Sciatica is a specific collection of symptoms that occur when pressure is applied to your sciatic nerve. This pain can be debilitating and challenging to treat. When you feel the pain of sciatica, here are the best sciatica stretches to help you find relief.
Why are sciatica stretches so important?
Your sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body. It originates from the lumbar, or lower, spine and runs through the buttocks and down both legs. Because it is so long, if you are experiencing sciatica, you may experience pain and symptoms along the entire length of the nerve.
Sciatica symptoms can include:
- Pain: Sharp and shooting or dull and persistent pain that may occur anywhere along the sciatic nerve, including the back, hips, thighs, and calves.
- Numbness: You may experience loss of sensation in any part of the back, hip, or leg.
- Pins and needles sensations: When numbness fades, you may experience tingling “pins and needles” sensations. These can range from mild to very unpleasant.
- Weakness: Weakness may be episodic or may occur and not recede.
In very rare cases, patients may experience loss of bowel or bladder control. This is considered a medical emergency, and patients should go to the emergency room immediately. This symptom can indicate involvement of the spinal cord, which can be permanent and very serious.
Sciatica is caused when an issue causes impingement or compression of your sciatic nerve. There are a number of causes of sciatic pain, including:
- Bulging or herniated discs
- Injury to the spine (as might occur in a car accident)
- Spinal tumor
- Spinal stenosis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Osteoporosis and compression fractures
For some patients, sciatica stretches can help to relieve the pressure and pain of sciatica.
15 of the best sciatica stretches
Some of the best sciatica stretches work to relieve pressure on the nerve without adding extra stress anywhere else in the body. Yoga for sciatica is also available to everyone, at all levels of fitness.
Although these are some of the best sciatica stretches for pain relief, it is crucial to talk with your doctor before performing any of them. If you have underlying conditions that are causing your pain, it’s important to coordinate other treatments with your doctor.
It’s also important to listen to your body as you stretch. Sharp, stabbing pain or a stretch that increases pain may not be safe for you. Remember to keep your breath even and steady as you stretch. Back off when it feels unsafe.
That being said, once you have approval from your doctor, consider adding these sciatica stretches into your routine. You can bring many of these stretches together, or they can be completed one at a time.
1. Child’s pose
Of the best sciatica stretches, child’s pose is perhaps the easiest and gentlest way to ease pain. Start on all fours, then bring your toes to touch and open your knees as you sit your hips back on your heels. Rest your head on the floor in front of you or use a block if your forehead doesn’t touch.
If getting up and down from the floor is challenging for you, try child’s pose in bed. You can also use pillows as props to relieve pressure on your knees.
2. Knees to chest
This is another great exercise for sciatic leg pain that can be done before you even get out of bed in the morning.
Lie on your back, legs extended long. Inhale deeply, and on an exhale, use the strength of your core (not your lower back) to bring your right knee into your chest, gently hugging it into your body. Hold for three to five breaths, breathing deeply, then release on an exhale. Repeat with the left leg.
For an additional challenge, as you pull your knee into your chest, gently press the back of the leg into your hands. This gives a good isometric stretch that moves deep into the muscles of the lower back and glutes.
If this feels good, you can also bring both knees to your chest at the same time and gently rock side to side, massaging your spine. For women looking for sciatica stretches for pregnancy, keep your knees wide when you bring them to your chest.
3. Supine twist with one knee
Lie on your back with arms out in a “T” shape, with your palms face down. On an exhale, bring your right knee into your chest. Keeping that knee bent, place your right foot outside of the left knee.
Inhale, then on an exhale begin to twist the right knee across your body to the left. You can place the left hand on top of the right knee to encourage it to move toward the ground, but don’t force it.
Breathe here for five to ten breaths. On an exhale, bring your knee back to the center and repeat on the other side.
4. Supine twist with both knees
When your lower back is feeling more stable, you can twist with both knees.
Lie on your back, arms out in a “T” shape, with your palms facing up. On an exhale, bring both knees up so that they are directly above your hips and your calves are parallel to the ground.
Inhale, then on an exhale, release both knees to the right. Breathe here for five to ten breaths. On an exhale, bring your knees back to the center and repeat on the other side.
5. Seated twist
This seated twist is a great way to loosen and release tension in your lower back and pressure on your sciatic nerve. You can do it on the floor or even on your bed.
Sit in a cross-legged position with your tailbone lengthening down into the floor. Engage your navel to your spine to support your lower back and reach the crown of your head up.
Inhale both arms up above your head, then on an exhale, pull your navel to the spine and twist to the left, placing your left hand behind you and your right hand on the left thigh.
Keep your hips steady and grounding down into the floor to stabilize the base of the spine. Breathe into the twist for five breaths. Inhale to lift your arms above your head and release the twist, then exhale and do the other side.
There are many variations of seated twists for relieving the pain of sciatica. Try these other versions, too.
6. Cobbler’s pose
Here’s another pose that can be done first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed!
Sit on the floor (or bed) with knees bent and soles of the feet touching. Let your knees fall open wide. If this is too much, you can use blocks, pillows, or blankets to “catch” your knees. Inhale to sit tall, then exhale to reach your sitting bones down to the floor.
Inhale again, and on an exhale slowly fold forward over your legs. Imagine that you are bringing your heart forward to your toes instead of rounding your back. Breathe here for five to ten breaths.
Cat/cow moves up and down the spine, following your breath, to help release compression between your vertebrae.
