Top 3 Stretches For Sciatica

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

Top 3 Stretches For Sciatica

Here are 3 simple stretches that can help with your Sciatica. They are are easy to do at home in bed or on a yoga mat on the floor. The 3 exercises include:

  1. Double Knee to Chest
  2. Prone on Elbows
  3. Lower Trunk Rotation

Read on to learn about Sciatica and how to do the top 3 stretches for sciatica.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a general term for pain or symptoms that radiate down the leg. The symptoms typically travels down the buttocks to the back of the leg, but they can go all the way to the foot.  This condition is called Sciatica  because the symptoms travel along the sciatic nerve. 

The Sciatic Nerve is a large nerve that begins in the nerves that exit the lumbar spine or lower back. The nerve  travels through the pelvis, down the back of the thigh, and branches into smaller nerves in the lower leg and foot. 

What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?

Inflammation or irritation at any point in the sciatic nerve can lead to symptoms of sciatica. But, Sciatica usually comes from issues in the lumbar spine, where the sciatic nerve branches originate.Illustration describing what sciatica is.JOI RehabSciatica Illustration

Learn more in this VIDEO on the Anatomy of the Spine.

The joints and discs in the lower back have many nerve endings or receptors that detect pain. Those nerve endings branch off of the nerves that make up the Sciatic Nerve. If a nerve ending is irritated or activated, it can cause pain that radiates down the Sciatic Nerve path.  

Sciatica pain does not necessarily mean that a nerve is being pinched. Even mild irritation can sometimes cause pain that radiates down the leg. More severe issues usually cause pain to radiate further down the leg.  

Can Sciatica be Cured By Stretching?

While stretches are not guaranteed to cure your sciatica. It can be utilized along with exercise for a better outcome.

What causes Sciatica Pain in the Buttocks? 

Diagram showing Piriformis Syndrome or sciatica by JOI Rehab Piriformis Syndrome
The piriformis muscle lies under the gluteal muscles in the buttocks. This helps to rotate the hip outward. The sciatic nerve is lies close to the piriformis muscle. If the piriformis is really tight or inflamed, it may cause sciatic nerve pain in the leg. Tightness or inflammation of the piriformis muscle can contribute to sciatic nerve issues. Piriformis syndrome is a less common cause of Sciatica. 

How do I Loosen Up my Sciatic Nerve?

Nerves do not stretch well, but they do slide and glide as the body moves. Many people with sciatica have the urge to stretch the hamstrings due to feeling pain in the back of the thigh. Those symptoms may actually be sciatica. 

Stretching the sciatic nerve may increase pain due to pulling on an irritated nerve or lower back structures. Typically, gentle movements of irritated structures are best helping the nerve slide and glide the way it is supposed to move. This may reduce the symptoms.

What is the Remedy for Lower Back Pain and Sciatica?

Many people find relief with gentle basic exercises. The exercises should not increase pain in the sciatic nerve and should be performed slowly. Some sciatic pain improves with McKenzie Exercises or extension exercises. Others respond to flexion exercises to decrease pain from the sciatic nerve.

Top 3 Stretches for Sciatica

These 3 Sciatic Pain stretches are a mix of flexion and extension exercise, as well as rotational exercises. These exercises are a remedy for lower back pain and sciatica in many people, but If any of them increase sciatic nerve pain, stop immediately.

1)Double Knee to Chest:

  1. Lay flat on your back
  2. Take both your hands and place them on top of your lower leg below the knee
  3. Then gently pull your knee to your chest in a controlled manner. 
  4. Hold 10 seconds, repeat 3 times. 

This helps stretch the lower back gently.

Stretch for sciatica double knee to chest. JOI RehabDouble Knee to Chest
2)Prone on Elbows

  1. Lay on your stomach 
  2. Keep your hips flat to the table
  3. Press your upper trunk up until you can place both elbows under each shoulder. 
  4. Hold 5 seconds, repeat 10 times. 

This helps stretch the lower back.

Woman in mask performing a prone position stretch for sciatica. JOI Rehab Prone on Elbows
3)Lower Trunk Rotation:

  1. Lay on your back with the knees bent. 
  2. Rotate the back to allow both legs to move together from side to side. 
  3. Keep the shoulders flat on the surface. 
  4. Hold 5 seconds, repeat 10 times on each side. 

woman in mask doing lower trunk rotation stretching for sciatica. JOI RehabLower Trunk Rotation

Bonus Stretch for Sciatica Pain

It is difficult to self-diagnose the source of Sciatic Nerve Pain. But if the problem is a tight piriformis:

  1. Lie flat
  2. Cross the leg you want to stretch over the other leg, which is bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  3. Reach down to the bent leg around the knee area 
  4. Pull toward the opposite shoulder. 
  5. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat two to three times. 

You should feel a stretch in the buttock of the crossed leg. Again, If pain increases, stop immediately. This is also an exercise for the hip for some with lower back and hip pain.

Woman in mask performing knee to shoulder stretches for sciatica. JOI Rehab

To learn more Stretches for the Lower Back in this VIDEO.

Sciatica During Pregnancy

Lower back pain and sciatica are common issues during pregnancy. The good news is that it usually improves with the top 3 stretches for sciatica. But there should be modifications in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Typically, it is recommended that women avoid lying face down after about 16 weeks gestation. They may lie prone for a short time to exercise after this point but not for ling periods. It is recommended that women who are pregnant consult their OB/GYN doctor before performing stretches for sciatica. 

If sciatica during pregnancy is coming from the Sacroiliac joints or SI joints, a Pregnancy SI Belt may help.

What if Stretching for Sciatica Exercises do not Help? 

If simple lower back stretching does not help sciatica pain, it is best to seek professional help. In most cases, patients with lower back pain and sciatica will improve with physical therapy. If symptoms do not completely improve, spine physicians my order an MRI and consider steroid injections. In some rare cases, surgery may be needed to treat sciatica.

The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute now offers Direct Access to Physical Therapy watch our video to learn more!

Related Links:

Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

If you have Sciatica, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help. JOI Physicians continue to offer online new patient appointments. This is another option to make it more convenient to make new patient appointments with less phone hold times. Follow the link below to select your JOI MD and schedule online.

You can still call 904-JOI-2000 to make new patient JOI Physician Appointments if that is your preference.

To make appointments with JOI Rehab, please call 904-858-7045.

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