A qualified podiatrist will be able to conduct a physical exam or run some tests, to determine whether you have sciatica or a different condition. They'll also be able to advise you on the best way to repair and rehabilitate your condition.


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