Nerves branch off the spinal cord at each level between your vertebrae. The L5 spinal nerve, between L4 and L5 vertebrae, and spinal nerves at nearby levels join together and branch off into the sciatic nerve — a large nerve that runs along the back of the thigh.
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What Is Sciatica?
Compression of the sciatic nerve can cause a painful condition called sciatica. This condition can cause numbness and tingling in your leg and over time, weakness in your leg muscles.
Nerve glide exercises can help relieve your symptoms, according to a 2017 article published by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. For best results, perform these exercises under the supervision of a physical therapist.
Read more: Is Walking Bad for the Sciatic Nerve?
Nerve Glide Exercises for Sciatica
When the sciatic nerve is trapped by the surrounding muscles and bones, it can become inflamed. Sciatica can also develop from spine conditions such as disc herniation or narrowing of the spine, according to Mayo Clinic.
Nerve gliding or flossing exercises, according to Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, help increase mobility of the sciatic nerve to reduce pain and numbness.
Perform the gliding exercises slowly and gently to avoid aggravating the sciatic nerve further — never force the movements and stop if you feel any pain.
If your pain persists or worsens after doing these exercises, stop doing them and see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Move 1: Sciatic Nerve Glide in Supine Position
- Lie on your back, raise one leg and take hold of it behind the knee.
- Start with the raised knee bent then slowly straighten it, stopping when you feel a stretch down the back of your thigh and knee.
- Keep your toes pulled back towards your head so the sole of your foot is facing up to the ceiling.
- Hold the stretch for a few seconds, relax and repeat 10 to 20 times, up to three times a day.
Move 2: Seated Leg Raises
- Sit up straight in a chair, with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor.
- 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.
- Lean forward with a straight back as you slowly lower your leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Read more: Sciatica Exercises to Avoid
Move 3: Seated Leg Kicks
- Sit in a chair with your back straight and both feet flat on the floor.
- Gently kick your injured leg 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.