According to Spine Health, up to 40% of the population has sciatica, with middle-aged men being the most susceptible to the condition.
Medically, sciatica is called lumbar radiculopathy, but it is more commonly known as a “pinched nerve.” Sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time can put pressure on your nerves and increase the pain.
Read on to hear from OrthoIndy pain management physician, Dr. Nicholas Jasper, as he discusses the best stretches and exercises for sciatic nerve pain and effective sciatica treatment.
What is sciatica pain?
Sciatica pain is impingement of the spinal nerve roots causing inflammation and irritation of the spinal nerves.
“This pain is typically called ‘sciatica’ because the nerve roots that are most commonly pinched in your low back involve either the L4, L5, or S1 nerve roots”, said Dr. Jasper. “These nerve roots exit the spine and combine to form the sciatic nerve that then travels from your lower back and into the buttocks and down the back of each leg and into each foot.”
What causes sciatica?
It is most commonly caused by a herniated disc, which can be a result of simple wear and tear due to aging. It is more common in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.
When a disc herniates, the gel-like center of the disc protrudes into or through the disc’s outer lining. This herniated disc will sometimes press directly on the nerve roots that exit the spine and become the sciatic nerve.
You may also feel numbness, tingling, and/or weakness, typically affecting one leg at a time.
Other common causes of sciatica symptoms include:
- Degenerative disc
- Spinal stenosis
- Facet joint arthritis, bone spurs (spondylosis)
- Slipped disc (spondylolisthesis)
- Piriformis sydrome
How to help sciatica pain
The following things can reduce pain if you have sciatica:
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Control diabetes
- Change occupation
- Exercises for sciatic nerve pain
What are stretches for sciatica?
While proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can help relieve sciatica pain, your doctor may also recommend a stretching regimen.
Good stretches for sciatica nerve relief include:
- Simple seated stretch
- Standing piriformis stretch
- Supine piriformis stretch
- Outer hip piriformis stretch
- Groin/long adductor stretch
- Inner thigh/short adductor stretch
- Side lying clam
OrthoIndy Physical Therapy offers treatment options and exercises for sciatic nerve pain to provide relief.
Work with a physical therapist and make an appointment to follow a treatment plan personalized to you. In most cases, OrthoIndy Physical Therapy doesn’t require an appointment.
Exercises for sciatic nerve pain
Your physician and/or physical therapist will provide you with the appropriate exercises for sciatic nerve pain depending on your diagnosis. For some, any type of forward bending activity worsens symptoms.
“In these cases, a person would benefit more from extension-based exercises,” said Dr. Jasper. “Similarly, if back extension worsens symptoms, then a person would benefit from flexion-based exercises.”
The following are some of the best exercises for sciatic nerve pain due to the minimal impact it has on your spine and joints:
- Walking: Walking is one of the simplest exercises for sciatic nerve pain. Just a 30-minute stroll can help keep you healthy and has a lower chance of causing inflammation on your nerves.
- Swimming: Swimming is a great way to get in a cardio workout without putting much stress on your joints.
- Yoga: Yoga is one of the best exercises for sciatic nerve pain and can help relieve some of the stress from your muscles to provide relief.
Exercises for sciatic nerve pain to avoid
When performing exercises for sciatic nerve pain, it is important to focus on your form. Improper techniques can lead to further injuries. However, avoid these exercises if you are experiencing sciatica pain:
- AVOID heavy stretching of the hamstrings: It puts unnecessary stress on the hamstring muscles. It can affect the sciatic nerves indirectly, worsening your injury.
- AVOID straight legged sit-ups: This exercise can damage the structure of the spinal cord, causing inflammation and numbness below the waist. Permanent nerve damage can occur.
- AVOID heavy deadlifts: This exercise can result in spinal injury, which contributes to lower back pain.
- AVOID bent over rows: Bad posture with bent over rows can cause herniated discs, which can lead to sciatica pain.
What to do for sciatic nerve pain?
Treatment for sciatic nerve pain will be determined by your doctor after an evaluation.
Medications, physical therapy (including exercises for sciatic nerve pain), and activity modification will be the first option of treatment and are typically coordinated by a patient’s primary care physician or a physiatrist.
Sometimes a period of relative rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and/or acetaminophen can help with symptoms. If pain continues further treatment involves advanced imaging with MRI or CT to determine if one would benefit from injection or surgical treatment.
Additional treatments also involve prescription medications that are used to help with inflammation and nerve pain.
“Urgent evaluation by a spine surgeon is indicated if you are having leg weakness, ‘saddle anesthesia’ (numbness/tingling in your groin/sitting area) and/or bowel/bladder incontinence,” said Dr. Jasper.
Seeing a spine surgeon is also indicated if you continue to have leg pain symptoms despite conservative treatment.
Schedule an appointment
Your well-being is important to us. Our orthopedic specialists can provide you with treatment options including stretching and exercises for sciatic nerve pain.
If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.
Get the Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief
Our comprehensive guide will help you understand back pain and its different causes, like sciatica, herniated disk, scoliosis, pinched nerves and more.