Contrary to popular belief, sciatica is not actually a condition in and of itself. Sciatica is the name given to a specific collection of symptoms that arise from pressure on or impingement of the sciatic nerve. This pain can be debilitating, but there are a few ways to find relief with sciatica stretches you can do anywhere.
Sciatica stretches for pain
The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body. It originates from the lumbar spine and runs through the buttocks and down both legs. Because it is so long, patients experiencing sciatica can experience pain and symptoms along the entire length of the nerve.
Sciatica symptoms can include:
- Pain: Sharp and shooting or dull and persistent. Pain may occur anywhere along the nerve, including the back, hips, thighs, and calves.
- Numbness: Patients may experience loss of sensation in any part of the back, hip, or leg.
- Pins and needles: When numbness fades, patients 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 a condition causes impingement or compression of the sciatic nerve. There are a number of causes of sciatic pain, including:
- Bulging or herniated disc
- Injury to the spine (as might occur in a car accident)
- Spinal tumor
- Spinal stenosis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Osteoporosis and compression fractures
Sciatica stretches can help to relieve the pressure and pain of sciatica.
Ten sciatica stretches that you can do anytime, anywhere
1. Child’s pose
Of the 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.
2. Standing twist
Stand facing a chair. Pick up your right foot and place it 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 to the right, placing your left hand on your right thigh (right hand on right hip). Breathe here for five breaths and think about lengthening your spine. Repeat with the other leg.
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 the 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, slowly and following your breath.
4. Knee hugs
Lie on your back, legs extended long. Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, use the strength of your core (not your lower back) to bring the 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.
5. Supine twist
Lie on your back, arms out in a “T” shape. On an exhale, bring both knees up so that the knees are directly above the 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.
6. Supine twist with one knee
Lie on your back with both legs extended. On an exhale, bring your right knee into your chest and give it a squeeze. Inhale here, then on an exhale, slowly lower the knee across your body to the left. Shift your hips so that they stack on top of one another. Breathe here for five to ten breaths, then bring your knee up to the center on an exhale and repeat with the other leg.
7. Lunging twist
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 top of 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, and on an exhale twist your body to the left to hook your right elbow on your left thigh. Keeping inhaling to create length along the whole spine, and move your navel to your spine with each exhale to deepen the twist. Hold for five breaths. Inhale to unwind, then repeat on the other side.
8. Seated twist
If a lunging twist is too much to begin, seated twists offer the same benefit. Sit in a cross-legged position with your tailbone lengthening down into the floor to lift the low belly as the crown of the head rises towards the sky. 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 the right hand on the left thigh. Keep your hips steady and grounding down into the floor to stabilize the base of the spine, and breathe into the twist for five breaths. Inhale to lift your arms above your head and release the twist, then exhale to the other side.
9. Thread the needle
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 to clasp the left hand at the back of the thigh. Breathe here for five to ten breaths. Repeat with the other leg.
10. Cobbler’s pose
Sit on the floor with knees bent and soles of the feet touching. Inhale to lengthen the spine, then exhale to lengthen the tailbone down into 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.
When you begin sciatica stretches, it is crucial to talk with your doctor. She can advise you on what is safest for the underlying condition. Additionally, make sure to listen to your body as you stretch. Sharp, stabbing pain or a stretch that increases pain may not be safe for you. Don’t push yourself past what is safe.
If you have sciatic pain, what sciatica stretches help you?