If you’ve experienced sciatica, you know how important it is to get pain relief quick. Sciatic nerve pain can be extreme and debilitating, affecting your daily life. You’ll likely find the pain is most severe in your leg and may get worse if you sit or stand for long periods of time. Sciatica exercises and stretches are one of the best ways to get relief, getting your body back into tip top shape. Read on to find out our best tips and remedies for sciatica.
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is pain that affects the back, hip and outer side of the leg. It radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, originating in the lower back, radiating deep into the buttock and traveling down the leg. There are two sciatic nerves, one for each leg, and they’re the longest nerves in the human body.
Sciatica typically affects only one side of the body and usually goes away on its own over time. It feels like a constant burning sensation or shooting pain radiating down the front or back of the thigh and leg, and tingling and weakness may also be present. The symptoms may feel worse while sitting, trying to stand up, bending the spine forward, twisting the spine, lying down, or while coughing.
What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?
- Pain anywhere along the sciatic pathway: lower back, buttock, back of the thigh and/or calf
- Pain that worsens with movement; loss of movement
- Fatigue and numbness in the legs and/or feet
- Pins and needles feeling in your legs, feet or toes
What Causes Sciatica?
Sciatica commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine compresses part of the sciatic nerve. A herniated or slipped disk is the most common cause of sciatica. Disks are the cushioning pads between each vertebrae on the spine. Pressure on the vertebrae can cause the gel-like centre of a disk to bulge (herniate) through a weakness in its outer wall. When a herniated disk occurs in your lower back, it can press on the sciatic nerve.
Bone spurs are jagged edges of bone that can form in aging spines and compress lower back nerves. This is often a symptom of osteoarthritis. Sciatica can also be caused by trauma or injury to the lumbar spine or sciatic nerve, or tumors in the lumbar spinal cord that press on the sciatic nerve. Spinal stenosis, the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal can also be the issue, reducing the available space for the spinal cord and nerves.
3 Tips to Prevent Sciatica
1. Stay Physically Active
Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your back and body healthy. It improves circulation, preserves your back’s range of motion and strengthens your muscles, which helps keep your back healthy and lessens your risk of injury.
2. Practice Good Posture
Good posture keeps your spine in tip top shape. Try not to slouch when you sit or stand, keeping your shoulders balanced over your hips and your hips over your heels when standing. If you sit at a desk all day, make sure your desk chair has good lower back support. Also be sure to get up and move around during the day to keep circulation flowing.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight can put extra pressure on your spine and if you’re carrying extra pounds in your stomach region, it can throw off your centre of gravity. This can lead to a lumbar disc herniation, one of the top causes of sciatica. A healthy diet, exercise and active lifestyle are key ways to maintain a healthy weight.
7 Sciatica Exercises and Stretches to Relieve Pain
1. Sitting Spinal Stretch
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 and your feet flexed. Bend your right knee, then place your right foot on the outside of your left knee. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee to help gently turn your body toward the right. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times then switch sides.
2. Pelvic Tilt
The purpose of the pelvic tilt is to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles and stretch the lower back. Begin by lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your ab muscles and bending your pelvis up slightly. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat.
3. Knee to Chest
The purpose of the knee to chest exercise is to help reduce nerve compression in your lower back, which helps alleviate lower back pain. Start lying flat on your back with your knees bent. Use your hands to gently pull your right knee towards your chest, keeping your left foot flat on the floor (or keeping the left leg straight, whichever feels better on your lower back). Keep your lower back pressed to the floor and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat the movement with the opposite knee.
4. Knee to Opposite Shoulder
This stretch loosens your gluteal and piriformis muscles, which can become inflamed and press against the sciatic nerve. Lie on your back with your legs extended and feet flexed. Bend your right leg and clasp your hands around your right knee. Gently pull your right leg across your body toward your left shoulder. Hold it there for 30 seconds, only pulling your leg as far as it will comfortably go. Bring your knee back and return your leg to starting position. Repeat for 3 reps then switch legs.
5. Seated Stretch
You’ll need a chair for this exercise. Start by sitting down in the chair and cross your sore leg over the knee of your other leg. While keeping your spine straight, bend your chest forward. If you don’t feel any pain, bend forward a little more. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat with your other leg.
6. Side Lying Clam
Lie down on the side of your body that isn’t in pain. Bend your knees at a 45 degree angle with your legs and hips stacked. Contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize your core. Keep your feet together and lift your top knee as high as you can without moving the hips or pelvis. Bring your knee to the original position, keeping your lower leg on the floor the whole time. Repeat 10-15 times.
7. Hip Extension
Begin on the ground on all fours, with your shoulders directly above your hands and hips in line with your knees. Raise your affected leg upward toward the ceiling with your knee bent. Gradually lower your leg until it’s almost touching the ground and repeat 15 times.
These exercises and stretches will help you feel better when sciatica turns its painful head. Try them at the first feeling of pain.
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