Tingling down the back of your leg? Butt falling asleep when you sit too long? Shooting pain in your hip? If any of these sensations sound familiar, you just might have a common condition known as Sciatica. If so, you are among approximately 40% of the population who feel it at some point and you’re wondering how to fix sciatica fast. In this guide, we’re going to demonstrate our top pain-relieving stretches for sciatica.
Do you know why sciatica happens? Or better yet, what you can you do to relieve your sciatic pain fast? Let’s get into the basics of this common condition and then explore the best sciatic nerve pain stretches so you can experience sciatica relief in 8 minutes or less with these movements.
What’s in this article:
- What is Sciatica
- What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain
- Stretches for Sciatica Nerve Pain Relief
- Exercises to Avoid with Sciatica
- Water Exercises for Sciatica
- Best Sleeping Position for Sciatica
- Best Pillow For Sciatica
- Other Methods to Treat Sciatica
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is pain, tingling, or numbness that comes from the irritation of the sciatic nerve or the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. The discomfort can be felt in the buttocks on one side, down the side or back of the leg, or even in the ankle and foot. The pain can be severe, and it usually only occurs on one side of the body.
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Pain & Sports Associates
You might not know it, but the sciatic nerve is the longest and largest nerve in the human body. It starts in your back and ends in your toes! This nerve actually begins as a collection of nerve fibers—or roots—in the lower spine. These fibers exit the spinal canal through a number of different openings in the lower spine.
Eventually, all of these little fibers meet up and combine to make one large sciatic nerve that can be as thick as a grown man’s thumb at its largest point.
As it begins to travel downward from your lower back, the sciatic nerve runs below your piriformis muscle, through your hips and glutes, down the back of your leg, and into your foot. If you have sciatica, you may experience pain or numbness at anyone or even all of these locations.
What Causes Sciatic Nerve Pain?
In general, sciatic irritation comes when something is pressing on the sciatic nerve. There are several things that can cause this, including:
- a ruptured or bulging disc
- damaged or broken vertebrae
- spinal stenosis (which narrows the spinal root canal)
- arthritis of the back
- bone spur on the spine
- pinched nerve or damage from injury
- inflammation in your piriformis muscle
Sciatica can also develop during pregnancy and in very rare cases a tumor pressing on the nerve can be the source of the pain. In general, though, most cases of Sciatica will not require serious medical treatment and will resolve themselves over time with proper self-care.
Best Stretches for Sciatica Pain Relief
To help keep your sciatic pain at bay, perform these 8 sciatica stretches a few times a week to help relieve your pain and get you feeling great again.
1. Runner’s Lunge
Runner’s Lunge provides a deep stretch for the hips, hip flexors, groin, and legs. Many people make the mistake of trying to use their leg muscles to hold their hips ups. It is important to let go and release your hips so that you can experience a deep stretch.
- Begin in a plank position with hands directly below shoulders flat on the floor.
- Step your right foot forward to the outer edge of your mat next to your right pinky finger.
- Lower your forearms inside your right foot and relax through your hips and lower back.
- Breathe and hold for 30 seconds. Switch side
2. Sleeping Pigeon
The Sleeping Pigeon takes a basic hip-stretching pose and, by lowering the chest down to rest over the top of the stretching leg, adds a deeper sensation to the stretch.
- Begin in a plank position. Tighten your abdominals and pull your right knee toward your right hand placing your right foot as close to your left hand as you can.
- Keep your back leg long and keep your hips even as you relax your weight through the middle of your hips.
- Slowly begin to lower your chest over your front shin relaxing forehead on the mat flat on the floor and arms stretched overhead.
- Breathe and hold for 30 seconds. Slowly lift chest up, step back into plank and switch sides.
3. Revolved Extended Side Angle (Crescent Twist)
Revolved Extended Side Angle is a standing pose that stretches the entire back, hips, and ankles and strengthens the legs.
- From a standing position, step your left foot to the back of the mat and lower the inside of the foot down.
- Reach both arms straight overhead and bend the right knee to 90 degrees.
- Relax your shoulder as you continue reaching up and lengthen the back leg.
- Now draw your hands to a prayer position in front of your chest.
- Keep hands in prayer as you twist left elbow over right knee, pressing elbow against the side of your leg and relaxing your neck as you gaze up.
- Hold 30 seconds and switch sides.
4. Pyramid Pose
Pyramid Pose is a deep hamstring stretch and lower back stretch as well as a simple way to practice balance with both feet still on the ground.
