Sciatica Exercises

by admin on January 20, 2011

Before beginning to discuss possible exercises to relieve sciatic nerve pain it is important to understand what sciatica actually is.  Rather than being a

Sciatic Nerve

The Sciatic Nerve

diagnosis in itself, sciatica is a set of symptoms generally used to indicate problems around the sciatic nerve.  This descriptive term does not, therefore, address the cause of the pain or symptoms and merely indicates the presence of compression or irritation of one or more of those nerves which make up the sciatic nerve as they exit the lower spine.

Sciatica is also referred to as radiculopathy as it is the nerve root itself which is being impinged upon.  This compression can be due to a herniated disc in neck or in the back, osteophyte growth, the presence of spinal stenosis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, trauma, acute or chronic inflammation, or even a tumor which is putting pressure on the sciatic nerve area.  As the sciatic nerve runs through the lower back and down the posterior of each leg branching off into parts of the leg, foot, and toes, the pain can be felt all along the back of the buttock and down the length of the nerve.

Exercise Programs Designed for Sciatic Nerve Pain

Specific exercises to help with sciatica will be prescribed according to the condition underlying the symptoms.  An exercise programme ought to lead to a reduction in the sciatic nerve pain in the short term and a decrease in the incidence and severity of further occurrences.  Physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists are just a few of the professionals who you may wish to consult for guidance on sciatica exercises tailored to your specific condition.  In the meantime, a few exercises which may be helpful in sciatica pain reduction can be found below, although discussing these activities with your healthcare professional is, as always, advised.
Exercise is usually the better option for sciatic nerve pain than simple bed rest as inactivity can make the condition worse.  After a couple of days of bed rest it is advisable to return to normal activity in order to keep the muscles loose and limber and prevent any loss of condition, stiffness, weakness, or further trauma.  Activity is also important to maintain good circulation and general health in order to ensure the spinal discs and tissues remain supple and that degeneration is slowed or halted.  By focusing on strengthening the core muscles in the abdomen and the back, the body gives more support tot he back and prevents strain being placed on any one muscle group in particular.  Regular stretching and strengthening exercises can allow you to recover more quickly from a sciatica flare-up and mean that you are less likely to experience as severe or frequent pain from sciatica.

Hamstring stretches are advisable in almost all types of sciatica and patients usually find that by having a regular stretching regime to keep the hamstrings (the muscles at the backs of the thighs) loose and supple the lower back is less likely to be stressed and aggravated.

Sciatica from Disc Herniation

If your sciatica is caused by a herniated disc then the pain is likely to move up from the lower limb to the lower back when you conduct extension exercises or press-ups.  To begin this exercise you should lay on the floor on your stomach with your upper body propped up on your elbows (keep your hips on the floor).  It is important to start this exercise slowly as it is unlikely you will be able to tolerate this position for long at first.  Try holding for five seconds initially and gradually increase the time to thirty seconds or so with around ten repetitions.  If your doctor gives you the OK then a more advanced stretch can be performed where you begin in the prone position and press up on your hands instead of your elbows thereby increasing the angle of the stretch.  This is usually a shorter duration of a second or so, repeated ten or so times.  For those who find these exercises difficult they can begin simply by arching the back with their hands on their hips and try to progress to the more effective prone position.

Sciatic Nerve Exercise

Begin Sciatica Exercises Slowly

Sciatica Exercises

Work your way into longer holds

Avoid Aggravating your Condition

Exercises such as these can be done regularly, every couple of hours, and some spine specialists recommend that any patient with sciatica should correct any forward flexion position by conducting an extension exercise immediately.  Indeed, sciatica sufferers with disc herniation are usually advised to avoid any forward flexing (bent over) positions as much as possible as these can severely aggravate the condition.

Strengthening the lower back muscles is also advisable and an exercise designed to do this is conducted by lying in a prone position whilst clasping the hands behind the lower back and raising the head and chest slightly.  It is important to remain looking a the floor in order to not over-do the upper back extension stretch.  Hold the position for about five seconds and repeat ten times or so, gradually building to a hold of twenty seconds.

Prone Position Back Exercise

Prone Position Back Strengthening Exercise

Lower Back Strengthening Exercise

Lower Back Strengthening Exercise

In order to strengthen the abdominal muscles a simple stretch involves lying on your back making sure your lower back is flat to the floor, and slowly tightening the stomach muscles as you raise one leg straight about ten inches off the floor.  Hold for ten seconds or so, ensuring the back is kept flat to the floor and is not strained unduly. Gradually increase the repetitions and duration of the stretch and remember to alternate legs evenly.

Core Strengthening Exercise

Core Strengthening Exercise

Sciatica from Spinal Stenosis

Patients with spinal stenosis causing sciatica are more likely to be recommended a programme of forward (flexion) exercises than those with sciatica due to disc herniation.  A combination of exercises that strengthen those muscles which bring the spine into flexion, and stretching of the back muscles which allow backwards bending are helpful.

Back flexion can be achieved by lying on your back and gently pulling your knees up to your chest in order to feel a gentle stretch, hold for thirty seconds and release slowly.  Repeat five times.  Another back stretch begins with you on your hands and knees and gently stretches your back as you sit back onto your heels whilst keeping your arms outstretched and your chest and head down.  Hold this position for thirty seconds and return to your hands and knees before repeating five times.  If thirty seconds is too long a stretch then gradually build up to this.

Back Flexion Exercise

Back Flexion Exercise

Back Flexion Exercise

Another Flexion Exercise for Loosening Back Muscles

Abdominal Strengthening

To strengthen the lower abdominal muscles you can lie on your back and press your lower back to the floor by constricting your lower stomach muscles.  You may have encountered this exercise in a Pilates class where your teacher asks you to bring your navel to your spine by tightening these lower stomach muscles and holding for ten seconds or so.  Other exercises, such as the curl-up or sit-up, can be beneficial for sciatica due to spinal stenosis but should only be attempted if disc herniation is ruled out as a cause of your sciatica.

Abdominal Muscle Strengthening

Abdominal Muscle Strengthening

Extreme Sciatic Nerve Pain

For patients with extreme sciatic nerve pain a programme of water-based exercises may be an excellent starting point with even simply walking in waist-deep water providing a gentle workout for the abdominal and lower back muscles.  Before commencing any of these exercises it is important to confirm the reason for your sciatica as the wrong kind of exercise may worsen your condition.  Establishing a tailor-made regime of strengthening and stretching with your physical therapist is advisable in order to effectively relieve and control your sciatica pain.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sciatica May 23, 2011 at 2:03 am

Thanks for sharing these exercise programs. This is very helpful.

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Megan November 2, 2011 at 8:43 am

Stretching is such an important and useful tool to those that suffer from sciatica and lower back pain. I am always looking for new techniques and forms of therapy and exercise. The above information is extremely descriptive, and provides excellent visuals for people who are attempting these techniques at home. I wanted to thank you for sharing and I will pass this information along to my visitors as well.
Thanks again, and take care!

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