What is Sciatica Pain?
Sciatica pain is a leg pain that is caused by a pinched nerve in the lower back. It is mostly caused by a herniated disk. When a disk develops a crack or a tear and bulges in to the spinal canal, it may pinch the sciatic nerve and lead to sciatica pain. In case of sciatica pain, the pangs begin in nerve roots which are located on either side of the lower spine and then course via the sciatic nerve running the length of each leg from the buttock down the foot. Sciatica pain is usually felt in one leg and the sensation can be intolerable.(1)
Usually symptoms of sciatica pain clear up within about 6 weeks; but for some patients the sciatica pain may last longer. Below we will talk about some ways to improve sciatica pain.
How to Improve Sciatica Pain?
Medications for Improving Sciatica Pain:
Taking Pain Relievers and Muscle Relaxants Can Help Improve Sciatica Pain:
Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; maybe OTC such as Ibuprofen can help ease the sciatica pain. Doctors may sometimes also prescribe muscle relaxants or pain reducing tricyclic antidepressants as there may be painful muscle spasms which may accompany a disc herniation in Sciatica pain.
Epidural Steroid Injections:
Epidural steroid injections in to the lower back near the sciatic nerve may be beneficial in patients whose sciatica pain does not reduce within one month and who are not helped by any other therapies. Here, the hope is to lessen inflammation within that nerve branch. Epidural shots are limited to 3 a year because there are concerns about side effects, like loss of bone density.
Exercises for Improving Sciatica Pain:
There are some exercises which would be beneficial for relieving sciatica pain. Below are some of the exercises that can be effective in improving the sciatica pain. Make sure that you seek medical professional advice before beginning these exercises for sciatica pain and also note that you must stop the exercises immediately in case you feel any pain.
Knee to Chest Stretch:
This exercise enhances the flexibility of your lower back and can be effective in improving sciatica pain.(2) Below are the steps to perform the exercise:
- Start the exercise by lying on your back on a mat and place a small, flat cushion under your head. Bend your knees and place your feet straight flat on the ground hip width apart. Keep your upper body and chin slightly tucked in.
- Now, bend your right knee towards your chest and grasp the knee with both your hands. Take deep breaths while holding the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Then relax and do it by bending left knee towards you chest and repeating the same procedure.
- Perform this for 3 times, alternating your legs.
Variation in the exercise: You can grasp your both knees and press towards your chest so as to get a variation in the exercise.
Only stretch as much as possible and do not tense up through the neck, shoulder or chest.
Back Extension Exercise for Improving Sciatica Pain:
This exercise stretches and mobilizes the spine backwards and helps improve sciatica pain. Steps for performing the exercise are mentioned below:
- To begin with the exercise, lie on your stomach and lengthen your spine while propping yourself on your elbows. Keep your shoulders, neck and your back long.
- Now, keeping your neck long try to rise up your back by pushing down on your hands. Here you must feel a gentle stretch on your stomach muscles.
- Breathe and hold the position for about 10 seconds and then return to normal.
- Repeat this for 10 times.
Do not bend your neck backwards, keep your hips grounded and make sure you extend as far as you are comfortable.
Standing Hamstring Stretch For Sciatica Pain:
- Standing hamstring stretch can aid in easing the pain and tightness in the hamstring that is caused by sciatica.
- To do this exercise, you would require a chair or a short height elevated surface like a step of staircase.
- You begin the exercise by placing your right foot on the short height elevated surface at or below the hip level. Make sure you flex your foot so that your toes and leg are straight. You can keep a slight bent in your knee if they tend to hyperextend.
- Now, slightly bend your body towards your foot to feel the stretch. You would feel the stretch more as you go further. However do not push so much that you would feel the pain.
- Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat with the left leg.
NOTE: Stretch only as far as it is comfortable. Also remember, your lower back should not arch at any time
Knee to Opposite Shoulder Exercise To Relieve Sciatica Pain:
One more exercise that can help you improve sciatica pain is knee to opposite shoulder exercise. This is a simple stretch that aids in relieving sciatica pain by loosening your gluteal as well as piriformis muscles which can get inflamed and press against the sciatic nerve causing pain.
