Exercise to Increase Nerve Gliding in the Lumbar Spine at L4-5

Hand on the back
Woman holding her lower back (Image: benjaminec/iStock/Getty Images)

Pain in your lumbar spine is often caused by compression of your sciatic nerve, which runs from the back of your hips and down your legs. This condition is known as sciatica and symptoms include sharp pain in the lower back that can shoot down one or both legs. If the nerve is compressed around your L4 vertebra, you are likely to feel pain and weakness in the lower leg and foot, writes Steven G. Yeomans, D.C., on the Spine-health website. If the condition stems from the L5 vertebra -- one of the most common points of compression -- your symptoms might include weakness in the big toe and ankle and numbness around the top of your foot. Nerve gliding exercises can be used to help ease the condition.

Nerve Gliding

When the sciatic nerve is trapped by the surrounding muscles and bones, it becomes inflamed and stops moving smoothly through the spaces between your bones in what is known as a nerve tunnel, writess Dr. Rob Green on the Kitchener Waterloo Chiropractor website. Gliding or flossing exercises help to pull the nerve through this tunnel and, therefore, relieve pain and numbness. It is important to perform the gliding exercises slowly and gently to avoid aggravating the sciatic nerve further -- never force the movements and always stop if you feel any pain, advises Marc Heller, D.C. of Heller Chiropractic Clinic. If your pain persists or worsens after doing these exercises, stop doing them and see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Raised Leg Stretch

Lie on your back, raise one leg and take hold of it behind the knee, advises Heller. Start with the raised knee bent then slowly straighten it, stopping when you feel a stretch down the back of your thigh and knee. Your other leg should stay straight out along the floor. Don’t point the toes of your raised leg; keep them pulled back towards your head so the sole of your foot is facing up to the ceiling. To increase the stretch, gently pull the raised leg across towards your resting leg. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, relax and repeat 10 to 20 times, up to three times a day on both legs.

Seated Leg Raises

Sit up straight in a chair, with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor, advises Heller. Gradually straighten and lift the leg that’s affected by your sciatica, leaning back as you do so. You should feel a stretch down the back of your thigh and behind your knee, but stop if you feel any pain. Lean forward with a straight back as you slowly lower your leg back to the starting position. Aim to do 15 repetitions up to five times a day.

Seated Leg Kicks

Sit in a chair with your back straight and both feet flat on the floor, advises Green. Gently kick your injured foot back under the chair and, as you do, drop your head forward. Slowly bring the leg forward, straightening it out in front of you and bring your head up at the same time. It might help to imagine there is a string attached to your forehead and the end of your toe. The aim of this exercise -- as with all nerve gliding exercises -- is to relax one end of the injured nerve while gently tugging on the other end.

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