Exercises that treat sciatica are a primary tool in the healing process. Before you begin a regimen of sciatica specific exercises however, you and your physician must locate the root of the injury to the sciatic nerve. While these exercises are vital to both short and long-term sciatica recovery, they are only a small part of the treatment process. From diagnosis to treatment to healing, treating sciatica is a multi-step process.
While physical therapists may recommend a few days of inactivity to give the swelling time to reduce, exercise must be part of any sciatica treatment to prevent muscle imbalance.
The goal of exercises to treat sciatica is to strengthen the muscles in the abdomen and the lower back. The abdomen acts as a girdle, keeping the back straight and the stomach muscles tight and thereby relieving pressure on the lower back area. These are not intended to be strenuous exercises but rather only to get the muscles moving enough to get the blood flowing to the affected areas and improve muscle strength.
The exercises prescribed by a physical therapist will vary from patient to patient depending on the underlying cause of the sciatica. While these exercises may have the same general goal—to improve abdominal and back strength—the exercises that achieve the goal will differ. Some patients will have to perform extension exercises, while others may have to focus on resistance exercises or stretching.
A strong and healthy spine reduces back and spine injuries, including sciatica.
Stretching is one of the most effective exercises to treat sciatica. Specifically stretching the whole back can reduce sciatica pain so patients won’t feel inhibited from leading regular lives. All this is required is a flat space large enough to fit your body during movement.
While lying flat on your back, pull both knees in to the chest holding them there for several seconds. Do not forget to exhale through the stretch and inhale as you return the knees to the starting position. Stretch until you feel the tension release, but no further.
Quadriceps stretches relieve sciatica pain in the lower back, hips, buttocks and legs by stretching this large muscle. Simply lie face down on a flat surface and pull your leg towards your buttocks with the goal of touching the heel to the buttocks. Hold the leg in this position for 15 to 20 seconds before slowly releasing it and stretching the other leg.
Even though the sciatic nerve starts in the lower back it is important to exercise the middle portion of the back as well for sciatic pain relief. To perform this exercise you will need a flat space with room to move from side to side. Lying on the back with one knee bent at a 90-degree angle, rotate the bent knee to the opposite side of the body. Be sure to keep your back as close to the floor as possible while you hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds. Return to starting position then stretch the other side similarly.
Keep It Up
The most important part of sciatica specific exercises is that you commit to performing them regularly. Sporadic exercises will not help you relieve the pain and discomfort you feel from the pressure placed upon your sciatic nerve. Furthermore, failure to perform the exercises on a regular basis will not help with the symptoms of sciatica or the underlying problems.
Never attempt to create your own exercises to treat sciatica as some may cause the pain to worsen or cause other back problems. The exercises you do for sciatica should come from your primary care physician, a physical therapist or spine specialist. They are best equipped to give you exercises that will specifically treat your sciatica symptoms.
If exercises and therapy do not work for your sciatica, you may have to consider surgery to correct the underlying problem.