Sciatica can literally be a pain in the rear, with pain moving down the back of the leg as well. Lower back problems and other conditions that irritate the sciatic nerve can produce these symptoms. When sciatica is caused by these problems, home exercises may be helpful in relieving symptoms. Some exercises target the lower back. Others involve stretching of the piriformis and hamstring muscles or strengthening muscles to support good posture. Seek medical advice before starting any exercise program for sciatica and stop immediately if you feel pain.
Lower Back Stretches
Symptoms of sciatica may occur when a disc separating the bones of your back bulges from its usual position and presses on the sciatic nerve. In such cases, proper spine alignment can decrease pressure on your sciatic nerve. However, you need flexibility to align your back properly. Lower back stretches -- such as arching your back, bending forward to touch your toes or pulling your knees toward your chest -- can help by increasing your back flexibility. If back stretches cause you increased pain, however, stop them immediately and consult your doctor.
The piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks, on top of the sciatic nerve. When this muscle is tight, it can also cause sciatica. There are several ways to stretch this muscle. One exercise starts in a sitting position, with the leg on your affected side crossed over the other leg, so that the affected side ankle rests on the opposite knee to form a figure 4. Gentle pressure on the knee of your crossed leg helps stretch the buttock on the affected side. Stretching to the point of pain is to be avoided. Stretches are typically held for 20 to 30 seconds, repeated 3 times in a row, and may be done at different frequencies, depending on your needs.
Tight hamstrings -- the large muscles running along the back of your thighs -- can aggravate sciatica. Various types of hamstring stretches can help reduce sciatic pain. They can be performed while sitting, standing or lying on your back. One standing hamstring stretch, for instance, involves resting the heel of your affected leg on an elevated surface, such as a curb or step. The knee is kept straight, with both hands resting gently on the thigh. Holding this position while bending forward at the hips creates a stretch along the back of your thigh.
Postural exercises strengthen your core muscles, which are the back and abdominal muscles that hold you upright. These exercises may include crunches -- also known as partial sit-ups -- or pelvic tilts to work on your abdominal muscles. Bridges are another option. They involve lifting your hips off the floor while lying on your back with your knees bent. Strengthening exercises are typically performed in sets of 10 repetitions, working up to 3 sets in a row. Frequency depends on your individual circumstance. You may be initially instructed to do postural exercises frequently, such as 2 times per day, then reduce this to less often when your symptoms improve.
- National Guideline Clearinghouse: Low Back Pain: Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association
- European Spine Journal: The Clinical Features of Piriformis Syndrome -- A Systematic Review
- Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Clinics of North America: Clinical and Electrodiagnostic Features of Sciatic Neuropathies
- European Spine Journal: Surgery Versus Conservative Management of Sciatica Due to a Lumbar Herniated Disc -- A Systematic Review
- BMC Medicine: Rest Versus Exercise as Treatment for Patients with Low Back Pain and Modic Changes -- A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial
- Low Back Pain; Ali Asghar Norasteh