Originally posted on April 24, 2017
What is the sciatic nerve?
Sciatic nerve pain can be so excruciating and debilitating that you don’t even want to get off the couch. Common causes of sciatica can include a ruptured disk, a narrowing of the spine canal (called spinal stenosis), and injury.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body starting at the lumbar spine, running through the buttocks, and down the back of the leg into the foot.
The cause of sciatica pain can vary. Often the most problematic body parts are the lower back and hips. The best way to help relieve some of the sciatica pain is to do some stretching.
Here are six stretches that do just that:
- Reclining pigeon pose
- Seated hip stretch
- Knees to chest
- Knee to the opposite shoulder
- Sitting spinal stretch
- Standing hamstring stretch
1. Reclining pigeon pose
Pigeon pose is a common yoga pose. It works to open the hips.
- While on your back, bring your right leg up to a right angle. Clasp both hands behind the thigh, locking your fingers.
- Lift your left leg and place your right ankle on top of the left knee.
- Hold the position for a moment. This helps stretch the tiny piriformis muscle, which sometimes becomes inflamed and presses against the sciatic nerve, causing pain.
- Do the same exercise with the other leg.
2. Seated hip stretch
- Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor and knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- 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, breathing deeply, before releasing.
- Repeat on the other side.
This is similar to the sitting pigeon post. Except you sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Each variation of this stretch will stretch the glutes and lower back.
3. Knees to Chest
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Slowly bring your knees up to your check and hug your knees
- For best results, hold for 30 seconds before releasing the stretch and aim to repeat the stretch up to three times.
4. Knee to the opposite shoulder
This simple stretch helps relieve sciatica pain by loosening your gluteal and piriformis muscles, which can become inflamed and press against the sciatic nerve.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended and your feet flexed upward.
- Bend your right leg and clasp your hands around the knee.
- Gently pull your right leg across your body toward your left shoulder. Hold it there for 30 seconds. Remember to pull your knee only as far as it will comfortably go. You should feel a relieving stretch in your muscle, not pain.
- Push your knee so your leg returns to its starting position.
- Repeat for a total of 3 reps, and then switch legs.
5. Sitting spinal stretch
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.
6. Standing hamstring stretch
This stretch can help ease pain and tightness in the hamstring caused by sciatica.
- Place your right foot on an elevated surface at or below your hip level. This could be a chair, ottoman, or step on a staircase. 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. The further you go, the deeper the stretch. Do not 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 at least 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
Exercise with care
If you experience any kind of pain while performing these exercises, you should stop. Each person has their limits on how far they can stretch. The more you are able to stretch, the deeper into the stretch you can go.
When it comes to sciatic pain, there is no one size fits all exercise. Trying all these stretches is the best way to find out which stretches work best for you.
After a month of experiencing sciatic pain, it is best to visit a doctor or physical therapist. Visiting a medical professional will help put you on the right path to battling sciatic nerve pain.