For many years, I have suffered on and off with Sciatica Pain.
Several years ago, whilst hiking, I tripped and stumbled backwards, falling down an incline. I hit the right side of my hip and lower back on a rock. It was a nasty fall.
I would spend the next 6 weeks in hospital, 4 of which in a wheelchair. The outlook was not good.
I was discharged from hospital I was 34 years old and I had to use a walking frame. I also had home care several times per week as I was not capable of bathing on my own. Mortified didn’t even cover it.
I was determined that I would not spend the rest of my days unable to cope on my own or, go walking with my beloved Border Collie. Following the initial recovery, when I was able, I began daily exercise.
I started off with leg raises on the sofa, I had to remain lying down as I was barely able to stand. I built up my exercises from there.
Six months later, I was fully back on my feet and working. But still suffered quite frequent flare-ups. Why? Because I made the grave mistake of not maintaining any form of exercise routine. I was back on my feet and complacent.
I consider myself very lucky to have recovered so well, but the battle was not over. One of the injuries to the lower back had caused a disc to rupture. This irritated the Sciatic nerve and caused ongoing, very painful episodes which could last for weeks.
As Sciatica focused exercises and stretches had helped me in the past, I decided to learn as much as I could about exercise which would help prevent the sciatica pain episodes.
Over the years, I attended courses, local classes and undertook my own home studies. From this I developed various levels of exercise and stretch routines which, are quick & effective in treating and preventing flare ups from a pinched nerve in the lower back.
Sciatica is a painful lower back condition in which the Sciatic nerve becomes ‘trapped’ or ‘pinched’ following injury or trauma. There are several causes and symptoms of Sciatica Pain The typical symptom is where the pain travels and radiates down to the buttocks, legs and feet, depending on the severity.
The reason the sciatica pain radiates down the legs is that the effects travel down the Sciatic nerve. The Sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It extends from the lower back down to the feet (see diagram) on both the left and right side of the body.
Sciatica Pain treatments vary, depending on severity and the long-term prognosis. The most common treatments are:
This article, will show a routine of quick and effective Sciatica stretches that help keep the muscles around the lower back and hip flexors, flexible and relaxed.
What is amazing about maintaining a routine of Sciatica stretches and exercises is that it is preventative. Just a few minutes per day can help stop or at least reduce those unwelcome flare-ups.
I believe in preventative measures for my Sciatica pain. I want to avoid those moments of waking up in agony. I don’t want to take reactive measures with painkillers. I prefer not to be in pain in the first place!
As a bonus, the exercises also give my body a jump start ready for the day ahead.
I would suggest trying these basic exercises as part of your morning routine.
It is difficult sometimes to find the motivation and time, but I made a promise myself that I would maintain the routine for 2 weeks no excuses, no deviations.
After a couple of weeks, it just became an enjoyable and healthy habit rather than a chore. Now my flare ups are rare and never as severe. I also have the added benefit of general wellbeing, both mentally and physically.
Only push yourself with these exercises to the point of your own comfort. The purpose is a light stretch and to slowly build up. Pushing yourself too hard will cause more harm than good.
I would recommend doing each exercise for 2 minutes per stretch and see how your body reacts. It is difficult for me to be more specific as everyone is different. Just listen to your own body, you can always do them for shorter or longer time if you feel that it right for you.
I have listed these exercises as they have helped me personally. My knowledge of exercise comes from my own journey and agony. I have had advice from medical professionals, completed courses and own studies in various types of exercise, including; Yoga, Pilates, Kettlebell Workouts, Tai Chi, General Fitness, to name a few.
I am by no means a qualified expert, but I have had my fair share of Sciatica pain. This has given me the determination to learn and gain as much knowledge as I could to try and combat, or at least lessen the agony.
Please ensure, if in doubt that you consult your Physician or Treatment Therapist about undertaking any of these Sciatica stretches. The information cannot be substituted for proper medical advice.
Remember, listen to your own body and know your limits, no-one knows your body better than you.
This is a great gentle warm up exercise. Lie on a comfortable mat on the floor. Keep your lower back completely straight.
Do not be tempted to lift your buttocks off the floor.
Hug your knees to your chest to get a light stretch on the lower back.
To add a further stretch, still hugging your knees, rock your legs from side to side.
Just a small movement is needed, almost as though you are massaging your lower back on the floor. This will begin to open your lower back and hip flexors.
