Sciatic nerve pain is very common, affecting an estimated 40% of people at some point in their lifetime. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body; it travels from the lumbar spine and down both the right and left leg all the way to each foot. This nerve is essential for the function of the leg muscles and your ability to sense your legs.
Sciatica can sometimes be mistaken for simple low back pain, but there are characteristics that set it apart. Generally, sciatica, which is also known as lumbar radiculopathy, starts in the low back and radiates all the way to the foot. It is generally one-sided (affecting either the right or left leg), but can sometimes affect both sides. This pain is usually caused by a disc herniation, which pinches the sciatic nerve as it leaves the spine. Other common symptoms of this condition include:
- Lower back and lower limb pain that worsens with movement
- Numbness and tingling along the affected leg, foot, and toes
- Incontinence or the inability to control bladder and bowel movement – if you experience this, please call your doctor or visit the emergency room.
How to manage sciatica?
Sciatica treatment programs depend on the severity of the condition and its symptoms. For many individuals, this pain will resolve on its own over time. First line treatments are ice/heat, over the counter lidocaine patches, and ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. Another mainstay treatment is stretching exercises. Here are three simple stretches that may provide relief of your pain:
The hamstring is a group of muscles that includes your biceps, femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. When these muscles are stiff, they can affect your lower back and irritate your sciatic nerve by pulling on the pelvis. Three to five repetitions of this scissor hamstring stretch every day may help relieve sciatica.
- Stand with feet together
- Step your right foot about 3 feet in front of your left foot. Shift your weight into your right foot.
- Face your hips and shoulders forward
- Place your hand on your sides to balance
- Gently bend forward at the waist, folding your torso in the forward direction. Make sure that your weight is still placed in the right leg
- Keep the position for at least 10 seconds. Stand and repeat the stretch on the opposite leg
Flexion exercises are a great way to improve mobility and add strength to your abdominal muscles.
- Lie on your back.
- Slowly, pull your knees towards your chest using your hands. Do this until you feel a comfortable stretch in your mid and lower back.
- Then slowly gently bring your head forward for an added stretch.
- Hold the position for at least 5 seconds. Repeat the steps 4-6 times.
Another variation for back flexion stretches is the single knee-to-chest stretch which can also effectively provide relief for sciatica nerve pain.
- Lie on your back
- Put your hand behind one knee.
- Gently pull the knee towards your chest until you feel the stretch in your lower back and buttocks area.
- Hold the position for at least 5 seconds.
Sciatic nerve glide exercise is another exercise to provide relief for sciatica pain. It is done while you are sitting.
- Sit upright in a chair, preferably with your feet not touching the floor
- Bring your toe up until your leg is straight and parallel with the floor
- Gently point your toes toward you. Then bend your knee and allow your foot to come down. Repeat 10 time on the affected side(s)
- Once you are comfortable with this exercise, add a new component. When you point your toe towards you, also tip your head back and look at the ceiling. Drop your head to your chest while lowering your leg. Repeat on the affected side as needed.
For more information on Sciatica pain and different stretching exercises to alleviate pain, contact us at the Pain & Spine Center in Charlottesville, VA.