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Try These 4 Stretches to Help Relieve Your Sciatic Pain

Sciatic pain can be so overwhelming that you don’t even want to think about moving. But stretches and gentle movement can help get your pain under control. Here’s what to know about this common condition and what to try, according to Adam Stehlin, a physical therapist with Banner Health.

What causes sciatic pain?

Sciatic pain stems from a problem with your sciatic nerve. That’s a nerve that runs from your lower back down to your hips and glutes and each of your legs. “Generally speaking, sciatic pain is pain that typically occurs along the path of the sciatic nerve in the back of the leg,” Stehlin said. Usually, you’ll notice it in one leg or one side of your body, but it’s possible to have sciatica pain on both sides.

It develops when there is pressure on the sciatic nerve or when your nerve is compressed or irritated. With sciatic pain, you might notice burning, numbness, tingling or shooting sensations. A lot of different things can irritate the nerve, including:

  • Overgrowth of bone in the spine (bone spurs)
  • A herniated disc
  • A narrow spine canal (spinal stenosis)
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Tight or inflamed muscles in the glute region

“Most people don’t know that sciatic nerve pain can have many causes. The activities that contribute to symptoms can differ, but they all can lead to the same type of symptoms,” Stehlin said. 

People often get scared when they have pain that involves the nerves because they think they will need surgery. But sciatic nerve pain is common and usually improves with stretching, modifying your activities and rehabilitation exercises.

How stretching can help 

Stretching exercises can loosen up the muscles that are contributing to nerve compression or irritation and provide relief. “Stretching the lower back muscles, the hip muscles or the sciatic nerve itself can be a helpful way to treat sciatica and manage sciatic pain,” Stehlin said. “But knowing the cause of sciatic pain helps to determine the best exercises. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone, and while these exercises will help many people, they don’t work in all cases.”

1. Hamstring stretch

Dynamic hamstring muscle stretches are a type of nerve gliding (sometimes called nerve flossing) exercise that can help with sciatica. “Nerve glides help promote blood flow to the irritated nerve and increase nerve mobility, which decreases symptoms,” Stehlin said.

  • Lie on your back with one leg extended (out straight).
  • Lift your knee until your thigh is at a 90-degree angle to your body, keeping your knee bent.
  • Raise your foot toward the ceiling.
  • Point and flex your foot 10 to 15 times.
  • Return to the starting position and switch legs.
  • Complete three sets every day.
2. Bridge stretch

Bridges can help build strength in your core muscles.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your arms alongside your body—your fingertips should be close to your heels.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles and lift your hips so your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line, like a bridge.
  • Hold this position for a count of 10, then lower your hips.
  • Repeat ten times and complete three sets every day. 
3. Knee-to-chest stretch

Bringing your knees to your chest can help stretch your gluteal muscles.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, just as you did with bridges.
  • Keep your lower back pressed to the floor and gently pull one knee to your chest.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Put your foot back on the floor and repeat with the other leg.
  • Stretch each leg three times and complete three sets per day.
4. Piriformis stretch

The piriformis is a muscle that connects your lower back to your thighs via your butt. Your sciatic nerve is below it, and your piriformis can compress the nerve.

  • Lie on your back with your legs out straight.
  • Bend one knee and lift your foot off the floor.
  • Pull the knee across your body toward your opposite shoulder with your opposite hand.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then put your leg out straight.
  • Repeat with the other leg.
  • Stretch each leg three times and complete three sets per day.

When to see a doctor for sciatica

Along with stretching, building strength in your hips can also help with pain relief. You can often try home treatments for four weeks to see if your symptoms improve. But in some cases, you should get care more quickly.

Make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You are experiencing unexpected leg weakness
  • You can’t perform your activities of daily living
  • You have a fever or chills

Go to the emergency room if:

  • The symptoms started immediately after a traumatic injury such as a motor vehicle accident, severe blow or fall
  • You are experiencing bowel or bladder incontinence

The bottom line

Sciatic nerve pain can run from your lower back through your glute and hip and into one or both legs. It’s common, and stretching can improve range of motion and help ease the pain in many cases. If you would like to connect with a physical therapist or another health care professional to have your sciatic pain diagnosed and to develop an individualized treatment plan, reach out to Banner Health.

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