Come to all fours with hands directly below shoulders and knees directly below hips. Inhale, release your belly to the floor as your tailbone lifts, shoulder blades move onto your back, heart comes forward through your arms, and your head lifts.
Exhale, curling your tailbone in and pushing the floor away to round the back, tucking your chin into your chest. Repeat five times. Move slowly and follow your breath.
Adapt this sciatica stretch for elderly by completing it on a bed. Pregnant women can also use this pose as a breathing practice, too, as the following video shows.
8. Cat/cow “nerve flossing”
This exercise builds on the cat/cow stretch above and adds movement to gently stretch an irritated sciatic nerve.
Start on all fours, as with cat/cow above. Inhale to cow, then exhale into cat. This time, as you round your back, sink your hips to your heels. Inhale to come up into cow, but bring your hips down to the ground while bending your heels in towards your glutes.
Repeat the whole sequence three to five times, or as much as feels good. This can be challenging when you are just starting out, so take your time and listen to your body.
This is one of the good sciatica stretches for pregnancy. Keep your knees wide in child’s pose, and don’t worry about bringing your hips all the way to the ground when you come up to cow.
9. Standing twist with a chair
This is a great sciatica exercise for leg pain that uses props and a wall for stability. Place a chair with its back against a wall. You can use a book or a block on the seat of the chair for a deeper stretch, but it is not necessary to begin.
Stand facing the seat of the chair with one shoulder against the wall. Place the foot closest to the wall on the seat of the chair. Lengthen your tailbone down to the floor and your crown up to the sky.
On an inhale, twist gently towards the wall, placing your hands on the wall at shoulder height (if you can). Keep your shoulders relaxed and your spine tall. Breathe here for five breaths and think about lengthening your spine. Repeat on other side.
10. Chair figure four
A seated figure four stretch reaches deep into the piriformis muscle to release pressure on your sciatic nerve. Of the sciatica stretches for elderly, this one might be most accessible, as it can be done in a chair.
Sit in a chair, close to the edge, and keep your feet directly below your knees. Sit up tall with your core lightly engaged, then place your right ankle on your left knee. Allow gravity to release your right knee closer to the floor as you breathe. Don’t push or force the stretch. If this feels good, you can gradually fold forward over your bent leg.
Breathe here for five to ten breaths, focusing on relaxing the muscles in your hips. Release and repeat on the other side. This and the next two variations of a figure four stretch are one of the best sciatica exercises for all levels of fitness
11. Seated figure four (on the ground)
This version of a figure four stretch can be modified as your muscles relax.
Sit with your back against a wall (or close to it) for support. Extend both legs out in front of you, sitting up tall and engaging your core. Place your right ankle just above your left knee. Begin to bend your left knee, walking the left foot closer to your sitting bones. Take five to ten deep even breaths, then slowly release. Repeat on the other side.
This stretch can be very intense, so take your time. It is not necessary to have your knee fully bent to get the benefit.
12. Supine figure four stretch
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your right ankle to rest on your left knee in a shape that resembles the number four.
On an exhale, bring this shape into your chest, then thread your right arm through your legs and clasp the left hand, holding the back of the thigh. Breathe here for five to ten breaths. Repeat with the other leg.
13. Crescent lunge twist
When you are feeling stronger, standing poses offer some of the best sciatica stretches for relief and support.
Start in a standing position. Take a big step forward with your left foot, bending into the left knee so that the knee stacks directly over the ankle. Place your right knee on the ground and untuck your toes. Bring your hands together at your chest (in a prayer position). Inhale to lengthen your spine. On an exhale twist, your body to the left and hook your right elbow on your left thigh.
As you inhale, reach the crown of your head high, and as you exhale press your navel to your spine to deepen the twist. Hold for five breaths. Inhale to unwind, then repeat on the other side. You can modify this posture by lifting the knee off the ground or using a block on the inside of the forward leg. See all three modifications here.
14. Standing scissor stretch
This sciatica stretch requires a bit of balance. You can also do it at a wall or with a chair for support.
To begin, stand on the floor with your right leg crossed over the left. You can keep your legs together, or you can step your right foot a little in front of the left. Take a deep breath in, then hinge at the hips to fold forward. You can bend your knees as much as you need so that you can place your hands on the floor, on some blocks, or on the seat of a chair.
This stretches your hamstrings but also gets into the glutes to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. Relax your head and neck down. Breathe here for five to ten breaths. Press into your feet and engage your belly to support your back as you rise up out of the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
15. Hamstring stretch (seated or standing)
Our final sciatica exercise works on loosening tight hamstrings either from a seated or standing position.
Extend one leg out in front of you, placing your heel on the ground. Take a deep breath in, lengthening your spine, then exhale to hinge at the hips and fold over the extended leg. Take five to ten deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
What other sciatica treatments should I try?
The best stretches for sciatica can be paired with other treatments for more relief.
For the majority of patients, walking for sciatica is a great way to relieve pain while increasing overall fitness. When combined with physical therapy and chiropractic care, these techniques provide a comprehensive plan to strengthen and stretch your muscles to relieve pain and pressure on the sciatic nerve.
You might also consider more complementary or interventional strategies to relieve sciatic pain, including:
Your treatment plan should be tailored to your underlying condition, the severity of your pain, other medical concerns, and overall health.
Find help for your sciatica pain
If you want to learn more about how the best sciatica stretches can help you manage your sciatic pain, a pain doctor can help.
Find a pain specialist in Arizona or Texas by clicking the button below or look for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.