Steps to perform this exercise:
- At first lie on the mat straight on your back keeping legs straight and feet flexed upwards.
- Now, clasp both your hand around your right knee and gently pull the right leg across your body towards your left shoulder.
- Hold this for 30 seconds and then return back to normal position.
- Repeat the same with the left leg and right shoulder. Perform 3 reps on each side.
NOTE: You must feel a gentle stretch in the muscles and not pain. So, pull your knee as far as it goes comfortably.
Lying Deep Gluteal Stretch:
This is very effective exercise to get rid of sciatica pain.
- To do this exercise, you need to lie flat on your back keeping legs extended straight and feet flexed upwards with arms on your sides.
- Now, bend your left leg and keep your right foot rested on your left thigh.
- Grasp you left thigh with both your hands and pull it towards you. Make sure you are keeping your tailbone on the floor throughout the move and your hips are being straight. Here, you must feel the stretch in the right buttock.
- Hold this for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times.
NOTE: Keep your pelvis straight. You must also not let your tailbone come off the floor while the exercise
Sciatic Mobilizing Stretch:
This stretch mobilizes the sciatic nerve and hamstrings.
- To start with the exercise, lie flat on your back and bend your knees keeping your feet on ground flat hip width apart. Place a small and flat pillow below your head. Make sure you are keeping your upper body relaxed and your chin slightly tucked in.
- Now, bend your right knee up towards your chest and grasp your hamstring with both your hands.
- Then slowly straighten the knee while holding the foot towards you. Hold this for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths
- Next, bend your knees and return back to the normal position.
- Repeat the same with the left leg and do this for 2 to 3 times with both the legs.
Make sure you do not press your lower back down in to the floor while you stretch and also keep noted that you stretch only as far as it is comfortable. Stop immediately, if you feel and numbness, pain or tingling.
One of the most common yoga pose that can help in improving sciatica pain is the pigeon pose. There are a lot of versions of this stretch. We will know about the multiple versions of this pigeon pose such as Reclining pose(The starting version of pigeon pose), sitting pose and forward pose of pigeon pose.
Reclining Pigeon Pose Exercise for Sciatica Pain:
You should try this pose if you are just beginning your treatment for sciatica pain. Once you are comfortable with this, you can go for the other versions of pigeon pose with the advice of your physiotherapist.
- To do this exercise, lie on your back and then lift your right leg up and bend your right knee to an right angle while grasping your legs with both hands behind your thighs, locking your fingers.
- Now, place your left ankle against the knee. Hold this position for few moments and then change your legs. By doing this, you get a stretch on the piriformis muscles which get inflamed with sciatica pain.
- Repeat the exercise by changing sides and doing the same move with the other leg.
Sitting Pigeon Pose:
- Sit on the floor by stretching your legs in front of you.
- Now bend your right knee and place your right ankle on the top of left knee.
- Slowly bend forward towards your thighs. Hold this for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch your sides.
- This stretches the glutes and your lower back
- Be on all your fours on the floor.
- Now, bring your right leg forward. Make sure your lower right leg is on the ground, the foot is in front of the knee and the right knee is facing towards the right.
- Now, stretch your left leg behind you as much possible and be sure the top of the left foot touches the ground and toes points backwards.
- Gradually shift your body weight from your arms to your legs so that your legs are now supporting your weight. Here, sit straight with both your hands on either side of your legs.
- Here, take a deep breath. While breathing out, lean your upper body forward over your lower leg. Make sure you support your weight with your arms as much as it is possible.
Along with the specific sciatica pain reducing exercises, aerobic exercises are essential which may also be required to encourage the general body fitness. Walking can be an excellent form of aerobic exercise for the low back as it is relatively a low impact exercise but can provide all the essential benefits of an aerobic workout. You can try brisk walking each day for at least 3 miles
Tips to Note While Exercising with Sciatica Pain:
It is essential that you are exercising correctly. If exercises are done in an improper form there may not be effective results seen and possibly the sciatica pain may also increase. So, it is advised to learn the exercise properly from a trainer or a trained health practitioner like a chiropractor, physical therapist etc and do under his or her guidance.
