8 Sciatic Nerve Stretches For Pain Relief

Have you ever crossed your leg for so long and suddenly felt tingling sensations in your leg? Or have you sat down on the toilet bowl for so long and felt like your leg was heavy when standing up? If you have, then you compressed your sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body, running from the lower back down the thigh towards the knee, so it can be compressed in so many ways causing pain

In this post, we’ll be discussing some sciatic nerve stretches you can do for pain relief. Please always note that pain can be caused by several conditions, so if you have back or thigh pain you should see your doctor to get an appropriate diagnosis before attempting any stretches.

Sciatic Nerve Stretches For Pain Relief

1. Child’s Pose

  • Kneel on the floor with your palms also on the floor
  • Slowly move your buttocks towards your heel as if you want to sit on your leg
  • Do not move your palms at all during this stretch
  • Hold for 10-30 secs

2. Piriformis Stretch

  • Lie down on your back with knees bent
  • Place the ankle of the leg that hurts on the knee of the other leg
  • Place your hands at the back of the thigh of the unaffected leg
  • Pull the unaffected leg with the affected leg’s ankle still on the knee towards your chest
  • This stretches out the piriformis muscle and the sciatic nerve.

3. Sitting Hamstring stretch

  • Sit on the edge the chair
  • Stretch out your right leg in front of you with your knees straightened and the toes pointing towards the ceiling and the other leg bent
  • While sitting, bend from your waist and reach for the toes of the right leg with your fingers
  • You will feel a stretch at your waist and the posterior thigh of the right leg
  • Hold for 10 -30 seconds and slowly release
  • Repeat on the other leg

4. Standing Hamstring stretch

  • Stand with your feet slightly apart
  • Bend from your waist slowly
  • Reach for your toes without bending your knees
  • Hold for 30 secs and slowly go back to standing
  • OR
  • Place the heel of your right leg on a chair or stool
  • Ensure your knees are not bent
  • Bend slowly from your waist and reach towards your toes
  • Sustain for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg

5. Knee To Chest

  • While lying on your back, bend your two knees
  • Place your hands on the shin of the affected leg and hug the knee to your chest
  • Hold for 30 seconds
  • Release and repeat on the other leg

6. Seated Spinal Twist

sciatic nerve stretches

  • Sit upright on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you
  • Bend one leg over the thigh of the second leg (left leg over the thigh of the right leg as shown in the picture above)
  • With your left leg over your right thigh, place your right hand over the left knee and slowly twist your body towards the left
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side

7. Seated Hip Stretch

  • Sit on a chair
  • Place your right ankle on your left thigh
  • Slowly move your upper body towards the floor
  • Feel the stretch in your buttocks and hold for 30 seconds
  • Repeat on the other leg

8. Downward Facing Dog

  • Kneel on the floor with your palms firmly on the ground
  • Lift your knees off the mat with your toes firmly on the ground
  • Push your chest toward your legs without moving your arms
  • Hold for 30 seconds then slowly release

What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?

Any compression to the sciatic nerve can cause sciatic nerve pain which is also known as Sciatica. The following conditions can cause compression to the sciatic nerve:

Slipped disc

An intervertebral disc is found between two vertebrae to enable easy movement of the bones on each other. The disc has an outer layer and an inner layer. Sometimes, due to trauma or strain that may happen to the lower back, such as bending to lift a heavy object, we usually hear a pop like sound or a snap. This snap may be due to a tear of the outer layer of the disc which may cause the inner layer of the disc to pop out.

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Since the sciatic nerve has its roots around the lumbar spine (waist), the popped out disc can compress the roots of the sciatic nerve and then we have a domino effect down the sciatic nerve causing sciatica.

Piriformis Syndrome

As explained earlier, the nerve fibers come together at the piriformis muscle to form the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve can be compressed in the buttocks due to the tightness of the piriformis muscle or an overuse injury among athletes. because of the position of the piriformis muscle, it can cause more pain while sitting.

Spinal Stenosis

The nerves pass through spinal canals in the spine before going to the rest of the body. Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the nerves passing through the canal. this can compress the sciatic nerve at the lumbosacral region.

Lumbar Spondylosis

This is a medical condition in which the spaces between each vertebra reduces compressing whatever is passing in between them. The sciatic nerve can be compressed by the vertebrae from its origin.

Lumbar Spondylolisthesis

This is a medical condition in which a vertebra is displaced from the normal curvature of the spine. The vertebra can either be displaced forward or backward. The displacement of the vertebrae can cause compression to the sciatic nerve at the lumbar region.

Symptoms Of Sciatic Nerve Pain

  • Tingling sensations in the legs
  • The weakness of the muscles in the legs
  • Pain at the back of the leg especially while sitting
  • Numbness
  • Waist pain
  • Sometimes, swelling in the foot

How Is Sciatica Treated?

  • Medications like ibuprofen and diclofenac or muscle relaxants are usually prescribed for sciatic pain
  • Ice or heat packs may be used to relieve pain. Ice can be crushed in a damp towel and placed on the painful area for 15-20 minutes. If ice does not help, a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can be placed on the painful area for 15 minutes. The two can be used as well by starting with ice and then using heat.
  • It is very important to see your doctor if you have symptoms related to the sciatic nerve. You might also be co-managed with a physical therapist.  Physical therapists can help with pain management and can recommend exercises and stretches to improve your symptoms and prevent a recurrence.

How To Prevent Sciatica

Lift with your legs and not your back

  • First, look at the load you want to carry. Can you carry it alone? If yes, then let’s go on but if your answer is no, call someone to help you.
  • Bend your hips and knees. This will bring you to a squat position
  • Look straight ahead and keep your back straight
  • Ensure your feet are well balanced and spaced out
  • Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees. do not bend your back
  • Keep the load close to your body

Maintain a proper posture at all times

When sitting,

  • Make sure your buttocks touch the back of the chair
  • Your shoulders should touch the backrest if any
  • Your back should remain straight. An easy way to do this is to hold in your stomach.
  • Your feet should be placed firmly on the floor

Stretch

If you are an athlete, ensure you stretch before and after any sporting activity to prevent tightness or muscle strain in the legs or back.

Reduce your sitting time at work

Try and incorporate stress breaks into your office hours. After an hour or two of sitting, stand up and do some stretches or just walk around.

References:

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Adekanmi Lipede, M.Sc, MPH

Adekanmi Lipede is a licensed physiotherapist with a Master's degree in physical activity and public health from Loughborough University. She joined 25 Doctors in 2018 and is passionate about educating people about the best steps to take when trying to be physically fit or when recovering from a mobility-related condition. For fun, she loves to exercise and read.
Adekanmi Lipede, M.Sc, MPH
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