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Sciatica - Exercises to Ease Your Pain

Jul 13, 2008
Do not be misled into thinking that you have been given a diagnosis if someone has told you you are suffering with 'sciatica'. The term sciatica is only a descriptive one. If you had pains in your head, I take it you would not be fooled into thinking you were being diagnosed as having a 'headache', yet this is exactly the same as being told you have sciatica i.e. you are suffering with pain down the back of your leg which is a result of the sciatic nerve being irritated. If you are looking for exercise for your sciatica, you need to find the cause of it first.

As the sciatic nerve leaves the spinal cord at the bottom of your back, it travels through your buttock and down the back of the leg as far as the knee. At this point, the sciatic nerve ceases to be, as it gives rise to other nerves. However, it is accepted within the medical profession, that any pain passing down the back of the leg, as far as your toes, is referred to as sciatica if it is the sciatic nerve which is causing the pain.

Anyway, with regards to exercises for sciatica, as I mentioned above, this would be dictated by the cause of the sciatica, not just the fact that you have sciatica.

Three common causes of sciatica are:

1) Disc Prolapse.

Do not let the term 'Disc Prolapse' (or other terminology such as disc herniation, disc bulge, slipped disc etc worry you. A large amount of sciatica is caused by disc problems and they can be quite readily treated. The pain arises due to the disc prolapse pressing upon the nerve roots and subsequently irritating the sciatic nerve to cause pain. The appropriate treatment for this is likely to be extension based exercises, which is the movement of leaning backwards. However, to begin with you would start these exercise by lying on your stomach, maybe with a pillow or two underneath your stomach. You would adopt this position for about 5 - 10 minutes several times per day, let's say every hour or so.

2) Facet Joint Compression.

The facet joints are positioned at the back of each lumbar vertebra and assist with the movement of the lower back. However, sometimes they can pinch on the nerve roots which form the sciatica nerve. With regards to exercises for facet joint compression, typically this would involve flexion exercises (the complete opposite to the extension ones given for a disc prolapse). For example this may involve gently hugging your knees to your chest while lying on the floor, or gently sitting back onto your heels while resting on all fours.

3) Tight Muscles.

The Piriformis muscle and the Hamstring muscles both have the sciatic nerve pass either through or underneath them as it travels through the buttock and down the back of the leg respectively. Consequently, the sciatic nerve can be easily aggravated if these muscles are tight and exert increased stress across it. Therefore, the treatment would involve stretching out any tightness present.

Whichever muscle you need to stretch out, it is important that you begin very gently. As you continue stretching, you will find that the stretches actually become quite easy, it is at this stage that you should think about being more 'aggressive' or trying more demanding stretches.

As I mentioned above, sciatica can be a result of many different causes, and it is the cause of your Sciatica which dictates the exercises needed to be performed, not the sciatica itself.

With regards to the causes of sciatica, muscle imbalance is right up there at the top. Tight & / or weak muscles place inappropriate loads across the sciatic nerve and these then result in pain.

Therefore, in order to reduce these increased stresses across the sciatic nerve, the muscles concerned need to be stretched and strengthened accordingly. Although I have not covered strengthening exercises within this article, it is possible they will need to form an integral part of any exercise programme.
About the Author
Paul Boxcer is a BSc (Hons) Physiotherapist with over 10 years experience. Much of this time he has spent treating patients with Low Back Pain & Sciatica. Sign up for his FREE 5 Day 'Cure Your Sciatica' Course and discover how to resolve your sciatica NOW!
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