Best exercises for relieving sciatic nerve pain

So you have this shooting pain down your leg and it hurts! Or maybe you’ve seen your doctor and have been diagnosed with Sciatica, OUCH!

I get asked all the time about the best exercises for sciatica, and how to get rid of this problem. Sciatica is a very common problem that I see almost on a daily basis in the clinic. The tricky part about sciatica is that there is no cookie cutter program to get rid of it! The reason for this is that there are many different causes or contributing factors to sciatica, so it’s important to get to the root of the problem. For example, sciatic nerve pain could be coming from an injured disc in the lower back, a narrowing of the spinal canal  ( spinal stenosis) or from an injury to the piriformis muscle ( a muscle in the hip to which the sciatic nerve runs through). Some women unfortunately also experience sciatica during pregnancy from the increased abdominal load and thus stress to the lower back. In some cases, the position of the baby during pregnancy can also place pressure on the sciatic nerve.  Most often, it is stemming from the lower back or hip. I always perform a thorough evaluation on each patient I see in order  to determine the best course of treatment. Over the years however, I have found a trend in some of the most helpful exercises in reducing pain caused by sciatic nerve compression. I decided to put together this blog post to demonstrate some of these tips as this is such a common concern. These stretches are safe to perform during pregnancy, however as with any exercise program, always consult with your doctor before beginning. This article is educational only and is not meant to diagnosis a specific condition.

 

These stretches are designed to target the lower back and hip muscles which commonly contribute to sciatica. Each stretch is held for 30 seconds, as research shows this is the ideal time to allow the muscle to  lengthen and achieve improved flexibility.

  • Figure 4
    • This stretch is designed to open up your hips, targeting the piriformis muscle which can contribute to sciatic nerve pain if inflamed or tight. To perform: lie on your back and bring your left ankle across your right knee, keeping your hip open ( left knee out). Clasp your hands under your right thigh and pull your leg up towards your chest until you feel a stretch on the outside of your left hip. It’s important to go to the point where you feel a stretch versus pain, as this could make the condition worse. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat 3x on each side.
  • Lower trunk rotation
    • This stretch works to decompress the spine and open the hips, targeting the gluteals and piriformis, which commonly contribute to sciatica. To perform, like on your back with your legs extended out in front of you. Bring your left knee up towards your chest ( grabbing on under your knee). Take your right hand and now pull your leg across your body until a stretch is felt on the outside of your left hip and your lower back. Try to keep your shoulders down and draw your navel in towards your spine.  Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3x on each side.
  • Supine hamstring stretch
    • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Grab onto your right leg behind your thigh and gently bring your knee up towards your chest. Slowly straighten your knee until you feel a stretch down the back of your thigh and lower leg. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat 3x on each side.
  • Standing hamstring stretch or pyramid pose
    • Stand with you right foot several feet in front of your left, toes facing forward. For support place your hands right above your knee to help keep your knee straight or place yoga blocks on each side of your front foot as shown here. This helps to elongate the spine and protect your lower back. Bending at the waist, but  keeping your back straight, hinge forward at the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. If you have yoga blocks, I like to perform this stretch holding on to blocks placed on each side of my front foot. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3x on each side.
  • Pigeon pose
    • This is probably my personal favorite for releasing the piriformis muscle and decreasing pressure on the sciatic nerve. This stretch is  little more intense, so if it is too much for you, stick with the figure 4 stretch first until your muscle starts to loosen up. To perform: start on hands and knees in a table top position. Lift your left leg and bring it forward so that your left knee is at your left hand and foot is close to your body. The further your foot is away from you the more of a stretch you will feel; so you can adjust this to what feels best. The goal is to feel a stretch on the outside of your left hip. It’s important to keep your back straight and good alignment in the hips: make sure the top of your right thigh is facing down towards your mat so you are not rolling your hips out to the side. You can also lean forward slightly for more of a stretch. This is another great place to use a yoga  block or a rolled towel under your left buttock to help keep your hips in good alignment. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3x on each side.
  • Seated pigeon pose
    • This stretch is great because you can perform it sitting if you happen to work at a desk job or prefer this to laying on your back. To perform, cross your left foot ( at the ankle) over your right knee and gently press down on your left knee while leaning forward slightly until a stretch is felt in your outer hip. If you feel any knee pain, back off slightly, as you do not want to feel pressure on your knee. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3x on each side.

If you are pregnant and past your first trimester, you want to avoid laying flat on your back for prolonged periods. You can simply perform the exercises with a pillow or two underneath you so you are not flat or perform the seated/standing variations instead.

These are my personal recommendations for exercises that I have seen help my patients with sciatica over the ten years that I have practicing physical therapy. It is always important to consult with your health care professional for your specific concerns and symptoms before beginning any exercise program. I hope these stretches can help if you are suffering from sciatic pain!

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  1. […] Suffering from sciatic nerve pain? Check out my blog post on best exercises for relieving sciatica here! […]

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