5 Proven Ways to Relieve Sciatica Nerve Pain

Lots of people think they understand your pain when you say your Sciatica is flaring up. But have they ever really experienced Sciatica before? Shooting pain from your low back, down your butt cheeks, into your hamstring. No relief, no comfortable position.

It turns out that yes, there is at least a 40% chance that they have.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School estimate approximately 40% of all people will get Sciatica in their lives. The percentage is higher as you grow older. My guess is that the percentage will climb further still as we become a population that sits down for longer periods of time.

The Sciatic Nerve is the thickest in your body, about the diameter of a finger. It exits your spinal column on either side of the lumbar region and travels through your pelvis and down into your legs.

It can be irritated at any point along it’s path and lead to pain in the back, the legs, or both. Typically (but not always) the pain will feel like its in the back of your thigh and up into your low back.

These 5 stretches will help you to treat Sciatica and/or prevent it:

1. Piriformis Stretch

When the thick Sciatic Nerve exits the spine on it’s path down through your leg, it must first pass around the Gluteus Maximus (‘butt muscle’) and the deep piriformis (small hip external rotator). In fact, in some people the Sciatic Nerve actually passes straight through the piriformis. If either of these are tight, the nerve will get squeezed and you will definitely feel it.

  • How do I do it?
    1. Sit upright on a chair and cross your painful leg over the other leg.
    2. With the opposite hand, pull the leg further across your body until a stretch is felt deep in the hip.
    3. Caution: the stretch should be gentle, just to the point of tension. Pulling too hard will further irritate the inflamed Sciatic Nerve.
proven-ways-to-relieve-sciatica-nerve-pain
Image courtesy of Prairie Lakes Healthcare System
  • Why Am I doing this?
    • Of all of the muscles involved in Sciatica, the piriformis is probably the most guilty of making things worse. It’s literally a pain-in-the-butt.

2. Hamstring Stretch

Tight hamstrings are INCREDIBLY common amongst athletes, sedentary people, and everyone in between. Personally, I think that is the result of chairs, but that is a topic for another article. The Sciatic Nerve runs through the hip and buttocks and maintains its structure through the hamstrings before branching off into distinct parts behind the knee. Therefore, tight hamstrings will certainly contribute to Sciatica symptoms.

  • How do I do it?
    1. Lay on your back with your non-involved leg bent and foot resting on floor.
    2. Loop a belt or towel around the ball of your foot on the painful or tight side.
    3. Lever the leg up with your arms (keeping your knee straight) until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
    4. The stretch should be gently (achieve a feeling of tension but not pain).
    5. Repeat at least three times.
proven-ways-to-relieve-sciatica-nerve-pain
Image Courtesy of Shape
  • Why Am I doing this?
    • Not only do tight hamstrings make Sciatica symptoms worse, but they contribute to hip disfunction and low back pain.
    • This is easily a Top-3 Daily Stretch for those of us that sit a lot and drive a lot (ie. everyone).

3. Glute Stretch

Don’t be a tight ass!

The gluteus maximus and medius need to stay extensible and supple. If not, they can and will add pressure and irritation to the Sciatic Nerve. A tight gluteus can also cause pelvic rotation and lead to other forms of back and hip pain.

  • How do I do it?
    1. Lay on your back.
    2. Bring your knee up to your chest, using your arms to assist.
    3. Keep the other leg straight down to ‘set the pelvis’.
  • Why Am I doing this?
    • As stated, the sciatic nerve runs down through the pelvis and past the butt on it’s way into the leg. Keeping your gluteus maximus stretched and mobile is another piece of the ‘Pain-free-Puzzle’.

4. Sciatic Nerve Flossing

Ideally the Sciatic Nerve glides freely between muscles and soft tissue as the leg moves through its range of motion. When either the nerve or the muscle is inflamed, adhesions can form.

“Nerve Flossing” or “Nerve Gliding” is exactly what it sounds like. We floss the target nerve through the tight musculature like dental floss through teeth, clearing out any adhesions and promoting healthy movement that reduces pain.

  • How do I do it?

5. Contract-Relax Modified-Mulligan Stretch

Say what?!? Despite the weird name, this is an easy DIY treatment. It is a modified move that can be done alone or with a second person to assist. Research suggests that improving the range of motion in a Straight Leg Raise directly reduces the degree of low back pain.

  • How do I do it? (see image below)
    1. Lay on your back with both hips and both knees bent to 90 degrees.
    2. Reach both hands under the thigh of bent leg and lace fingers together. Pull up toward chest until stretch is felt. Hold this position as you push your leg down into your hands for 5 seconds.
    3. Relax and gently advance the stretch by pulling the leg further with your hands and add a slight pull to the side (this will now target the Adductor Magnus).
proven-ways-to-relieve-sciatica-nerve-pain
  • Why Am I doing this?
    • The Sciatic Nerve passes through the butt muscle and the adductor magnus (part of the hamstring) at the level of the hip. Stretching of these two is accomplished with this technique and will break any adhesions between tight muscles and the inflamed Sciatic Nerve.

Often enough, Sciatica can resolve on it’s own. However, that typically takes a month or more. That is a long time to have shooting pain in your butt and legs!

Even after it resolves it is likely to return if you have not treated the cause. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain in this case. Please start doing these stretches, and feel free to reach out to me at contact@rehab-revolution.com or comment below.

Another population that is at HIGH risk of Sciatica is Pregnant Women. Weight gain, fluid retention, postural changes, and your baby practicing karate kicks can all lead to intense and persistent sciatic pain. Learn how to mitigate that pain with the Rehab Revolution RECTI-FY Protocol.

If you are expecting or have given birth, check out my article How I Fixed My Diastasis Recti… with my Hubby’s Help. It’s from my wife’s perspective and I think there is some solid value to all of you new (or repeat) mommies.

rehab-revolution-consult-with-therapist

Dan Kristoff PT, DPT is recognized as one of the Top Physical Therapists in Ohio. In his 10+ yrs as a physical therapist, he has helped thousands of patients recover from illness and debility. His company, Rehab Revolution, is less than a year old and has already helped hundreds of clients take back control of their health.

Published by Dan Kristoff PT, DPT

President of Rehab Revolution Creator of CleBD Topical and Doctor of Physical Therapy

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