Within the last couple of months, my husband has been experiencing back pain of increasing intensity.
He felt a twinge when twisting, numbness in his legs and feet, and excruciating pain when sitting or standing in the same position for too long.
I won’t bore you with all of the details…but as it turns out…ONE of his problems was spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spine). This lovely diagnosis was the cause of the bouts of sciatic nerve pain he was experiencing.
Being a massage therapist, I’m pretty well versed in stretching and different exercises that encourage muscle release.
I thought I would share a few of best stretches for sciatic nerve pain that worked for my clients over the years, and are working quite nicely for my husband as well ?
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First of all…
What Is Sciatic Nerve Pain And How Is It Caused?
Sciatic Nerve Pain is pain that stems from the lumber spine (usually from the sciatic nerve being pinched), that courses down the lower back, through the hips and buttocks, and down the length of the leg.
The lumbar spine is the part of the spine between the rib cage and the pelvis.
It consists of five vertebrae, and it’s no wonder that nerves can become impinged in this area of the spine…it carries all the weight of the upper body while also providing the flexibility needed for movement of the trunk!
As you can see in the diagram below, the lumbar spine has a natural curve to it to absorb the shock of the body moving.
Common causes of the sciatic nerve being pinched are herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or an overgrowth of bone tissue (bone spur).
The pain is usually unilateral, and can manifest in several different ways. The level of intensity and type of pain/numbness that each person feels varies. I have created a little pain chart below to illustrate several ways that the pain can show up.
If you have suffered from sciatic pain, you are probably aware that it can feel different from one day to the next.
Depending on the severity, the pain can also go away on its own, but if it were me (which it was when I was pregnant ??), I would definitely add a few of these stretches into my daily routine to try to alleviate the pain.
I’ve chosen stretches that are, for the most part, beginner level, and can be performed without assistance.
Number 3 is the most challenging in a sense of flexibility, but not to worry ? Just push to a point that you feel you are getting a good stretch, and you will become more flexible each time you try.
Before you know it, these stretches, as well as others, will become second nature.
Be sure to grab a yoga mat – this is the one I use – if you are not performing these stretches on a soft surface such as carpet.
If you’ve got a bony bottom like I do, this won’t feel good on a hard surface ?
For this stretch, simply position your body on the hands and knees, with spine in a neutral position.
First, curl your pelvis in toward your rib cage, and envision your belly button being lifted up to your spine. Suck it in! Bring your chin to your chest. Feel the nice release in your mid/low back.
Second, release the cat position, come back to neutral spine, and take it one step further by lifting your face to look forward, and arching your back – accentuating the lordotic curve in the lumbar spine.
2. Seated Spinal Twist
Begin in a seated position. bend your right knee and place your right foot on the left side of your straight leg.
Now, place your left hand on your right knee, and twist your body to the right, as far as is comfortable. This should feel quite nice on your mid/low back as well.
Repeat on the left side.
3. Pigeon Pose
This one, like I said, is a little difficult if you are not familiar with yoga-type stretching.
Just take it as far as is comfortable, and work to progress each time.
Place your left leg straight behind you on the mat. Place your right leg, in a bent position in front of you.
Now, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, bend your upper body forward as far as is comfortable.
If you make it to the mat with your upper body, you can either place your fingertips under your forehead, or do as I did in the picture and place your arms straight out in front of you. This will give you an extra little stretch in the lats and shoulders.
Repeat, switching the position of the legs.
4. Back Extension
Lie face down on the mat.
Place your palms on the mat just below your shoulders and push your upper body up.
Lift until you feel a deep stretch in the low back.
This one is strengthening the low back, which will ultimately help carry the load of the upper body.
5. Figure 4
Begin seated on the mat.
Bending both knees, bring the right leg up and rest the right leg (just above the ankle, NOT directly on the ankle) on the left knee.
Loop your right arm through to meet your left arm underneath your legs, and pull your left leg into your chest.
This requires a little balance, as you can see from the photo, I am balanced on my sit bones.
If you are having a bit of trouble balancing, don’t worry! Just lie back and do the exact same thing, only do it lying down.
You will still get a great stretch!
How To Prevent Sciatic Nerve Pain
Now that we know we can stretch to help relieve some of the symptoms accompanying a pinched sciatic nerve, let’s end with talking about how to prevent sciatic nerve pain.
1. Don’t stand on hard surfaces for extended periods of time without taking breaks to sit or move around.
2. Similarly, don’t sit for too long. This will exacerbate the numbness issue.
3. Exercise frequently and focus on the core and low back. Core exercises are essential. The abdominal muscles are so important when it comes to helping the lumbar spine do its job.
4. Maintain good posture. Placing all of your weight on one side of the body – not standing up straight – could intensify sciatic pain.
5. Give up the heavy lifting. This doesn’t mean you have to stop working out, but the more weight you put on your low back, the worse the problem will become.
6. Try not to gain an excessive amount of weight. Again with the weight adding to the low back strain.
I hope that this article has helped those of you who suffer with sciatic pain!
Have you found something that works for you? Please leave your advice in the comments. I love to hear from you!
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