Ever felt helpless because you can’t walk due to a severe pain in your legs that you want to cry? That is exactly how sciatica pain feels like. Sciatica can be so excruciating that you don’t even want to move an inch from where you are. Everybody has a sciatic nerve and it is the longest nerve in our body that starts from your spinal cord and runs down your hips and buttocks, branching down to each of your legs which actually explains the wide coverage of the pain when affected by sciatica. Sciatica is the term used to describe the pain caused by the irritation of the sciatic nerve when pressure is applied to it due to a ruptured disk, a narrowing of the spine canal (also called spinal stenosis) and injury, among others. Sciatica has long term effects such as:
- Worsening pain with every move
- Numbness or weakness in the legs or feet
- Loss of feeling and/or movement along the nerve
- Feeling of pins and needles in your toes or feet
- Inability to control your bladder or bowels, which is caused by a rare symptom called cauda equina syndrome
Non-surgical or natural treatments can be done to treat sciatica such as chiropractor spinal adjustment, heating/icing, yoga, stretching, acupuncture or massage therapy, avoiding prolonged sitting, and eating anti-inflammatory foods. However, in cases when the pain is severe or does not get better on its own, a more structured treatment approach, or possibly even a surgery may be the best option for finding pain relief and preventing or minimizing future pain or dysfunction. There are exercises that can help relieve any type of muscle, bone or nerve pain. But are there existing exercises which relieve sciatica too? Yes! There are specific exercises that target the lower back and the legs which can help relieve sciatic nerve pain. Here are 5 exercises you can do at home to help relieve sciatica pain:
According to Dr. Mark Kovacs, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, the best way to alleviate most sciatica pain is to do any stretch that can externally rotate the hip to provide some relief. Here are 3 of the best stretches to do just that:
How to do it?
- 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 15 to 30 seconds. (This stretches the glutes and lower back.)
- Repeat on the other side.
How to do it?
- Kneel on the floor on all fours.
- Pick up your right leg and move it forward on the ground in front of your body. Your lower leg should be on the ground, horizontal to the body. Your right foot should be in front of your right knee while your right knee stays to the right.
- Stretch the left leg out all the way behind you on the floor, with the top of the foot on the ground and toes pointing back.
- Shift your body weight gradually from your arms to your legs so that your legs are supporting your weight. Sit up straight with your hands on either side of your legs.
- Take a deep breath. While exhaling, lean your upper body forward over your front leg. Support your weight with your arms as much as possible.
- Repeat on the other side.
How to do it?
- Sciatica pain is triggered when vertebrae in the spine compress. This stretch helps create space in the spine to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- 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.
Back Strengthening Exercises
Named after a physical therapist from New Zealand, these back exercises extends the spine thus reducing pain generated from a compromised disk space. Theoretically, extension exercises may also help reduce the herniation of the disc itself and reduce pressure on a nerve root. There is a wide range of McKenzie exercises, some of which are done standing up while others are performed lying down. All of these upper and lower back exercises use core muscle contraction and, usually, arm motions to stabilize the trunk and extend the spine.
With this back exercise technique, physical therapists first tries to find patient’s “neutral” spine, or the position that allows the patient to feel most comfortable. The back muscles are then exercised to teach the spine how to stay in this position. These exercises are done on an ongoing basis by which provide pain relief and help keep the back strong and well positioned. Although the above two back exercise programs are commonly prescribed by physical therapists to treat low back pain and leg pain, but many other forms of exercise such as stretches can also provide pain relief and help with rehabilitation. Important Note: There might be available and easy to do home exercises to relieve sciatic nerve pain, they are not for everyone. Especially for severe cases of sciatica, asking for a professional’s intervention is a wiser move. However, whether or not you have a severe case of sciatica, ask for your doctor’s advice before performing any home exercise as it might cause bigger problems in the future.