Sciatic nerve pain can be debilitating and seriously interfere with your everyday activities. When the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or pinched, it sends out distress signals to the surrounding muscles, causing them to become inflamed and swollen. Long-term compression and inflammation of the nerve can lead to tissue damage in the nerve and surrounding muscles.
While surgery can relieve the pressure on the nerve by removing the damaged section of the disc or fusing two vertebrae, this procedure is very risky and can make symptoms worse. A chiropractor can realign your spine and put the disc back into its space, and targeted stretches can help open the disc space between vertebrae to relieve symptoms and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
Causes of sciatica
Sciatica is caused by a number of issues, although the most common is a bulging or herniated disc. The disc space becomes compromised due to degenerative changes such as degenerative disc disease or aging, or through trauma or injury.
When the disc becomes herniated or begins to bulge, it’s a lot like squeezing a water balloon in your hand. The pressure at one end of the disc moves the jelly-like inside to the other end and forces it out of one side of the disc space, usually against the nerves that run through the spine.
As the sciatic nerve becomes compressed by the disc, it sends signals to the brain and surrounding muscles that something is wrong, which causes symptoms and issues that can interfere with movement, flexibility, and quality of life.
Symptoms of sciatica
Symptoms of sciatica include:
- localized pain, swelling, and inflammation
- radiating pain into the legs, ankles, and feet
- numbness and/or weakness in the legs
- tingling sensations in the legs
- sharp burning sensations in the legs and feet
Luckily, there are sciatica stretches that can help stretch out the vertebrae, giving sciatica pain relief to the compressed disc. These stretches are also helpful in strengthening the muscles that surround the affected area of the spine so that the adjustments by your chiropractor will help keep the disc from slipping out again.
1. Standing hamstring stretch
The hamstrings, while they seem an unlikely culprit, can contribute to sciatic nerve pain if they are too tight. When they are too tight, they pull unnecessarily on the lower back, which can cause it to slip out of alignment. Routinely stretching your hamstrings can help alleviate sciatica symptoms.
- Locate a bench or chair that is level or slightly below your hips
- Raise one foot, and place it flat on this surface, keeping your foot and toes straight out in front of you.
- Outstretch your arms and lean your upper body forward towards your toes, as if you’re trying to reach them. You may not be able to bend too far forward at first, but with time, your muscles will relax and you’ll become more flexible.
- Using your hands, push down on the hip of the foot that’s raised on the surface and hold for 20 seconds.
- Slowly return to the standing position and repeat with the other leg.
- Repeat 5 times per leg in sets of 3.
2. Knee-to-chest stretches
These stretches are best done first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed. They open the disc space and help improve your flexibility, especially if you find yourself remaining in one position for too long as you sleep.
- Lie flat on your back, and slowly raise one leg, bending it until you can reach your knee and wrap your hands around it.
- While holding your knee, pull it towards your chest until you can feel the stretch deep in your lower lumbar spine.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds, and slowly lower your leg. Repeat the process with your other leg.
- Repeat 5 times per leg in sets of 2 or 3, depending on how you feel.
- For a really deep stretch, pull your knee towards you, but to the opposite shoulder. For instance, if you’re holding your right knee, pull it up and to the left as you stretch.
- You can also pull both knees up at the same time and hold them in place.
3. Seated hip stretch
The hips can also become too tight, especially if the spine is out of alignment and has caused one side of the pelvis to be higher than the other for a time. Stretching the hips can loosen the pull on the spine and keep the alignment straight.
- Sit down on a chair and put one leg on top of your other knee so that it’s at a right-angle.
- Slowly bend your upper body forwards over your leg until you feel a stretch in your lower back and hips.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds and slowly move back to sitting up straight.
- Cross your other leg over your knee and repeat.
- Repeat 5 times per leg in sets of 3.