- From a standing position, step the inside of your left foot directly behind your right foot about 6-8 inches, as if you are standing on a balance beam. The back foot is angled.
- As you inhale reach both arms high overhead, lengthening your spine.
- As you exhale slowly reach your hands down to shin or if you are able the floor. You can slightly bend the front knee if needed.
- Let your chest rest over your front leg and relax the back of your neck. Breath slowly as you stretch your hamstring.
- Hold 30 seconds and switch sides.
5. Forward Fold
Forward Fold is a basic yoga bend pose that stretches the lower back and is an excellent hamstring stretch.
- With knees soft, reach hands toward feet and hold onto your ankles or calves.
- Relax the back of your neck as you place your nose close to your knees.
- Breath gently in and out through your nose as you deepen the bend and stretch.
6. Lying Spinal Twist
Lying spinal twist is one of the best stretches for back muscles and glutes.
- Lie on your back and stretch your left leg out long. Pull the right knee in towards your chest.
- Gently pull your knee over your left leg towards the ground. Keep both shoulders on the mat while you do this.
- Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
7. Seated Spinal Twist
Seated spinal twists can help you stretch your piriformis, the muscle that sits deep into the hips just behind your hip bones.
- Sit on the floor with legs extended out in front of you.
- Cross your right foot over your left leg as near to the hip as you can.
- Wrap your left arm around your right knee and pull it toward your body. Slightly twist to the right.
- Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
8. Figure Four
The seated figure four stretch is a great hip opener, and it will also help relieve that dull, low-back ache that can come from sitting too much.
- Keep your spine straight as you place one ankle on the opposite leg.
- Lean forward toward your calf, while keeping a straight back.
- Switch legs.
What Exercises You Should Avoid with Sciatica
It’s important to be very careful about aggravating sciatica pain while you are recovering. Avoid any jarring motions and sudden changes in direction, especially those that force your back to bend or twist on its own accord.
If you’re experiencing sciatica pain in your lower back, try to avoid running or jogging for a while because it can make the symptoms worse.
You might be able to jog by warming up slowly with some walking and then gradually increasing the distance over time but this is something that will vary from person to person and should only be attempted after consultation with your doctor.
Be sure to manage the rest of your body as best as possible so it doesn’t aggravate sciatica symptoms further down the line.
For example, you want to avoid sitting for a long time, as this can cause sciatica pain in the back of your leg. You should also try to stay away from standing in the same position for too long.
Other things that can cause sciatica symptoms to flare up are twisting your back and lifting anything heavy. Some people are surprised to know that sciatica pain can be aggravated by coughing, sneezing, or even by something like laughing.
Unfortunately, people often find that they can’t golf or play tennis with sciatica because of the low back bending and twisting that is required.
The key is to be aware of what activities may cause sciatica symptoms to worsen and avoid them when you can. By doing so, it will allow your body more time to heal while alleviating the frustration that comes with sciatic pain in the meantime.
Water Exercises for Sciatica Relief
It might seem like many of your favorite exercises are off-limits with sciatica. Water exercises are a great way to work on your core and provide you with some relief as well.
Aqua therapy is a fantastic option for sciatica patients because it reduces the weight-bearing load that can cause more pain in people who suffer from this condition, which means less discomfort while exercising!
Research has shown that water therapy can help to strengthen and lengthen the muscles in your back while reducing pain.
While swimming can’t cure sciatica, it is a great way to relieve pain and get in shape.
A pain-relief technique known as hydrotherapy can be made even more effective by adding mobilization.
Swimming provides a low-impact workout that releases natural endorphins and is the perfect form of exercise for people with chronic back pain. When swimming, it’s best to limit yourself to the sidestroke due to a few strokes known for exacerbating sciatic nerve pain.
Best Sleeping Position for Sciatica Relief
If you have sciatica – quite simply, sleeping can be a nightmare. How do you sleep with sciatic nerve pain? If you want relief of sciatic nerve pain at night when lying down, sleeping on your side may best option as lying flat on your back could actually cause more pressure against the spine which agitates any existing sciatica discomfort.
Most people find that sleeping on their stomachs is too uncomfortable and can put an intense strain on a number of areas. Ultimately the best sleeping position for sciatica will be personal and likely a situation of trial and error.
Sleeping with sciatica also starts with your routine. Be sure to do your sciatica yoga stretches before bed so your mind and body are relaxed.
Consider adding in aromatherapy as a way to unwind and create more relaxation. Studies have shown aromatherapy can help with pain reduction as well as sleep.
