Exercises for Sciatica
What is the Sciatic Nerve?
If you have sciatica there are many exercises which can help alleviate symptoms. Sciatica is a condition caused by the inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the nerve roots in the spinal cord through the lower back and down through the buttocks to the lower limbs.
Sciatica normally involves pain in the lower back (lumbar area) which radiates out towards the knee. It is usually caused by a lumbar disc herniation which directly presses upon the sciatic nerve causing discomfort and pain.
Sciatica can also be caused by nerve irritation from adjacent bones, muscle, infections, spondylolisthesis and in more severe cases: internal bleeding and tumours. Sciatica is common during pregnancy as strain on the sciatic nerve is more pronounced.
Severe sciatica can make walking and bending difficult, but in most cases, inflammation subsides after 5-7 weeks.
What exercises can I do for sciatica?
Simple stretches and exercises can help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with sciatica. Exercises should be completed daily as long as sciatica persists, and pain should start to subside within two weeks. If pain is still ongoing after a few weeks, contact your doctor for examination. If you experience severe pain completing any of these exercises, do not continue; instead seek the advice of a health care professional.
1. Knee to chest stretch
Begin by lying on a mat or carpet. Place a cushion under your head for support. Bend your knees and make sure your feet are kept hip-width apart.
Bend one knee towards your chest and hold it with your hands. Stay in this position for 20-30 seconds and take deep, relaxing breaths.
Repeat up to three times, ensuring that you alternate legs. Make sure you don’t tense your head, shoulders or neck.
2. Sciatic mobilising stretch
Begin by lying on mat or carpet and place a flat pillow under your head. Bend your knees and keep feet on the floor, hip-width apart.
Bend one knee up towards your chest. Hold the back of your upper leg and slowly straighten the leg upwards. Remember to only stretch as long as it is comfortable. The exercise should not hurt.
Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and then return your leg to starting the position and repeat with the other leg.
3. Standing hamstring stretch
Begin by standing up and raising one leg on to a stable object like a step. Keep the supported leg straight and toes pointing skyward.
Bend forward as you keep your back straight. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Remember that your lower back shouldn’t arch and you should remain comfortable.
4. Sitting spinal stretch
Begin by sitting on the floor with both legs extended straight out and your toes pointing upwards.
Bend your right knee and place your foot on the floor outside of your opposite knee. Then place your elbow on the outside of your right knee and gently turn right.
Hold this position for 20-30 sections before switching sides and repeating up to 3 times.
Prevention of sciatica
The best way to prevent sciatica is to reduce the strain placed on your back and spine. You can do this by retaining good posture while sitting, sleeping and standing. It is easy, in our technological age, to spend hours sitting at a computer desk. So, resist the urge to slouch by investing in an ergonomic chair and taking regular breaks from work where you can stretch and exercise.
Exercise is also a useful tool in preventing sciatica as it helps strengthen the muscles in your back and stomach area, which support your spine.
Other treatments for Sciatica
Aside from regular exercise and stretching, sciatica can also be treated with over the counter Anti-inflammatory medication. NSAID’s (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which reduce inflammation and pain such as Naproxen which is available to buy in the UK over the counter and as a prescription medicine and Ibuprofen are an excellent option. Most episodes of sciatica last for 5-7 weeks, but chronic inflammation of the spine can lead to sciatica which lasts for months or even years. For persistent and acute sciatica, physical therapy may be necessary, as it can help make living with sciatica easier in the long term.