Have Proper Diagnosis:
It is crucial enough to get an accurate diagnosis on the condition before starting an exercise program for sciatica pain. Most of the exercise programs will be tailored so as to address the underlying cause of the individual’s sciatica pain.
Emphasis of Core Muscle Strength:
Many exercises for sciatica pain serve to strengthen the abdominal muscles and the back muscles so as to provide more support for the back. Accordingly you need to look for a trained and experienced health practitioner to make you know about the appropriate exercises.
Apart from the right exercises and the right ways of performing them, it is essential for the patients with sciatica pain to reduce their everyday stress on the lower back. This can be done by maintaining good posture, making very much sure that the lower back is supported while sitting, avoiding sitting or even standing for a longer period etc.
Alternative Treatments for Improving Sciatica Pain:
Some of the alternative treatments for improving sciatica pain include the following:
Improving Sciatic Pain With Acupuncture and Massage Therapy :
Acupuncture (3) is one type of traditional Chinese medicine practice that is based on achieving or maintaining better health. This therapy works by opening the body’s natural flow of energy. Tiny, virtually pain free needles are used here so as to target specific pathways in the body. FDA has approved acupuncture as a treatment for back pain and is supported by several studies for relieving chronic pain of all kinds which also include sciatica pain.
Just like acupuncture, massage therapy is also known to be a non-surgical, holistic approach that opens muscles, tissues and channels of body’s energy and aids in improving blood flow and also helps in fighting pain. Massage therapy is known to reduce pain, provide muscle relaxation and also releases endorphins which are natural “feel good” chemicals that work like pain relievers.
Chiropractors Spinal Adjustments:
It is important to have proper diagnosis of sciatica pain and know the underlying cause of your pain. Sciatica can be diagnosed by X-rays, MRI tests etc. Once the diagnosis is done your chiropractor can work with you for realigning the spinal discs and prevent protrusion in to the canal while targeting the underlying source of pain.
Use of Heating Pads:
Many patients suffering from sciatica pain find relief by using heating pads set on a medium or low setting, placed on the lower back for at least 20 minutes each day. You can practice it several times in a day but in a gap of 2-3 hours.
Apart from this, you can also go for warm bathes, as heat loosens up tight muscles and aids in increasing circulation.
Do Not Sit Longer. Keep moving:
It must be noted that sitting for longer duration, such as sitting while at desk work, or watching TV etc, can make things worse in sciatica pain. By avoiding sitting for long you may help yourself in improving sciatica pain by reducing inflammation. You can rather add some light and specific stretches for relieving pain instead of sitting longer. You can also simply try walking wherever possible.
Ice therapy may not ease the inner inflammation in sciatica pain. You can try cold pack to see if it aids in relieving the pain. You can also use a large bag of frozen vegetables as it makes a nice first aid cold pack. Massaging with ice cubes in a proper way can also help in improving sciatica pain.
You need to try alternating the cold massages with heat from an electric heating pad for better pain relief
Usually sciatica pain can be improved by medications, exercises and alternative treatments. However, in case of severe pain surgery might be required. If you or your dear ones are suffering from sciatica pain then you need to try out the alternative ways, go for exercises and take prescribed medications and in case you do not find any benefit, talk to your health professional and undergo the essential treatments.
- Yoga for Sciatica: 5 Poses to Ease Sciatica Pain
- Does Sciatica Ever Go Away? How long does Sciatica Pain Last?
- Massage Therapy for Sciatic Nerve Pain: Steps, Points to Remember- Ice Cube
- Manage Sciatica with 5 Simple Lifestyle Modifications: Proper Posture, Fitness, Nutrition
- Can Reiki Relieve Sciatica?
- Sciatica Exercise: Watch How to Stretch Lower Back and Legs in 3D