The sciatic nerve is one of the largest nerves in the body originating from the lower back and running all the way down the back of the legs. A pinched sciatic nerve can often be misinterpreted as lower back, glutes, hip and leg pain. People suffering from sciatica usually feel pain and a tingling sensation ranging from low to high in the lower back and legs. It is so common because lower back conditions, pain, and injury that can put pressure on the sciatic nerve are widespread. An unsupportive mattress, a fall on the tailbone, or herniated discs are all possible causes. A lack of proper exercise and stretching of the muscles in the area surrounding the sciatic nerve can also cause aggravation. There are various exercises used to treat and alleviate sciatic pain. Whether you have sciatica or not, these exercises are beneficial to your body all on their own.
1. Press Up– This exercise helps to open up the pinched sciatic nerve. Lying on your stomach with your legs long behind you, place your hands on the floor by your head. The farther up your hands are, the less flexion in the back you will have, so adjust according to your own back flexibility. Inhale as you press your chest off the ground by straightening your arms. Make sure your navel is pulled into your spine and your lats are engaged, pulling your shoulder blades down into your back. Exhale as your lower your body back down. Think of lengthening the spine even though your are lifting it up. After a couple of these, you may stay pressed up as you roll your neck around slowly to get a nice stretch in the back of your neck and trapezius muscles. Do 3-5. Take your time to make sure you are activating all of the proper muscles and not straining the lower back. Finish with a child’s pose stretch for the lower back.
2. Rocking– Another sciatic nerve opener. Lie face down and start with a quad stretch by grabbing onto one ankle from behind. Pull your heel into your glute until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Holding onto that leg, reach for your other ankle with the free hand so that you are in the rocking position. If this is intense enough for you, you may stop here. The second phase is lifting the chest and knees off the ground as much as possible. Again, you may practice just lifting up and down in this position if it is challenging enough. The last phase is starting a rocking motion by squeezing the muscles along your entire back side.
3. Thread the Needle-This stretch targets the piriformis muscle in glute area. When this muscle gets too tight, it can often put pressure on the sciatic nerve, causing pain. Lie on your back and with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross one ankle over the other thigh. Reach your hands through the space in between your legs and grab underneath your thigh to pull the legs in towards your chest. It’s important here to keep your tailbone down, spine lenghthened and hips square. It helps to put your foot of the leg that is up against a wall to even out your hips and get a deeper stretch. I like to add another hip stretch after by rotating your legs to one side so that the foot that is over the thigh rests on the floor. This extra stretch reaches deep into my outer hip and hip flexor, a hard to reach area for most.
4. Pigeon– A deep stretch for the glutes and piriformis muscle. Start in a lunge position with your knee over your ankle. This helps to set you up properly. Turn your front leg out and place your leg onto the ground with your shin as parallel to the front of your mat as possible. You may still get the benefits of this stretch if your heel is closer to your body. Keep your hips as square as you can. This can be too much for some people on their knees. If so, you can go back to threading the needle and get the same benefits. Hold this pigeon pose until you feel some release in the front outer hip. You may lean forward to support your upper body while in this pose. Make sure to breathe deeply and calmly.
Sciatic pain comes and goes with most people. Avoid direct stretching of the hamstrings or folding forward past 90 degrees whenever your sciatica is acting up. While stretching the hamstrings can help in the long run, it is only beneficial when the sciatic nerve isn’t aggravated. The exercises above will help relieve most sciatic pain symptoms. Regular exercise and stretching when not in pain is always the best prevention for future flare-ups.
More therapeutic exercises: 4 Stretches for Lower Back Pain and Stiffness
Video: Crystal Chin