Medically, sciatica is called a lumbar radiculopathy and 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.
OrthoIndy pain management physician, Dr. Nicholas Jasper discusses best exercises for sciatica, sciatica treatment and stretches to relieve sciatica pain.
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 mostly 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 Syndrome
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
What are stretches for sciatica?
While proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can help relieve sciatica pain, your doctor may also recommend a stretching regiment.
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 for sciatica 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.
Learn how to stretch your sciatic nerve and find other stretches here.
Sciatic Nerve Exercises
Your physician and/or physical therapist will provide you with the appropriate exercise depending on 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 sciatica due to the minimal impact it has on your spine and joints:
- Walking: Taking a 30-minute stroll can help keep you healthy and is an activity that 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: Practicing yoga can help relieve some of the stress from your muscles and help alleviate back pain.
Sciatica Exercises to Avoid
When performing exercises, 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:
- Heavy stretching of the hamstrings: It puts unnecessary stress on the hamstring muscles. It can affect the sciatic nerves indirectly, worsening your injury.
- 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.
- Heavy deadlifts: This exercise can result in spinal injury, which contributes to lower back pain.
- 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 and activity modification will be the first option of treatment and is typically coordinated by a patient’s primary care physicians 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.
Learn more about back pain relief.
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