People with sciatica often experience pain running through the buttocks and down the back of the leg. However, it does not have to originate in the back; it can be caused by an injury to the pelvis or hip, or from direct pressure to the sciatic nerve.
The pain can be mild or so severe that a person with sciatica may have trouble standing, sitting, or even sleeping. There is a range of treatments for sciatica, including many stretches that may help to ease the pain.
People with sciatica can experience pain that makes it difficult for them to sit or stand.
The sciatic nerve is a nerve that originates in the lower back on either side of the spine. It runs through the buttocks and into the hips before branching down each leg.
This nerve is the longest nerve in the body and provides sensation to the outer leg and foot.
Sciatica itself is not an injury or disease. Instead, sciatica refers to a symptom of any number of problems.
Sciatica is nerve pain that runs through the buttocks, down the back of the leg and into the ankle or foot.
Some people that have sciatica describe the pain as shooting, sharp, or burning. They may experience weakness in the affected leg. The pain may worsen with sudden movements, such as coughing.
Stretches for pain relief
Certain stretches may provide some relief for people experiencing sciatica-related pain.
Anecdotally, most people with sciatica do find stretching helps relieve pain. However, people with sciatica should speak to a doctor before doing any sciatica stretches to avoid further injury.
A doctor or physical therapist may recommend that people perform several of these stretches each day:
- knees to chest
- cobra or modified cobra
- seated hip stretch
- standing hamstring stretch
- seated spinal twist
- knee to shoulder
Follow these simple instructions to perform these stretches for sciatica pain relief:
Knees to chest
- Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet on the floor.
- Next, slowly hug your knees into the chest.
- For best results, hold for 30 seconds before releasing the stretch and aim to repeat the stretch up to three times.
Cobra or modified cobra
- Lie on your stomach, legs extended and together, elbows bent with palms resting on the floor by the chest.
- To perform this modified cobra, push through the palms and partially straighten the elbows to lift the chest off the floor to about 45 degrees.
- To carry out a full cobra, fully straighten the elbows, lifting the chest further off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds at the top and return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise ten times.
Seated hip stretch
- Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Then raise the affected leg up and cross that ankle over the opposite knee.
- Then, gently bend forward over the crossed leg, breathing deeply and holding for 15 to 30 seconds before releasing.
Standing hamstring stretch
- Start by standing tall with feet together.
- Then lift the affected leg straight out in front of you and rest the heel on a ledge or table that is just under hip width high.
- Keeping the knee straight but soft, bend forward at the waist, keeping the spine straight until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds before releasing.
- Return to the starting position then repeat on the other side.
Seated spinal twist
- Sit up tall on the floor with your legs together, straight out in front of you.
- Bend one leg at the knee and place the foot on the floor on the outside of the opposite knee.
- Then twist towards the bent knee, placing the opposite elbow on the outside of the bent knee to get a deeper stretch.
- For best results, hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Knee to shoulder
- Lie flat on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Then, bend one knee and bring that knee across the body to the opposite shoulder without lifting your hips from the floor.
- For the best stretch, hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds before releasing.
- Repeat on the other side.
If any of these exercises make the sciatica worse, stop immediately. It is normal to feel stretching during these movements, however it is not normal for the sciatic pain to increase.
As well as stretching, some people who experience sciatica symptoms also try other home remedies to ease their pain and discomfort.
Other home remedies include the following:
- Ice: Icing the area for 20 minutes several times a day for the first two to three days after the pain begins.
- Heat: Using heat on the area after the first few days.
- Anti-inflammatories: Taking anti-inflammatory medications to ease the pain. Ibuprofen is available for purchase over-the-counter or online.
Anyone that experiences sciatica for longer than a month should seek medical attention. Additionally, any person that has severe sciatica should seek medical care as soon as possible.
Sciatica is a symptom of a problem and not the problem itself. As such, it has many potential causes.
Treatment for an individual's sciatica largely depends on what is causing the pain.
Some common causes of sciatica include the following:
- a herniated disc or one of the rubbery cushions between the spinal bones slipping out of place
- a narrowing of the spinal cord that puts pressure on the lumbar spine known as lumbar spinal stenosis
- a progressive disease that wears away the cushions in the spinal column known as degenerative disk disease
- other injuries to the back that put excess pressure on the sciatic nerve
It is not always possible to prevent sciatica. However, some lifestyle modifications can significantly help reduce a person's risk of experiencing sciatica again.
In general, regular exercise and building a strong core may help prevent sciatica. Additionally maintaining a good posture while sitting and standing is important, and may make people less likely to develop sciatica than people with poor posture.