Sciatica, or lumbar radiculopathy, regularly impacts from 10 to 40 percent of the population and can be extremely debilitating. Even though it is a common ailment, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and misconceptions about the condition. Sciatica pain typically radiates from the sciatic nerves to the base of your spine, and can begin suddenly or over time. It often creates muscle weakness and numbness or tingling and is described as pinched nerve pain that originates in the lower spine.
What Does Sciatic Pain Feel Like?
Most describe sciatic pain as nerve discomfort, but it can also present itself as being a dull ache. The pain can sometimes feel like an electric shock-type of pain or burning, and it is aggravated upon certain movements, such as bending, coughing, or even twisting. Leg pain is typically noted as the most bothersome symptom of sciatica. You may also feel numbness, tingling, and/or weakness, typically affecting one leg at a time. One of the classic signs of sciatica is pain that worsens when you stretch your nerve. This could be when you bend over to pick something up or tie your shoes.
What is the Cause of Sciatica?
Common causes of sciatica can include a ruptured disk, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), or injury. There are many potential and common underlying causes, so it is important to seek help from a physician who can evaluate your symptoms, make a diagnosis and prevent the issue getting worse over time.
Stretches to Relieve Sciatic Pain
Bed rest is not the best option for relieving sciatic pain. Experts recommend following a structured exercise routine to keep the symptoms at bay and maintain your spinal discs, improve muscle and bone strength, and improve the flexibility of your sciatic nerve. The abdominal and spinal muscles are essential components of the spine’s support system, so these low-impact stretches, when performed under your physician’s guidance, can help strengthen your spine and increase its flexibility and range of motion.
To perform this stretch, sit on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. Bend your right leg, putting your right ankle on top of the left knee. Lean forward and allow your upper body to reach toward your thigh. Hold for 20 seconds to stretch the glutes and lower back, then repeat on the other side.
Basic Seated Stretch
Begin by sitting down on a chair and crossing your painful leg over the knee of your other leg. Then bend forward with your chest and try to hold your spine straight. Keep this position for 30 seconds and repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
This stretch can help ease pain and tightness in the hamstring caused by sciatica. To complete the stretch, place your right foot at or below your hip level on an elevated surface such as an ottoman or step. Flex your foot, so your toes and leg are straight. If your knee tends to hyperextend, keep a slight bend in it. Bend your body forward slightly toward your foot, but don’t push so far that you feel pain. Release the hip of your raised leg downward as opposed to lifting it up. If you need help easing your hip down, loop a yoga strap or long exercise band over your right thigh and under your left foot. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Sitting Spinal Stretch
This stretch helps create space in the spine to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. To do the stretch, sit on the ground with your legs extended straight out with your feet flexed upward. Bend your right knee and place your foot flat on the floor on the outside of your opposite knee. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee to help you gently turn your body toward the right. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times, then switch sides.
Of course, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” exercise for sciatic nerve pain, and positions should be adjusted according to what is tolerable. Most importantly, if you are experiencing even mild sciatic nerve pain for more than a few weeks, you should consult a doctor or physical therapist who can evaluate the pain and develop an in-home exercise or PT program tailored specifically for you.
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