Sciatica Exercises: Stretches for Pain Relief

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What Exactly is Sciatica?

A painful condition wherein the sciatic nerve (that runs from the lower back to the feet) is inflamed is termed as Sciatica. The sciatic nerve is made up of various nerve roots that branch out of the spinal cord towards the lower back and split to run through the hips, buttocks, legs and feet. Any inflammation causing numbness, pain or even light tingling in the sciatic nerve is termed as sciatica. Sciatica usually affects only one side of the body.

The pain caused by sciatica can vary from the feeling of a mild ache to a sharp, excruciating pain, from a burning sensation to the feeling of an electric jolt. Bouts of sneezing, coughing, and sitting for long hours can increase the sciatica pain. Factors like age, obesity, occupation and diabetes also affect sciatica.

Common causes of sciatica include:
  1. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord)
  2. Spurred bones (bony growths along the joints)
  3. Herniated disks
  4. Arthritis
  5. Nerve root compression due to severe injuries (pinched nerves)
  6. Tumors
  7. Pregnancy


Common Causes of Sciatica
Although the pain associated with sciatica is very severe, it is usually possible to deal with it through non-invasive and non-operative procedures.

Is it Possible to get Relief from Sciatic pain? If so, how?

There are many effective ways to treat sciatica pain. Some of them are listed below:

1. Home remedies:
 
It is best to start with applying cold packs on the affected area. These cold packs should be applied for twenty minutes, a few times a day. After about 2 – 3 days, though, it is best to follow up with hot packs. If the pain continues, it is better to continue alternating between cold and hot packs to help ease the pain.

2. Over-the-counter medicines:

Over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium are good pain killers to relieve sciatica related aches and pains.

3. Stretches and exercises for sciatica:

Stretching of the lower back relieves the nerve root compression. It is best to hold these stretches for at least 30 seconds for optimum benefit. There are a few good exercises that help relieve sciatic pain, but jerking, twisting or bouncing while doing these stretches and exercises must be avoided at all costs.

4. Acupuncture:

Hair-like thin needles are pierced at specific points in the body gently to alleviate the sciatica pain. While the results of this therapy vary greatly, it is best to consult a licensed acupuncture practitioner with extensive training for this purpose, to avoid mishaps of any form.

5. Chiropractic:

While the spinal adjustments work wonders on some to relieve pain, as well as to improve functionality, this particular therapy may not be a go-to option for the patients suffering from radiating sciatic pains.

The sciatic exercises and stretches seem to be the best option to help all patients regain some normalcy in their lives.

What are Sciatica Exercises? How to do them?

Sciatica exercises are those stretches and exercises that are best suited for those suffering from sciatica. They stretch the specific areas in the sciatic nerves to release stress and reduce pain. Some of the best sciatic exercises are as follows:

1. Standing Hamstring Stretch

The hamstrings are a bunch of three different muscles that lie grouped on the backside of the thigh, running from the pelvis to the knees. The standing hamstring stretch has to be felt at the back of the thigh that is being stretched. It helps in bending the knee and extending the hips more easily.

For this stretch, you  must use a high enough support like a table or chair. Place one leg extended straight on the raised surface. Bend your body slightly toward your leg stretched on the support. Hold this pose for a few seconds, feeling the pull at the back of the thigh on each side and then repeat the same stretch with the other leg. Repeat for 5-7 counts for each leg.

2. Reclining Pigeon Pose

The reclining pigeon pose stretches out the hamstring muscles, the lower back and the hips. It is the best exercise for pain relief in sciatica as it stretches the piriformis muscles also. Piriformis muscles are tiny muscles that connect the lower spine to the upper thigh bone.  They aid in hip rotation and in stretching the legs and feet outwards.

For this pose, lie on your back. Pull one leg towards your body by holding on to the back thigh. Then put the other leg up and place its ankle on top of the bent knee, holding this pose for a few seconds. To deepen the stretch, the knees can be pulled closer to the chest. Switch legs and repeat the pose for 10 counts for each leg.

Reclining Pigeon Pose
3. Sitting Pigeon Pose

The sitting pigeon pose helps bring back flexibility in the hips, lower back and legs. It reduces the strain in these areas and aids mobility, something that sciatica patients find difficult.

For this stretch, one needs to sit on the floor with legs stretched out in front. Next, pick one leg up and place its ankle on the other leg’s bent knee. Next, stretch the upper body and bend forward, trying to touch the abdomen to the thigh and hands to the toes of the outstretched leg. Hold the pose for a few seconds. Switch legs and repeat steps. Repeat 10 times for each leg.

4. Forward Pigeon Pose

The forward pigeon pose releases the built up tension in the hips making them more flexible and easy to move. This is one of the more complex stretches that requires control on the body and the breathing.

Kneeling on all fours, extend the right leg behind you and place the left leg in front of the right leg’s knee, in such a way that the chest touches the bent knee when you push down and touch your head to the floor. Gradually, shift your weight to the legs from the hands on either side of the right leg. Taking a deep breath, exhale while bending down to touch your head to the floor and  moving your weight back to your arms as much as possible. This is a very good sciatica exercise that helps to relieve sciatica pains. Though a little confusing at the beginning, it can be easily mastered with practice.

Forward Pigeon Pose
5. Knees to opposite shoulder stretch

This stretch helps to loosen the piriformis muscles and gluteal muscles, thereby reducing inflammation in the sciatic nerve.

As the name suggests, in this stretch the knees are brought up to the opposite shoulders. Laying down on the back, pull a knee (by grasping it by hands) up to the opposite shoulder or as far as it easily goes without hurting. Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds then let go of the knee. Repeat it thrice and then switch sides. Do the stretch thrice for each shoulder.

6. Sitting Spinal Stretch

For this stretch, you  need to sit on the floor with legs stretched out in front. Then, you must cross and place the left foot on the outside, next to the right leg’s knee. Using the right hand, turn the body towards the side of the left leg. Hold the pose for a few seconds before letting it go. Switch sides and repeat with the other leg. Repeat for 10 counts for each leg.

Sitting Spinal Stretch
All of these exercises help to reduce sciatica leg pain, pain in the lower back, butt and thighs. Doing them every day can make the patient’s daily life more comfortable and less painful. These stretches also help to build stamina and slowly strengthen the muscles, often offering relief from sciatica related pain completely.

However, it is best to consult a doctor immediately when,

1. Sudden pain or numbness shoots up in the lower back or legs

2. Severe injuries occur that cause unbearable pain

3. Lack of bladder or bowel control occurs

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