Stretches That Help With Sciatica Pain Relief

Are you looking for ways to reduce the searing pain of Sciatica?

Our patients tell us sciatic pain feels like someone has plugged you into the mains – with jolts of burning pain that feels like electric shocks. During a flare-up, they say even small and subtle movements cause excruciating pain.

To those who have never experienced the stabbing agony of Sciatica, it’s a mysterious condition that people have heard of yet don’t know what it is. But once it happens to you, man, you know about it. It hurts like hell.

Have you got Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to a type of nerve (neuropathic) pain that originates in the sciatic nerve that runs from your lower back to the soles of your feet. On each side, it stretches from your lower spine, through your buttocks, and down through your thigh, knee, calf, and ankle – finishing up in the sole. 

You have a sciatic nerve on each side of your body, but most people feel it on one side when Sciatica strikes. Sometimes in one spot, sometimes radiating down the entire leg. Alongside the pain, you may also experience numbness, loss of sensation (hypoesthesia), and muscle weakness. 

If you suffer from Sciatica, you know nerve pain is no fun at all. It feels different from muscle or joint pain. It’s sharper and more intermittent, as opposed to the dull ache of joint and muscle pain. It’s harder to find relief, too, because it doesn’t respond as well to over-the-counter painkillers like Advil and Acetaminophen. 

Suppose you’re unsure whether the pain you have is Sciatica. In that case, it’s essential to have a physical exam and imaging tests to identify the cause of your pain – especially with severe pain.

In the Doctor’s office, they treat Sciatica most commonly with powerful, opiate-based painkillers, muscle relaxants like Xanax, and older-style tricyclic anti-depressants like Amitriptyline and Doxepin or injectable nerve blocks. In extreme cases, dangerous spinal surgery that involves removing or fusing spinal bones to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve are done as a last resort.  

Sadly – apart from the surgery, which most people want to avoid at all costs, all these treatments mask the pain. They don’t find the root cause of your pain nor offer long-term, drug-free relief. That’s where Physical Therapy comes in. So, if you’re suffering from Sciatica, we recommend talking to a Physical Therapist as soon as you can. But in the meantime, this blog provides some ideas on how to reduce pain with targeted exercises that help with Sciatica pain relief: 

What Causes Sciatica?

Every case is different. But regardless of cause, pain is a direct result of the sciatic nerve being squashed or irritated. The most common cause of this compression or irritation is usually a slipped disc.

A slipped disc occurs when the soft, connective tissue between the bones of your spine move out of place. Other causes of Sciatica include:

  • Injury 

Inflammation at the injury sites to the lower back and sacral spine can sometimes cause Sciatica because the swelling compresses and irritates the sciatic nerve. This intense pain can occur immediately after the event or many months or years later – due to newly formed scar tissue encroaching on the nerve.

  • Spondylolisthesis

Another possible cause of Sciatica is Spondylolisthesis – where one of the vertebrae of your spine shifts out of place.

This condition presents for many different reasons, from a congenital genetic disability or repetitive trauma from manual labor, sports, and athletics to arthritis and other pathological bone abnormalities. Although it can cause Sciatic nerve pain, Spondylolisthesis comes with its own set of symptoms like hamstring tightness and curvature of the spine. But your M.D or Physical Therapist can diagnose whether this is the cause of your Sciatica. 

  • Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis is often the root cause of Sciatica – when narrowing occurs in the spine section, where the sensitive sciatic nerve passes. Again, this process causes the sciatic nerve to be compressed and irritated. 

In all scenarios, the nerve’s compression and irritation cause the pain, so the key to treatment is finding and treating the cause. 

Effective treatment involves various factors, most importantly consultation and therapy with a professional Physical Therapist. Still, there are other things you can do at home to aid in your recovery. Namely, exercise that reduces the pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Here are some of our favorites:

(In the case of severe pain, remember to consult a Doctor or Physical Therapist before starting a new exercise routine – to rule out severe injuries to the back and spine that movement may exacerbate)

If you’re active – and most of our patients are before Sciatica puts them out of business, or you’ve done yoga before, you’ll be familiar with these exercises. But take care to follow our instructions for the moderated versions designed to prevent further injury.

When you’re in pain, less is definitely more.

Don’t be tempted to push yourself to your physical edge when you have Sciatica, as you would typically do in the gym or on the pitch.

 Your body needs time to rest and repair. 

Walking 

It seems simple – and it’s not strictly-speaking a stretch. But walking is underrated. It’s a wonder-drug in some cases. It’s great for mental health, too, which is beneficial for chronic pain patients. Long-term pain gets you down. 

Anyway, particularly in the case of Sciatica, walking is an excellent therapeutic exercise for two reasons:

  1. Walking outside in daylight increases endorphins – our natural, pain-relieving chemicals.  
  1. Walking reduces inflammation – it promotes anti-inflammatory cytokine expression, and research suggests it reduces pain by 30-50%.

Just make sure you pay attention to posture – with your shoulders back and your spine upright, because walking with poor posture aggravates symptoms further.

If walking doesn’t work for you, or makes your pain worse, listen to your body and rest.

Walking acts as a great warm-up exercise for the rest of the stretches, too.

Pigeon Pose

If you’re a yogi, you’ll know all about this pose. If you’re not, don’t worry. It’s nothing to do with birds, and we’re not sure what it has to do with pigeons. But it’s a standard part of practice in all forms of yoga. It works to free up the hips and gently stretches the surrounding muscles. There are three different ways to perform the exercise, which work on slightly different muscles. Try them all and find the one that works best for you.

Don’t push yourself too hard and listen to your body; If it says stop, stop.

  • Basic Pigeon Pose
    • Start by kneeling on all fours (tabletop position, as it’s called in yoga)
    • Raise your starting leg off the floor slightly and move your knee towards your hand (on the same side) 
    • Your leg should look like it’s almost at a right angle, parallel to the body.
    • Then, straighten out your back leg and sit up tall
    • You should feel a gentle stretch in your hip
    • Breathe deeply, in and out, and stretch a little further
    • Repeat on the opposite side
  • Seated Pigeon Pose
    • Sit upright on the floor with your legs out in front of you
    • Bend one leg and place the foot/ankle on top of your other outstretched leg
    • Lean forwards until you feel a gentle stretch in your butt and lower back
    • Repeat on the opposite side
  • Reclining Pigeon Pose
    • Lie on your back with your knees bent
    • Place your right foot on your left knee, at a right angle
    • Grasp your left thigh with your hands
    • Then, lie back, breath deeply, and feel the stretch in your piriformis muscle – the small muscle in your butt associated with Sciatica.
    • Repeat on the opposite side

Hamstring Stretch

Loosening tight hamstring muscles can help with sciatic nerve pain. 

  • Begin by lying on your back close to a wall
  • Keep one leg on the floor and raise the other up the wall
  • Push your hips forward until your leg is as straight as possible against the wall. Don’t push it too much – just gently stretch.
  • Repeat on the opposite side

These gentle stretches help with immediate relief. There are many more variations and different stretches that help with Sciatica pain. Still, we recommend you consult with a Physical Therapist first to diagnose the root cause of your pain. This way, we can tailor exercises to your symptoms, so you don’t exacerbate the pain.

Talk To A Physical Therapist About Your Sciatica

If you’re unsure whether Physical Therapy is right for you, we offer all new patients a free call with one of our PTs to talk about their pain symptoms and learn how we can help. Contact us now to book your complimentary call.

If you want to jump right in, book a 30-minute taster session at the clinic to meet your Physical Therapist in person and view our facilities.

Andrew Vertson
Latest posts by Andrew Vertson (see all)

You Might Also Like...