Sciatic nerve is the largest peripheral nerve in our body – it begins at the lower end of the spinal cord and runs through the buttocks down to the back of legs. Any irritation or compression to sciatic nerve roots may create sciatica symptoms. Specifically pain that begins from the lower spine and radiates downward to the back of either of the legs is the hallmark of sciatica.
Sciatica, as is commonly known is not a condition in itself but a sign of an underlying problem. As such its treatment is focused at alleviating the symptoms of sciatica and restoring muscle movement. Sciatica exercises play an integral role in the overall healing process and must be practiced on a regular basis to avoid recurrence of sciatica pain and to strengthen the muscle groups surrounding sciatic nerves.
Sciatica treatment exercises are divided into four categories –
- Low-impact aerobics
Combined together these exercises can offer strong support to the spinal column and nervous system, alleviate symptoms associated with sciatica, restore normal movement and prevent recurrence of chronic back pain and other problems.
Stretching exercises for sciatica
Most physical therapists begin and end their sciatica treatment sessions with stretching exercises. These are designed to target the muscles that have become stiff and inflexible, and cause pain when moved.
Some of the most popular stretching workouts for sciatica patients are as follows -
Lie down on a flat area with sufficient space allowing free movement of your body parts. Keep your legs straight. Now move both knees towards your chest and hold them in position by wrapping your arms around them. Apply little pressure on your knees till you feel the stretch in your back muscles. This is a good exercise for sciatica patients as it releases the stress in your knees, thighs and back muscles.
Another popular workout is stretching the quadriceps muscles. Lie on your stomach with legs and arms straight. Now slowly lift your right leg up to your buttocks, and try grabbing it with your right arm. Hold this position for a few seconds and then slowly get back to the normal position. Repeat with the left leg and arm. This routine strengthens your abdominal muscles as you exert pressure on your abdomen when lifting your legs and arms. It also improves mobility and blood circulation in the leg muscles.
A regular sciatica treatment program of hamstring stretches will help to strengthen the muscle along the nerve roots present in the thigh area. It can be easily done by sitting on a flat surface with your leg spread out in a ‘V’ shape. Keep your legs straight and spread then out as far as possible. Now twist your torso towards the right and slowly bend down and try touching your toes. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then slowly release. Now repeat on your other side.
Simple stretches performed on a daily basis can improve blood circulation, loosen stiff muscles and restore normal range of motion in affected areas.
Strengthening exercises for sciatica
Strengthening exercises help to build the muscles around abs, lower back, hamstrings and glutes which provide support to the spine. Some common strengthening exercises include pelvic tilts, alternating superman, and curl-ups.
Pelvic tilts are one of the best lower back pain exercises. Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Now slowly curl your pelvis towards your body, while simultaneously flattening your back on the floor. Squeeze your abs with pressure for a second and then release slowly. Repeat this 10 to 12 times.
Alternating superman works to build your core strength. Lie on your stomach. Keep your legs straight and joined and arms extended in front of you. Now slowly lift your right arm and left leg 3 to 6 inches from the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then repeat with the other side.
Curl-up sciatica exercises are specifically meant for the abdominal muscles, which provides support to the back and hence relieve pain. Lie flat on your back, knees bent and feet on the ground. Cross your arms over your chest. Now slowly lift your torso from the floor, lifting your head and shoulders. Maintain for 3-4 seconds and then slowly resume normal position. Repeat this 10 to 12 times.
Strengthening exercises for sciatica work towards strengthening the spine and supporting muscles in that area. Building ‘core’ muscles can offer strong support to the spine, maintain its alignment and facilitate movement with less chance of injury or damage.
Low-impact aerobics exercises for sciatica
Aerobic exercises are mainly aimed at improving movement and flexibility in the body. Sciatica patients can benefit from low-impact aerobic exercises in many ways. It loosens the stressed and strained muscles, improves blood circulation and restores movement in the muscle groups surrounding the inflamed sciatic nerve.
Swimming is one of the best sciatica treatment exercises that maintain normal movement and flexibility in your muscles. Water exercises provide strong support to the spine and keep you buoyant and secure. Most health practitioners recommend stretching and flexing your legs, back and arms when in water. In water, your body becomes weightless and free from the pull of gravity, thereby relieving the pressure on your spine.
Walking is another form of low-impact cardiovascular activity that is recommended for sciatica nerve pain cases. Brisk walking increases the stability of the spine, facilitates circulation of blood and nutrients to the lower back, buttocks and legs. In addition to helping you lose weight, walking maintains flexibility and spinal alignment. Regular walks of 20-30 minutes in a park or ground can alleviate sciatica symptoms and offer relief. Do some gentle stretches prior to walking, to prepare and warm up the back and leg muscles for increased range of motion.
Relaxation Exercises for Sciatica
The pain and discomfort associated with sciatica can interfere with the patient’s normal routine leading to mental stress and depression. It is advisable to practice some relaxation techniques along with your normal exercise routine.
Yoga for Sciatica treatment
Yoga is a complete exercise package. It involves simple stretching and flexibility exercises, while also promoting mind and body relaxation. For chronic sciatica patients, Yoga postures can offer significant relief. Some popular sciatica treatment yoga postures such as butterfly pose, downward dog pose and forward bend can keep your back and abdominal muscles strong yet flexible.
Another aspect of yoga is ‘Pranayama’ or deep breathing exercises. These are known to improve the flow of blood and reduce inflammation in the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerves. Deep breathing also has a calm and soothing effect on the mind and body.
Unlike other sciatica treatment exercises, Tai chi is a gentle exercise routine that improves posture, flexibility and movement of the core muscle groups. It expands the boundaries of the body and mind, while allowing practitioners to build better strength and endurance.
Tai Chi routine requires the practitioner to be tranquil and relaxed, practicing slow and soft movements. The reason why Tai chi works well for sciatica treatment is because it does not involve any jarring movements that would exert the spine.
All postures are composed of flowing movements of the body. Additionally, the focused and rhythmic breathing pattern during Tai chi sessions enhances flow of blood and oxygen to all parts of the body, thereby relieving stress and inflammation.