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Best Stretches to Relieve Sciatica

"One of the best ways to alleviate most sciatic pain is to do stretches that can externally rotate your hip."

Today’s video is another in our back pain series. It’s a very common back pain complaint called sciatica.

Although the pain associated with sciatica can be severe, the good news is that most cases can resolve without surgery… especially if you follow the tips and stretches Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, holistic nutritionist, will be demonstrating today.

Video Highlights

  • 00:51: When sciatica most commonly occurs
  • 02:18: Symptoms of sciatica
  • 04:05: Risk factors for sciatica
  • 05:07: Ten most sedentary jobs
  • 06:25: Other ways job can contribute to sciatica 
  • 07:41: Steps you can take to manage sciatica symptoms
  • 09:44: Three simple movements to warm up
  • 13:26: Reclining Pigeon Pose
  • 15:49: Sitting Pigeon Pose
  • 17:51: Forward Pigeon Pose
  • 20:46: Knee to Opposite Shoulder
  • 23:34: Sitting Spinal Stretch
  • 25:53: Standing Hamstring Stretch
  • 28:09: Demonstration of a modification
  • 30:13: Three things to remember to prevent recurring bouts 

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica refers to a pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve which branches from the lower back, through the hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.

It most commonly occurs when a herniated disc, a bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine called spinal stenosis, compresses part of the nerve. It can lead to increased inflammation, and severe pain, as well as often some numbness or tingling in the affected leg.

Only very severe sciatica cases that are associated with significant leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes are candidates for surgery. If you're suffering from sciatica with these symptoms, you should see your healthcare professional or doctor to discuss your options.

Symptoms of Sciatica

Symptoms include pain that radiates from your lower lumbar, which is in the pelvis region. It can be a throbbing pain, from the lower lumbar, to the lower spine, to the buttocks. You might feel discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it's most likely to follow a path from the buttocks and lower back, to the back of the thigh and calf. The pain can vary widely, from a mild ache to a sharp burning sensation or excruciating pain. It can feel like a jolt or electric shock, and can make it difficult to sleep. It can be aggravated by simply coughing or sneezing. Prolonged sitting can also drastically aggravate symptoms. Symptoms also include numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot.

Mild sciatica usually goes away over time. Make sure that you discuss with your healthcare professional if self-care measures failed to ease your symptoms or if your pain lasts longer than a week, if the pain is severe, or it becomes progressively worse.

Risk Factors for Sciatica

Age: Age-related changes in the spine such as herniated discs and bone spurs are the most common causes of sciatica.

Obesity: By increasing the stress on your spine, excess body weight can contribute to the spinal changes that trigger sciatica.

Occupation: A job that requires you to twist your back or carry heavy loads, or drive a motor vehicle for long periods of time may play a role in sciatica. This goes hand in hand with the next factor.

Prolonged Sitting: People who sit for prolonged periods of time or have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop sciatica. The 10 most sedentary jobs and the ones that contribute most to sciatica include:

  • Travel agents & Accountants
  • Attorney or Judge
  • Social worker
  • Teacher
  • Artists & Designers
  • Architect
  • Administrative Professionals
  • Police and firefighters
  • Marketing and Public Relations Professionals
  • IT Professionals

If you hold one of these occupations, just be mindful. It doesn't mean that you have it but statistically, you might be more likely to develop it. Many of these people sit behind desks or in cars for extremely long periods of time. Besides the prolonged sitting factor, many of these jobs involve heavy stress, which also causes inflammation. They may also involve a lot of eating out with clients, workplace celebrations, or hurried trips to the vending machine, all of which contribute as well.

Endurance Athletes: Endurance athletes, though they don’t sit all day long, are also prone to experiencing sciatica from being overworked in their bodies, and stiff muscles. So this is a condition that can impact people on both ends of the spectrum.

Diabetes: Diabetes affects the way your body uses blood sugar and increases the risk of nerve damage.

Managing Sciatica

If you know you’re prone to sciatica, or are already experiencing symptoms, there are steps you can take! A good physical therapist should be able to determine whether sciatica can be relieved through simple methods such as chiropractic adjustments, static stretching, and cold therapy. Most people respond very well to simple techniques and are pain-free within a matter of weeks!

Chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy may also help, as well as a Hypervolt, which may help with the alignment of your spine and address other underlying conditions while also improving blood circulation and muscle relaxation. Minor pain can also be treated with the application of heat and cold.

One of the best ways to alleviate most sciatic pain is to do stretches that can externally rotate your hip. Try one of these six exercises and three warm-up exercises to start getting sciatica relief.

Three Simple Warm-Up Exercises

  1. Lie down on your back, on a yoga mat, or anywhere it feels comfortable. Press your whole spine into the ground and then simply lift up your pelvis slightly. Stay there for three seconds, and then relax. Repeat 2 - 3 times.
  2. This is a little warm-up that lubricates the spine. Lie down on the ground, inhale, and bring both knees to your chest. Then simply wrap your arms around your knees and squeeze. Hold for 3 seconds, and relax. Repeat a 2 - 3 times.
  3. While still lying on your back, relax your arms out to a T and bring both knees to one side of the floor. You can do this slowly. If this is hurting, you can actually just lay your knees gently down, and relax your shoulder blade back onto the ground. Be very mindful and slow, focus on breathing, relax your face, relax your throat, relax your eyes, and inhale. Do this for five breaths. Then return your knees to a neutral position, inhale, and gently put them back down to the other side. Relax your arms back out to a T, shoulder blades touching the ground, and stay there. Take deep, slow, breaths. Finally, pick up your knees back to the center, hug your knees to your chest, and put your feet back down.

