Found in the lower back on either side of the spine, the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It runs through the buttocks area and straight down each leg. Once this nerve is damaged, it is common to experience a very sharp or numbing pain, which runs from the lower back all the way down to the ankle. This pain can often occur when you stand up, sit down, or roll over while lying down.
In worse cases, one might experience extreme back pain or mild to severe burning sensation that weakens the leg completely, forcing you to become temporarily immobile. This condition may persist for days or even weeks and it’s commonly known in the medical field as sciatica.
What Causes Sciatica?
There are many things that can cause sciatica, but roughly 90% of sciatica cases are caused by a herniated (slipped) disc. The spine is made up into three parts: vertebrae, nerves, and discs. Discs are made up of cartilage, which acts as a cushion between the vertebrae. A herniated disc occurs when the disc slips out of place, which ultimately puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. No matter what the cause is, they all involve irritating the root(s) of the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine.
How To Treat Sciatica?
When the nerve pain becomes too much to bear, a microdiscectomy, which is a common surgical procedure used to treat sciatic nerve damage, might be recommended by a doctor. During this process a small piece of the lumbar disc is removed to help ease the pain. While surgery may seem like the most effective option, it’s important to know that 80%-90% of people who suffer from sciatica can improve their condition without opting for surgery. Try the following stretches and exercises to help relieve sciatic nerve pain.
Cat & Cow Pose:
- Start on all fours with your back straight and your hands and knees shoulder width apart. Your hands should be on the ground below your shoulders and your knees should be on the ground below the hips.
- Take a deep breath and round your spine up, squeezing your gluteus muscles and contracting the abdomen.
- Tuck your chin into your chest and let your head and neck hang. Hold this for a second before exhaling into an arch, relaxing your abdomen.
- Make sure to lift your head up toward the ceiling to help elongate your neck muscles.
- Repeat and transition from cat and cow pose, while taking deep breathes.
- Lie down flat on your back with both knees bent, feet flat on the ground up against your buttocks. Rest your arms at your sides.
- Take the right ankle and cross it over the left thigh, just above the bent knee.
- Use both hands to tightly grasp your hamstring
- Start to pull the bent leg towards your chest for a good stretch. Make sure your back remains flat on the ground.
- Hold this position as you take a few deep breaths. Get your knee as close to your chest as possible. If at any point it becomes painful release the pose.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Take a seated position on a yoga mat, with both knees bent upwards so that your feet can be flat on the ground. Rest both palms on the ground behind you to maintain balance.
- Lift your right leg and cross it over your left thigh, just above the knee.
- Lift your chest and elongate the spine as you relax your shoulders and neck.
- With you hands resting firmly on the ground, take a deep breath and push off your hands to move a couple inches toward your thighs. Hold this position for about five or ten breaths.
- Switch sides and perform the same movement with the left leg crossing the right.
Knees to Chest:
- Begin by laying down flat on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the ground; your heels should be close to your buttocks.
- Lift your feet off the ground and use your arms to hug your knees into your chest. If possible, interlace your fingers around your shins to pull them closer to deepen the stretch.
- Hold it for 20-30 seconds, breathing steadily throughout, and then release. Repeat for 2-3 more times.
Seated Spinal Twist:
- Take a seat on a yoga mat with your legs extended out and your back straight.
- Bend your left knee, lifting up the leg and crossing it over to the outer thigh of the extended right leg.
- Take your right hand and place it outside of the bent knee (left leg). Begin to twist your body to the left for a good stretch. The goal should not be to force a crack in the lower back vertebrae; rather, you just want to stretch the lower back muscles.
- Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds before switching sides.
Cobra Back Stretch:
- Lie flat on your stomach and place your palms flat on the ground near your pectoral muscles.
- Make sue the tops of your feet are flat on the ground before you press up into cobra position. Lift you chin and chest upward, and you’ll begin to feel the tension on your back as it bends for a good stretch.
- Hold it for 10-15 seconds, lower yourself back onto your stomach, and then repeat two more times.
Reclined Supine Twist:
- Lie down on your back and bend your knees, elevating your feet off the ground.
- Extend both arms out to the sides to make a “T” formation. Be sure to keep your back pressed down on the floor.
- Try your best to keep your chest facing the ceiling as you slowly twist to the left side until your left knee touches the floor. Be sure that you’re twisting at the hip.
- Hold this position for 10-20 seconds while taking deep breaths.
- Release and bring you knees back to center, take a breath, and then switch to the other side.
Supine Twist With One Knee:
- While laying flat on your back with both legs extended out, bend your right knee and lift the foot off the ground. Keep the left leg extended.
- Shift your hips slightly to the right so you can easily move into a twist.
- Cross the right knee over to the left side of your body, so that your right hip is above the left hip. Be sure to keep your torso facing the ceiling, because this ensures that you are twisting at the hips.
- Extend your right arm to the side and rest your left hand on the right knee to hold it in place.
- Hold this position for 10-15 seconds before repeating on the other side.
Supported Bridge Stretch:
- Lay down on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the ground a few inches from your buttocks.
- Keep both arms extended toward your heels.
- Lift your hips off the floor by pressing down on the soles of your feet and engaging your gluteus muscles. You can use your hands to stay leveled while coming off the ground.
- Put your palms on your lower back for support, if necessary, and hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds.
- Repeat for 2-3 times, or as needed.
Sciatic Nerve Floss:
- Take a seat on a chair and place both hands on your thighs.
- Extend whichever leg is causing you pain, resting the heel on the ground, and simultaneously lean your head back to extend the neck. Look up at the ceiling and flex your toes toward your body as you raise the leg up.
- As you lower the leg down to the ground, lower the neck down as well in a synchronized manner.
- Bend the knee and tuck it under the chair for a good flex.
- Repeat this stretch daily for the best results.