The Best Sciatica Pillow
One of the best ways to sleep with sciatic nerve pain is to invest in a specific pillow. What kind of pillow works best for sciatica pain? When it comes to finding the best sciatica pillow, there are a number of factors that should be considered.
You’ll want to consider your body type and sleeping position in order to find what’s going to work for you. For example, if you’re a stomach sleeper or back sleeper with sciatic pain on one side, then getting a specific contoured pillow might help relieve some pressure points during sleep time which could make symptoms worse when waking up.
A popular pillow type for sciatica pain is the wedge pillow. These pillows are fairly straight until reaching the end, which is then angled towards your back to help keep you in a more upright position and relieve pressure points that sciatica pain sufferers experience when resting on their stomach or side.
You might also want to consider going with a memory foam contoured pillow for sciatica as it’s able to conform around your body while still providing support and relief.
A firmer mattress could be great too if you’ve been experiencing pain during sleep time due to an overly soft mattress being unable to provide adequate support.
Overall, finding what may work best will depend largely on personal preference but there are plenty of options out there so don’t get discouraged!
Other Methods to Treat Sciatica Pain
The good news is that for most people, Sciatica is very temporary and with a bit of patience and persistence and the right stretches it can be taken care of without any invasive procedures.
In fact, for some people, it actually goes away on its own. If, however, you want to be a little more proactive, check out some of these things that have worked for others. Just keep in mind that everyone experiences this condition in their own way and what works for one person might not work for another.
It may take a few different tries for you to get it right. If, however, your sciatica persists for more than 6-8 weeks, it is time to see a doctor about getting relief in some other way.
Alternating Ice and Heat
Wondering how to get immediate relief from sciatica? Alternating heat and ice therapy can provide fast relief of sciatic nerve pain. Ice may help reduce inflammation, while heat encourages blood flow to the painful area (which speeds healing). Heat and ice may also help ease those tense muscles that often accompany sciatica.
Related: How To Use Heat Vs. Cold Therapy To Treat Injuries
Massage for Sciatica Pain Relief
Deep tissue massage with a skilled therapist can relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and loosen up any tight spots. One good massage might do the trick, but likely a schedule or regular visits will make the real difference.
While massages and stretches can help, a chiropractor may also be a good bet.
A chiropractor may be able to determine what the actual cause of the sciatica pain is and how to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. The best way to find a qualified chiropractor is by referral.
Put your fear of needles on hold for just one second. A 2015 study by the National Institute of Health found that acupuncture can help treat sciatica.
The NIH reports that “the use of acupuncture may more effectively relieve leg pain/lumbago and improve global assessment of sciatica when compared with NSAID treatment.”
Dry Needling for Sciatic Nerve Pain
What is dry needling? Dry needling is a technique that applies acupuncture needles in specific points to affect muscle tightness and relieve pain.
Dry needles are placed into tight muscles to stimulate them and relax overactive muscle groups nearby. This process, called trigger point therapy, improves range of motion and relieves pressure on nerves by reducing spasms throughout the body.
The sensation during dry needling feels similar to what happens during acupuncture treatment except that there is less risk of infection because sterile disposable needles are used.
Dry needling for sciatica has been found to have potential especially when combined with other therapies such as physical therapy. Research into dry needling found that it helped relieve pain in the short term.
Dry needling for sciatica nerve pain is a treatment worth considering, especially when other more conventional treatments have not been successful. The technique has also been found to be useful for sciatica that persisted after surgery.
You probably want to know – Is dry needling painful? Based on our research dry needling can be a little painful, but the pain is tolerable – usually not as bad as having an injection or getting blood drawn.
Just as there are certain foods that can lead to chronic inflammation, other foods naturally fight it off. Since inflammation can play a role in sciatica pain, it’s worth adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet!
This may not completely solve the problem, but every small detail can add up to one big picture of feeling better.
Over The Counter Meds
If you’re really hurting and you need a temporary solution for sciatic nerve pain while you search for something more long-term, you can turn to some over-the-counter options.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen may relieve the inflammation that is causing your pain. Advil, Nuprin, Motrin, and Aleve are the more common brands. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, can also provide relief.
Stretching for Sciatica
By far the best option to help your Sciatica is going to be stretching! My relief came through regular yoga which provided just the right stretches for my hips, lower back, and piriformis to relieve the discomfort and help me feel good again.
The keyword in that sentence: REGULAR. You can’t stretch a few times, call it a day and expect any change in your back pain or sciatica pain to occur. For true help, you will need to make regular stretching part of your routine.