The sciatic nerve is the biggest in the body; it originates above the hips and runs down each leg before it ends right below each knee.
When the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed, it causes painful sciatica. Living with sciatica is difficult, especially when it's chronic and makes it difficult to do everyday tasks.
Although sciatica may seem hopeless, there are plenty of nonsurgical methods you can use to relieve discomfort and improve your quality of life. Simply stretching can help to reduce pain significantly.
Dr. Jason Ablett is a chiropractic specialist who offers various treatments for sciatica and other conditions at Pinnacle Health Chiropractic.
Dr. Ablett offers holistic treatments such as manual manipulation, electrical stimulation, and rehabilitative exercise to reduce pain and improve functionality.
The facts on sciatica
Sciatica is a term doctors use to describe any nerve pain originating in the lower back and extending down one or both legs.
The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back. It is the thickest nerve in the body, but true sciatica isn't common. However, other nerves around the sciatic nerve may become injured or inflamed, causing various sciatic-like symptoms such as:
- Pain in the back or legs
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased range of motion
- Discomfort with movement
The pain of sciatica can vary from mild to severe and come on suddenly or over time. Sciatica may be acute and go away with conservative treatments or become chronic, lasting for weeks to months.
In most cases, treatments like over-the-counter medications, heat and ice, physical therapy, and chiropractic manipulation manage the pain of sciatica. However, stretching the lower body and core can significantly reduce discomfort.
How does stretching help?
Stretching is one of the best things you can do for your body, whether you have sciatica or not. It's essential to help improve range of motion, increase flexibility, and keep the muscles and tendons loose.
But how does stretching specifically help decrease the pain of sciatica? Although genuine injury to the sciatic nerve is rare, any nerves in the lower spine and legs can become inflamed, causing sciatic-like symptoms.
In many cases, the symptoms are due to something compressing on the nerve, muscle, or other tissues. Stretching helps relieve spinal nerve compression, resulting in less pain and increased spine mobility.
Stretching is critical in reducing muscle tension throughout the body, especially in the lower back and spine. It also helps improve posture, which lessens aggravation on the spinal nerves.
Three essential stretches for pain relief
If you're living with a sciatica flare-up and need relief fast, Dr. Ablett offers several strategies for relief, including specific stretches to address the pain. Three crucial stretches for sciatica relief include:
1. Standing hamstring stretch
When the hamstrings are tight, they can pull at the muscles in the lower back, which, in turn, compresses the nerves. Stretching the hamstrings significantly reduces strain on the lower back and nerves.
The standing hamstring stretch is simple yet effective for relieving back and leg pain. Start by standing with your feet together. Slowly lift one leg forward, allowing that heel to rest on a chair or flat surface below your hips.
Gently lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings, and hold this pose for at least 30 seconds. Slowly come out of the stretch and repeat on the opposite side.
2. Cobra stretch
The cobra stretch is a typical yoga practice. It focuses on spinal extension to relieve low and mid-back pressure.
To perform the cobra stretch, lay on your stomach and place your hands under your shoulders. Slowly push your upper body off the ground while leaving the pelvis, legs, and feet on the floor.
You can do a full cobra with the elbows fully extended and your chest off the ground as far as possible or a modified cobra, which uses bent elbows and the chest closer to the ground. Both are effective stretches for back pain relief.
3. Knee to shoulder while lying
The sciatic nerve runs down through the hips, surrounding muscles, and other tissues. A knee-to-shoulder stretch focuses on flexion in the spine, creating enough space for the spinal nerves to pass through without compression.
To perform the knee-to-shoulder stretch, lie on your back with your legs out straight. Slowly pull one knee toward your chest and shoulder on the same side.
Hold the knee at your chest with both hands for about 30 seconds before moving to the other leg. The knee-to-shoulder stretch increases flexibility in the hips and lower spine for sciatica relief.
To find out other treatment options we offer for sciatica, call our office in Kirkland, Washington, today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Ablett, or book an appointment on our website.