If your sciatica is almost unbearable try taking, the advice of osteopath – Jessica Lambert.
As many as 40% of people suffer from episodes of sciatic nerve pain. This is often a sharp, burning pain that radiates from pressure on the sciatic nerve roots in the lower spine.
It may be accompanied by a feeling of numbness, pins and needles and/or weakness. Due to its high prevalence the following article has been designed to help give you an understanding of sciatic nerve pain and advice to aid symptom relief.
The sciatic nerve leaves the spine and travels through the buttocks, down the back of the leg, divides at the knee and continues to the foot, hence pain may be experienced in any of these areas.
Certain positions, exercises and activities may help you to alleviate symptoms of sciatica. During the initially flare up of sciatic pain, people often find a day or two of bed rest beneficial.
However, following this, exercise usually helps and remaining sedentary can actually make things worse. Exercise and treatment need to address the underlying cause of your sciatic pain (examples of which include spinal stenosis or a herniated disc), therefore it is always best to seek advice from an osteopath, doctor or other professional physical therapist.
Failing to seek this help could mean that exercising causes more harm than good and even hinders your recovery. Exercises should primarily focus on strengthening your ‘core muscles’; this term includes your deep abdominal muscles and back muscles that support your spine and its associated structures.
If these muscles are weak, for example if you spend long periods of time seated or stationary, the support is reduced and the weight of the upper body and gravity may put more pressure upon the sciatic nerve roots - potentially exacerbating symptoms.
Regular stretching of tight hamstrings and quadriceps muscles (in the thighs) can also help reduce the stress on the lower back. Stretches may feel slightly uncomfortable but should never be painful; if they are, then ease out of the position and seek further assistant from your osteopath, physical therapist or doctor.
When stretching use your breath to assist you; inhale to prepare for the stretch and exhale as you move into a posture, keeping your breath calm and try to relax in order to encourage the muscles to let go.
Sciatic Nerve Pain Exercises
- Positioned on all fours, hands below shoulders, knees below hips and spine in neutral.
- Extend the right leg away and hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Bring the knee back to the mat and repeat 8 to 12 times.
- If you wish to challenge yourself, extend the left arm at the same time as the right leg and retain balance. Also as you build strength, hold the exercise for longer increasing up to 10 seconds.
- At all times keep the spine straight in a neutral position and the naval drawn towards the spine to strengthen the abdominals.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip width apart.
- Squeeze the glutes to push the hips up so that a diagonal line runs from the knees to the shoulders. Hold here for 3 seconds and then continue to squeeze the glutes as you lower back to the floor.
- Repeat this action, building up to 12/15 repetitions.
- To challenge yourself repeat the same exercise but with one leg extended straight out inline with the diagonal line you are creating with the body.
- Lie on your back, with one leg extended straight along the floor. Bend the opposite knee and support behind the hamstring, gently straighten the bent knee, foot up towards the ceiling until a stretch it felt in the hamstrings.
- Initially hold this stretch for 10 seconds and with time and flexibility, strive for 20-30 seconds.
- Kneel on the floor with the ankles underneath the body and feel the stretch in the front of your things. Concentrate on sitting tall and be careful to avoid arching in the lower back.
- Hold the position for as long as you find comfortable, initially you may feel discomfort in the ankles or knees this will improve but remember to ease out of the position if you feel pain at any time.
- If this is too much on the knees, place a pillow between your ankles and your hips to reduce the depth of the stretch.
Understanding the concept of supporting your spine (mentioned above under exercise) will enhance your posture and reduce spinal loading.
- Standing tall with your spine neutral (no hunching forward, leaning back or having a tendency to lean to either side) will help ensure that pressure down through the spine is dispersed evenly onto the discs and reduce the potential for the nerve root to become compressed.
- Reducing the curve (lordosis) in your lower spine, by tucking the tailbone under, so that there is again less compression at the site in your spine where the nerve root exits the spinal column (particularly at the L4 L5 segment).
I hope this article helps those of you suffering with the discomfort of sciatic nerve pain. Aim to incorporate these exercises and stretches into your daily wake-up routine or combine them with your daily activity (gym session, yoga, home workout etc.)
Please note, this is just a guide and for people who are experiencing extreme nerve pain, professional help should always be sought.