Do these three basic fundamentals before any other exercises. If this is feeling good, awesome! We're going to move on.

Reclining Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is a common yoga pose, which works to open up your hips. There are multiple versions of the stretch. To do the Reclining Pigeon pose, start by laying on your back. Bring one leg up to an angle, clasp your hands behind the thigh, lock the fingers, and then lift the other leg and place your right ankle on top and hold there. Hold for several breaths, then release and repeat on the other side. If it’s too difficult to lock your fingers around your knees, that’s okay.

Sitting Pigeon Pose

The sitting pigeon pose is very similar, but executed while sitting up. Sit on the floor, with your legs straight in front of you, bend one of the knees and cross it over the opposite thing, then lean forward. Lean your torso toward your thigh, Stay, and relax. This will release the lower back, and you’ll feel a stretch all along the sciatic nerve. Inhale to sit back up, straighten your legs out in front of you, and repeat on the other side. Take deep breaths in and out, and really enjoy the stretch and relax into it. You want to do two on each side at least.

Forward Pigeon Pose

This pose is very much like the sitting one. Start on all fours, and bring one knee in front of the other to cross it and then sink down. Straighten your back leg as straight as you can, but if it's not straight, that's okay. Gently take the weight off of your hands and transfer it onto your thighs, so you're feeling the stretch in your bent leg. You can stay there, or you can relax back to the forearm, and if that feels good, go all the way down, relaxing your forehead to the ground. Stay for 10 breaths. When you're done, inhale, walk your hands up, shift your weight onto your hands, and bring your back leg forward. Then repeat on the other side. You don't have to do this fast. Move slowly and methodically. It can take 7 to 10 minutes before the muscle actually releases.

Knee to Opposite Shoulder

This simple stretch relieves sciatic pain by loosening your gluteal muscles, and the piriformus muscle, which can become inflamed and press against the sciatic nerve. Lie on your back with your legs extended and your feet flexed upwards, your toes pointing towards the ceiling.

Bend your leg and clasp your hands around your knee, kind of like you're giving yourself a hug, then gently pull one of the legs across your body and just stay there. Hold this position for 5 to 10 breaths. Then inhale to bring your knee up and return to neutral, and exhale, knee pointing up to the ceiling, heel back down, and repeat on the other side. Do that a couple of times on each side.

Sitting Spinal Stretch

Sciatic pain is triggered when vertebrae in the spine compresses. This stretch is going to help create more space in the spine to relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sit with your legs extended out straight in front of your feet, and toes flexed upwards. Bend your right knee and place your foot flat on the floor on the opposite side of your other knee. Inhale, bringing both arms up, and then turn your torso towards the leg that is bent. Bring the outside of our arm to the outside of the knee, and breathe. Exhale back to center, and repeat on the other side.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

This stretch is going to help ease the pain and tightness in the hamstring. A lot of times when you have lower back issues, or sciatica, it's actually your hamstrings that are super tight so you want to address that by stretching your hamstrings.

This is a modified version of just a standing forward fold. You can use a chair, an ottoman, the stairs, or even a trash can for support. Bring one foot up, put your heel on to the elevated surface of the support item, and bring your torso towards the leg. You can bend the knee a little bit if you need to. Hold this position and breathe. You're not trying to bring your forehead to your shin. Instead, envision your torso, your chest, moving toward your thighs. If you need more stability, do it next to the wall. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Stretching your hamstrings daily is a great way to calm your central nervous system, to relax you immediately, and to quickly relieve back pain.  

Everyone’s body is different, so listen to your body as you do these. Use a rolled up towel or yoga block to support your thighs when you need to, and don’t overextend if you’re not ready to. Do the exercises that cause you to feel a stretch, but do not cause sharp pain for your body

Three tips for avoiding recurring bouts of sciatica

Exercise regularly to  keep your back strong, and pay attention to your core muscles. Engage and tighten them wherever you are as you go about your day. When you're sitting at your desk, sit up tall, engage your core, and do your work. Get up and walk around every 15-20 minutes. You don’t want a weak core. Losing weight will also help you maintain a healthy core, a healthy back. The muscles in your abdomen, and your lower back, are essential for proper posture and alignment.

Maintain proper posture when you sit

Think of piano players. You don't see piano players hunched over their pianos. They sit up straight, with their shoulders back. When we type, and we're at the desk, for long periods of time, we tend to slouch. Watch out for this! Choose a seat with good lower back support. If you drive for a living, consider placing a pillow or rolled up towel right underneath the curvature of your spine. That's will help alleviate a lot of pressure and support your spine much better. Also keep your knees and hips level.

Use good body mechanics

If you stand for long periods of time, rest one foot on a stool or a small box from time to time. use anti-fatigue mats. Request one if  your job that requires you to stand for a long time. If your job requires you to be at your desk all day, request a standing desk. When you lift something heavy, lift from your lower legs. Never bend over to lift. Bend your knees first and lift from your legs. Keep your back straight, bend only at the knees, hold the load close to your body avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. Also find somebody to help you lift heavy objects.

If you found these tips interesting or useful, like and share them with someone you know. Sciatica and other back pain is a serious struggle for many people! Start implementing some of these tips today, along with an anti-inflammatory diet and daily supplementation to promote normal inflammation responses.

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