Sciatica is often confused with back pain but it is not the same as sciatica is not just limited to the back. Also known as sciatic neuritis, sciatica pain is caused due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve that runs from the lower back, through the buttock and down the leg.
The Shooting Pain
Sciatica causes throbbing, shooting and burning pain radiating from your lower back and buttocks till the leg. You may also feel numbness, tingling sensation or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot.
Sciatica can make walking difficult and painful, if not impossible. Many of them would have been advised stretches and exercises by the treating doctors. Most of the people with sciatica will refrain from even mild physical activity, in fear that it may aggravate the pain. What remains less known is the fact that rest is important during active flare-ups but regular exercises can in fact help relieve pain and even keep flare-ups at bay.
Easy Moves For Taming The Sciatic Pain
Sciatica pain can affect your mobility and may lead to severe pain if left untreated. So to ease the pain, here are some simple at-home exercises you can try.
Exercise 1: Knee hugs
-Lie on your back. Slowly, pull your bend your knees and pull both your legs towards your chest. You can use your hands for support.
-Pull your knees in until you feel a comfortable stretch in your lower back and buttocks. Hold on this position for 10 seconds before you return to the original position.
– If pulling both the knees up is quite uncomfortable, then try with one leg at a time. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times to get some respite.
Exercise 2: Knee rolls
-Lie on your back with your feet bent at the knees and the sole of your feet touching the floor.
-Slowly roll your knees from left side to right and vice versa while keeping your back fixed on the floor. Repeat it 10 times on each side to improve mobility.
Exercise 3: Standing side bend
-Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and both your hands on your sides.
– Slide your right hand down the right side of your body as you move your left hand over your head and bending your body to the right.
-Hold on for 10 seconds until you feel a gentle stretch on the left side. Repeat the same on the left side.
Exercise 4: Sciatic Nerve slider
-Sit on a chair with your back straight.
-Straighten your knee and point your toe towards the ceiling while you look upwards towards the ceiling
-Hold on the position for 30-60 seconds and return to the starting position.
-Perform this exercise 5 – 10 times at a slow pace.
Exercise 5: Extension in lying
-Lie on your stomach and place your palms on the ground beside your ears.
-Now slowly lift your upper body as high you can with the help of your hands till you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back.
-The position looks similar to a push-up but in this case, only your upper body is moving while your legs are rested on the floor.
-As you do so, you can feel clenching your hips. Remain in this position for at least 10 secs.
-Repeat this exercise 5-10 times to get rid of pain in the back and the legs.
Note: You probably do not have sciatica if you only have back pain. Sciatica pain usually gets better in 4 to 6 weeks with the help of these exercises but if it’s not getting better, do consult with a doctor.
In addition to exercises, there are some simple self-help tips for people with sciatica to ease their pain and improve their condition.
1. Learn the right way to lift objects: One of the biggest causes of a back injury is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. Always lift with your back straight, bringing yourself up with your hips and legs, and holding the object close to your chest. Using this method for lifting and handling objects can help prevent sciatica.
2. Cut down on your weight: Being overweight puts you at a higher risk of developing sciatica by increasing stress on your spine. Follow a healthy diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
3. Maintain a proper posture: If your job requires long hours of sitting, choose a seat with lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel to support and maintain the normal curve of your back. Keep your knees and hips at the same level.
4. Use heat packs to ease pain: Heat is known to stimulate the sensory receptors to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain thereby providing relief. Make sure the water is not super hot as it can damage your skin and you may not even know it because the area might be already numb due to nerve damage.
Everyday Factors That Can Trigger/Worsen Sciatica Pain
1. Wearing high heels and uncushioned shoes
Wearing high heels for too long can disrupt the natural curvature of your spine by shifting your weight forward. It can increase the stress on your lower back, which in turn may trigger sciatica symptoms. Sciatica triggered due to wearing high heels in known as high heel sciatica.
2. Keeping fat wallets and cellphones in your back pocket
Sitting for a prolonged period with fat wallets and cellphones in your back pockets may irritate the piriformis muscle (the muscle located deep in your buttock). This can put you at risk of a condition known as wallet neuritis or fat wallet syndrome. The overstuffed wallet can put pressure on your spine and irritate the sciatic nerve which in turn can aggravate the sciatica pain.
3. Sitting or lying down for too long
Do not sit or lie down for long periods as it may put stress on your sciatic nerve which in turn may aggravate the symptoms. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for sciatica. So keep moving even if it hurts as it can help in activating the muscles and can help you get better.
Sciatica can be treated and roughly for 3 out of 4 people symptoms improve over a few weeks. Keep patience and seek the right care. Don’t let sciatica impact your routine life.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
1. Park K, Kim Y, Chung Y, Hwang S. Effects of the height of shoe heels on muscle activation of cervical and lumbar spine in healthy women. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Mar;28(3):956-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4842473/
2. Siddiq MAB, Jahan I, Masihuzzaman S. Wallet Neuritis – An Example of Peripheral Sensitization. Curr Rheumatol Rev. 2018;14(3):279-283. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204659/