If you feel you would like to take this stretch a little further, place one leg straight out on the floor in front of you and pull the other leg to the chest and of course repeat on the other side.
The short video below shows demonstrates this exercise.
Simply lie down on your mat, with your arms stretched either side with your palms facing up. Raise your legs and bring your knees towards your chest.
Keeping your knees and feet firmly together, move them side to side in a half circle motion. Your back and shoulders should remain completely flat on your mat.
When I do this exercise, I always imagine my legs moving in the same motion as windscreen wipers.
It is important to keep the knees and feet together. I pretend I am holding a pea between my knees, which sounds odd, but it does keep a focus on keeping the knees and feet together.
The hamstring muscles are located at the back of each thigh. They perform an important function in postural support. Lower back trauma can cause these muscles to become tight and shorten. Therefore, they are unable to properly perform their function.
This exercise will help stretch out the hamstrings. Simply sit upright on your mat your legs straight in front of you, about hip-width apart.
Gently lower the chest to the knees whilst extending your arms towards your feet. Hold onto a point on your leg, ankles, or feet (depending on your flexibility). Once you feel a nice stretch, slowly point your toes to the ceiling.
Warning! Only lower your body until you feel a slight stretch. This is not a challenge to touch your toes.
As above, sit upright on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left knee and bring the leg close to your body. Ensure that your left foot is as close to the buttocks as possible. Keep the left foot flat on the ground.
Place your right elbow around the outside of your left leg.
For support place your left hand behind you. Gently apply pressure with your right elbow to the left knee as shown in the photo.
From the photo, you will see that the buttocks should stay flat on the floor and the spine remains straight.
Stand upright with your legs hip-width apart. Lean forward as though you are going to touch your toes. Do not try and touch your toes (unless you are already super flexible), instead simply allow your upper body weight to pull you down slightly.
If you wish to expand on this exercise I would recommend holding a small weight to pull you down further. I find a kettlebell (I have a small 3kg) is perfect for this but a dumbbell or any similar object will do fine.
The image is quite self-explanatory for this stretch. This should give you a nice stretch on the hamstring and hip flexors.
I would recommend that you always do this exercise towards the end of your stretches when the muscles are warmed up.
A word of warning! Do not attempt this stretch initially without holding onto to something, until you have mastered good core strength and balance. You could risk falling flat on your face!
When doing any form of exercise, it is important to cool down to bring the session to a gentle end. This will give your muscles a chance to relax and bring your blood pressure back to normal. For this routine, I would simply repeat Exercise 1: Knees to Chest Stretch.
I have labeled this as an add on. However, I highly recommend you take a couple of minutes to do this. This is a Yoga pose, commonly known as the ‘Child Pose’.
Kneel on your mat, spine straight, sitting on your heels. Extend your spine and slowly rest your chest onto your thighs. Place your arms far out in front of you, palms to the floor, to really open the torso in position, concentrate and become aware of your body. Take a deep breath, hold for 5 seconds and breath out slowly.
Starting from the feet upwards feel all the muscles relax in turn and let go of any tension.
Once relaxed, slowly breath in through your nose for 7 seconds, hold for 5 Seconds, then slowly breath out for 7 Seconds.
Two minutes resting and breathing in this way will bring great benefits both physically and mentally. This will help to circulate oxygen around the body and promote well-being.
We live in a fast-paced and often stressful world. This can result in subconscious shallow breathing habits as a form of response to a situation. This short relaxation will promote better breathing habits.
It is essential when you are suffering from Sciatica nerve pain that you keep moving as best you can. Sitting or standing still for long periods of time will only cause the muscles to become weak and tight.
The exercises in this article are designed for a beginner, to start to build and strengthen the lower spine and core muscles.
I strongly recommend that you stick to light exercises for a least 4 weeks before even considering moving up to the next level. It is a work in progress, but from my experience worth the effort overall.
So, get started now, the longer you postpone taking preventative measures, the worse the condition will become over time, particularly as you get older.
Just a few exercises most days have saved me from facing a lifetime of potentially addictive medication, injections, and even surgery.
Find your own pace and your own limits with these stretches. If you have a day in which time is limited, then just do a couple that you feel benefit you the most. A couple is better than none. However, with any exercise always remember to warm up and cool down.
I hope these stretches help you too, and you begin to work towards a more pain-free life.
Bittleson J (2001) Secrets of Yoga.Darling Kingsley, London.
Video Courtesy of Steven Russell (www.becomingsoundyoga.com)