Sciatica often refers to pain that occurs along the path of the sciatic nerve, that branches from the lower back through the hips and down each leg. Sciatica usually only affects one side of the body and commonly occurs when a herniated disk, or bone spur, compresses part of the nerve. This, in turn, causes inflammation, pain, and a feeling of numbness in the affected leg.
Pain that stems from sciatica can be severe, but most cases can be resolved with non-operative treatments within a couple of weeks. Those suffering from severe sciatica that causes bowel or bladder irregularities will have the option to undergo surgery.
Can sciatica be prevented?
While sciatica is not always preventable, there are certain routines and habits you can follow that will help protect your back.
Maintain good posture: choose a good seat with proper lower back support when sitting down, especially for long periods of time. Make sure that your chair has armrests and a swivel base as well. If the lower back support is less than adequate, consider placing a small pillow behind your back to maintain the back’s normal curve.
Exercise regularly: exercise regularly and ensure you pay close attention to the muscles in the abdomen and lower back that are vital for proper alignment.
- Seated Twist
While sitting on the floor with both legs positioned straight out in front of you, keep your back straight. Bend your left knee up towards you and place the foot flat on the floor. Twist your body toward the left and place your right elbow on the outside of the left knee. If you exhale while you twist, you may be able to achieve a better stretch. Keep the stretch in place for around 30 seconds. Continue this strategy for both knees and opposing arms.
- Lying Glute Stretch
This stretch will relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve! Lie flat on your back with a pillow under your head and your knees bent. Raise one foot and position it to the opposite knee, resting the ankle on the thigh. Now, grip the bottom thigh with your hands and start gently pulling towards your head. This stretch will engage the abdominal muscles to keep the spine pressed against the floor. Hold this for 30 seconds, breathing deeply, and repeat for the other side.
- Sleeping Pigeon
Starting off with a planking position, tighten your abdomen and pull your left knee toward the left hand, placing your left foot as close to your right hand as possible. Ensure your back leg is stretched out long and keep your hips even as you relax your weight through the middle of your hips. Begin to lower your chest over your front shin, relaxing your forehead down with your arms stretched out overhead. Breathe and hold this position for around 30 seconds. Once complete, go back into the planking position and switch sides to continue.
- Piriformis Stretch
While lying down on your back, bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Cross the right ankle over and onto the left knee. Using both hands, grab the left knee and reach with your right hand in between your legs to gently pull the left leg towards your chest. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, release, and place your left foot back on the floor. Repeat this stretch two times before switching legs and continuing the process.
- Press Up
This exercise is helpful for those with pain that originates more in the lower spine. Lie down on your stomach with both elbows bent at your sides, hands extended and palms facing down. Pull your belly button in toward your spine, engaging your abdominal muscles. Raise your chest upwards slowly by pressing down on your forearms and elbows. Try to raise up as high as possible and hold the pose for around 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Repeat this 5 to 10 times and perform this several times a day.
- Leg Raise
Known to improve lower back strength, this exercise is highly recommended. While lying flat on your stomach, keep your arms pressed at your sides with your palms up. Keep your head elevated, making sure to align it straight with your spine and not tucking in your chin. Engage your core muscles by pulling in your belly button toward the spine. With your legs kept straight, raise one foot off the floor and hold this pose for as long as you can, before repeating on the other side. Try to increase how long you can hold this stretch each time you perform it.
- Forward Fold
This basic yoga pose will stretch the lower back and hamstrings. With your knees relaxed, reach your hands toward the feet and grip onto your ankles or calves. Relax the back of your neck as you move your nose closer to the knees. Breathe in gently and out through your nose.
By relaxing the lower back as well as your leg muscles, this stretch will reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. Lie flat on your back with a pillow under your head for support. Bend both knees and slowly bring one toward your chest, while grasping your knee with both hands and gently pulling the knee toward you. Hold this pose for 10 seconds, breathing deeply. Repeat this stretch 10 times for each side. After, try to bring both knees toward the chest and hold the stretch for 10 seconds.