Are you one of the many people who deal with sciatica pain? Does nerve pain force you to stay in bed all day? Is your back screaming for relief? While there’s no cure to rid yourself of this pain instantly, there are some things you can do to help make this common ailment feel a little better — like sciatica stretches.
In this post, we’re exploring sciatica nerve pain to uncover the best stretches and exercises that just might be able to relieve your discomfort. So if you’re ready to give your aches and pains the boot — keep reading.
What Is Sciatica?
Despite what some people may think, sciatica is not a condition in itself, but a blanket term for any kind of pain that originates from the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the human body, running from the lower back and pelvis through the buttocks and down the legs.
Five different nerve roots make up the sciatic nerve:
- Two from the low back region called the lumbar spine
- Three from the bottom section of the spine, called the sacrum
Together, these touchy nerve roots form a right and left sciatic nerve that branch out into other nerves. When triggered, sciatic nerve pain can feel like a tingling sensation (pins and needles), radiating lower back pain, numbness in the leg along the nerve, and in severe cases, weakness.
What Are Common Causes of Sciatica Symptoms?
Simply put, sciatica occurs when the nerve becomes pinched, inflamed, or aggravated — which can happen due to a number of various causes, such as:
1. Herniated Discs
A herniated or slipped disc is the most common culprit behind sciatica. Discs are the gel-like cushioning pads between each vertebra of the spine. Think of them as a jelly donut — when the vertebrae puts pressure on these discs, the “jelly” can leak out, leaving them to touch or compress the lumbar nerve, which leads to sciatica.
The spinal canal protects the spinal cord and the nerves that run up and down the spine. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing and clogging of the spinal canal. When this happens, nerves can be compressed, resulting in pain.
More often than not, the decrease in space within the canal is the result of disc herniation, but it can also occur due to other issues, such as:
- Injuries to the spine
- The development of bone spurs or spinal tumors
- Thickening of the ligaments that hold the spine together
Disc degeneration — aka degenerative disc disease (DDD) — is an extremely common and almost inevitable part of aging. Over time, intervertebral discs undergo a drying out process called disc desiccation.
The water content in the discs dip, which makes them weak, brittle, and more prone to herniation — which, of course, you know by now often manifests into nerve pain. Ouch!
Believe it or not, sciatica-like symptoms are extremely common with low back pain during pregnancy. In fact, somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of pregnant women experience backache. While it’s most common in the second and third trimesters, this uncomfortable pain can strike as early as the first trimester.
Pro Tip: If you’re expecting a small bundle soon (congrats!), it can be tough to find pain relief that’s safe for you and your growing tot. To safely ease your aches and pains, we recommend 8 Sheep Organics’ Sleepy Body Lotion. This magnesium-rich lotion is a dream and can help to prevent restless legs, combat nerve pain, and promote a good night’s rest. What’s not to love?
Sometimes, sciatica isn’t a result of aging, herniation, or pregnancy but an injury or trauma to the lower back. Spinal injuries can be quite complex, so seek medical attention if you believe you’re suffering from sciatica after a bad fall or car accident. Your healthcare provider can diagnose your injury, verify that you’re not facing any additional risk, and offer medical advice for the best course of treatment.
Which Sciatica Exercises and Stretches Work To Ease Nerve Pain?
As mentioned a little earlier, there’s technically nothing that can be done to kick sciatica to the curb, but certain stretches may provide some relief. Here are some of the best simple stretches to help ease your nerve pain:
1. Lying Figure Four Stretch
This wonderful exercise gently stretches the lateral glute muscles as well as the piriformis muscles.
- Get on the ground and lie flat on your back
- Cross your right foot over your left quad before bending your left knee
- Hold the back of your left leg and ever-so-gently pull it toward your chest
- When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold the position for 45 seconds
- Switch sides and repeat
2. Back Flexion Stretch
Flexion exercises are super helpful to increase spinal mobility, strengthen abdominal musculature, and relieve tightness in the spine.
- Lie flat on your back
- Gently pull both of your knees to your chest with both hands until you feel a comfortable stretch in the mid and lower back.
- For a more advanced stretch, slowly bring your head forward.
- Hold this stretch for five to 10 seconds before returning to the starting position.
3. Pelvic Tilt
This is an excellent exercise to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles while stretching the lower back.
- Lie flat on your back
- Take a deep breath and exhale as you tighten your abdominal muscles while pushing your belly button toward the floor. Keep your back straight and flat.
- Hold this position for five seconds before inhaling.
4. Cobra Pose
This common yoga pose helps extend the spine, alleviating pressure on the lower back.
- Lie flat on your stomach with both hands placed directly underneath your shoulders and palms flat on the ground.
- Press through your hands to extend your spine, slowly lifting your shoulders off the ground while keeping your hips on the ground.
- Gently extend your spine as far as your range of motion allows and hold at the top for two seconds.
- Slowly return to the starting position and pause for another two seconds.
Note: The goal of this stretch is to gradually increase the range of motion in your spine each time you repeat the exercise.
5. Standing Hamstring Stretch
Increasing flexibility in your hamstring often results in less lower back stress and tension on the sciatic nerve. In other words, stretching your hamstrings is a simple way to get sciatica pain relief!
- Begin by standing tall with both of your feet together
- Lift the right leg straight out in front and rest the heel on a ledge or table that’s just below the height of your hips.
- Keeping the knee straight but soft, bend forward at your waist, keeping a straight spine until you feel a nice, comfortable stretch in the back of the leg.
- Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing.
- Return to the starting position before swapping to the left leg to stretch the opposite side.
6. Child’s Pose
Another fantastic stretching exercise to ease pain, a child’s pose can work wonders in soothing aches and pains.
- Start by kneeling on the ground with your toes together and knees hip-width apart. Rest your palms on top of your thighs
- Take a deep breath before exhaling and lower your torso between your knees.
- Extend your arms alongside your torso with both palms facing down on the floor. Relax your shoulders toward the ground.
- Rest in this pose for as long as needed
Pro Tip: It’s not uncommon to feel some soreness before relief after exercising. If this is the case, we recommend taking a warm, soothing bath with 8 Sheep Organics’ Therapeutic Bath Salts. Trust us — you’ll thank us later!
A Final Word
Although sciatica is quite common — especially during pregnancy — unbearable pain that lasts for more than a few hours is not. Seek medical attention if you experience severe pain that is chronic or associated with bladder control loss, muscle weakness, or numbness. You should also consider reaching out to a healthcare provider if you find no improvement after exploring various self-care measures to ease your pain.
Sciatica nerve pain can be a pain — literally. But rest easy knowing that it doesn’t have to impact your quality of life. Certain stretches (like the ones listed above), heat and cold therapy, and even magnesium may help you to find relief. So take a deep breath — you got this!
Sciatica - Symptoms and Causes | Penn Medicine
Pregnancy and low back pain | Springer Link
Magnesium supplement promotes sciatic nerve regeneration and down-regulates inflammatory response | PubMed