If you suffer from sciatica, you know just how painful the symptoms can be. That shooting pain from your lower back down the back of one leg can completely disrupt your day and leave you lying in bed or walking around until it subsides. Whether it feels achy, burning, or sharp, the discomfort is not something you should just brush off. In fact, continuing on without treating sciatica will actually worsen symptoms.
First, it’s important to examine your lifestyle, health, and other factors that can play into sciatica, including age-related spinal changes, degeneration in the spine, a ruptured disk, spinal stenosis, jobs that require heavy lifting, desk jobs, obesity, and remaining sedentary from day to day. Once you know the likely triggers, you can work with your doctor to minimize them, using lifestyle changes that start small and build over time.
Your next big step will be incorporating exercises and stretches into your routine that are designed to relieve sciatica pain. Along with walking and gentle physical movement, stretches are one of the best things you can do to treat those uncomfortable sciatic sensations. A study published in the Menoufia Medical Journal found that exercises were the most effective treatment method for sciatica patients suffering from lower back pain.
Think of your exercise routines as prescribed therapy sessions, and you might have an easier time remembering to squeeze them into your schedule. YouTube videos in particular are an excellent option for those who want a routine created by a doctor or physical trainer. Just remember to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any stretches, especially if you have complications that could limit your movement.
HASFit 18 Minute Video on Sciatica Exercises for Leg Pain Relief
If you are looking for a longer, but gentle routine, HASFit offers an 18-minute video that walks you through some of the best exercises and stretches for sciatica. Personal trainer Joshua Kozak leads the session and demonstrates traditional stretches, while his wife Claudia demonstrates easier modifications. The pair takes the viewer through a variety of stretches designed to increase your range of motion in the lower body, particularly the glute muscles and the hips. They also include strengthening exercises for the back, glutes, and hamstrings.
Doctor Jo’s 5 Best Sciatica Stretches for Piriformis Syndrome
Piriformis syndrome is slightly different from sciatica, though both conditions interfere with the function of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is typically caused by an issue in the spine, such as spinal stenosis, age-related degeneration of the spine, or a herniated disk. In contrast, piriformis syndrome is caused by the piriformis muscle compressing the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle is a flat, band-like muscle located deep inside the buttock, at the top of the hip joint, and the sciatic nerve runs just underneath it.
Piriformis syndrome causes sciatic pain for this reason. As such, Doctor Jo’s video on the 5 Best Sciatica Stretches for Piriformis Syndrome may do wonders in helping to relieve your pain. This video is also relatively short at about 7 minutes, so you can complete it whenever you are on a time crunch.
Doctor Jo, a licensed physical therapist and doctor of physical therapy, keeps in mind the difficulties that some sciatica patients will have in completing stretches. As such, she designed her routine to be completed on whatever surface is easiest to work on, from the floor to a couch or bed. Her stretches are also excellent for beginners who would benefit from in-depth explanations of each exercise and their easier modifications.
Dr. Jared Beckstrand’s Sciatica Pain Relief Stretches and Exercises
If you’re looking for a simple, three-step routine to add to your day whenever you have time, Dr. Jared Beckstrand’s video on Sciatica Pain Relief Stretches and Exercises is the one for you. Dr. Beckstrand first takes you through a visual explanation of sciatica, the sciatic nerve, and why a pinch in the nerve can cause pain, numbness, or tingling. He then explains the concept of centralization, where symptoms lower down in your leg may travel upward and centralize in your hip and lower back during certain exercises. While this may feel uncomfortable or abnormal, it is actually a sign that the exercise or stretch is decreasing the irritation on the sciatic nerve. From there, Dr. Beckstrand demonstrates two stretches for the lower back and hips, and one for the hamstrings, which can get tight and irritated, worsening sciatic pain.
Other Ways to Treat Sciatica
While stretches and exercises can help you make the most significant progress in reducing sciatic nerve pain, other treatments can help alleviate symptoms throughout the day. These include anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, and hot or cold packs placed on or near the lower back. Keep in mind that heat is intended to increase your mobility, while ice packs or cool compresses can help reduce inflammation. You may also consider acupuncture or massage therapy, which can both help to relieve tension and tightness in the lower back, hips, and hamstrings.
As always, it’s essential that you work with your doctor to come up with the best plan of action. You may need a combination of therapies, or you may need to avoid certain therapies or exercises altogether. And with any new exercise or stretch, remember to perform it with care. Don’t expect your body to perform exercises as well as the demonstrators in YouTube videos, especially if you are a beginner. Listen to your body, and modify positions as needed. With regular practice, you will improve with time and may eventually live pain-free days.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.