The term sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain, tingling or weakness that originate in the lower back and travel through the buttock and into the lower leg. Symptoms occur when the large sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed within the lumbar spine. Pain can vary from irritating to incapacitating and can occur either infrequently or constantly.
Exercises incorporating a combination of strengthening, stretching, and aerobic conditioning are a crucial component in sciatica treatment and pain management. Regular, gentle exercises promote the exchange of fluids in the spinal discs and work to strengthen the muscles, providing a greater support for the back. This helps individuals recover more quickly from sciatica pain and makes them less likely to have future pain episodes.
Many exercises can help strengthen the spinal column and the supporting muscles, ligaments and tendons. It's important to focus not only on the lower back, but also the abdominals, buttocks and hip muscles as well. Together, these muscles support the spine and help keep it aligned, working to alleviate sciatica pain.
- Extensions. Lie on your stomach, with your arms and legs stretched out. Raise one arm and the opposite leg together, holding them in this position for a few seconds. Lower them to the ground and repeat with the other side. A series of 10, twice a day is sufficient to promote the exchange of fluids in the spinal discs.
- Curl-ups. Lie on your back with the knees bent. Arms can either be folded on the chest or held at the back of the head, providing support for the neck. Curl up, lifting the head and shoulders from the ground and hold for 3 seconds. Start with a total of 10, and gradually work towards performing 20 or 30.
- Leg Raises. Lie on your back with your hands behind the head. While tightening the abdominal muscles, try to raise one leg a few inches above the ground. Hold the leg here for 2 to 5 seconds and then release it to the ground. Repeat on the other leg in the same manner.
Stretching is usually recommended to alleviate sciatic pain. Stretches are designed to target muscles that cause pain when they are tight and inflexible.
- Lower Back. The lower back can be stretched in a variety of poses. For one variation, arch your back and bend forward to touch your toes. For another, lie on your back and slowly pull your knees towards your chest, one at a time.
- Buttocks. Lay on your back and bring your right leg up to a right angle, grasping it with both hands behind the thigh, locking your fingers. Then, take your left leg and place your ankle against the knee. Repeat by switching sides and doing the same procedure with the other leg.
- Hamstrings. Rest the heel of your affected leg on an elevated surface, such as a curb or step. Keeping the knee straight, rest both hands gently on the thigh. Bend forward at the hips to create a stretch along the back of your thigh.
Low Impact Aerobic Exercise
Finally, some forms of low impact cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, swimming or pool therapy are other great options for pain relief. Aerobic activity encourages the exchange of fluids and nutrients, which helps to create a better healing environment. Aerobic conditioning also has the added benefit of releasing endorphins, our body's natural pain killers, which can work to reduce sciatic pain.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.