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Exercises to Relieve Your Sciatica

Jul 15, 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.

The sciatic nerve originates from the spinal cord at the bottom of your back and then passes through the buttock region and down the back of the leg. It actually stops being called the sciatic nerve from the back of the knee, as it gives branches at this point to other nerves. However, it is accepted that any pain down the leg to as far as the toes, as long as it is a result sciatic nerve irritation, is referred to as sciatica

Getting back to the aim of this article i.e. exercises for Sciatica, as I mentioned above, this will all depend upon the true cause of the problem itself.

Typically, your sciatica will have one of three causes:

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.

At the back of each lumbar vertebrae are the facet joints, these articulate with each other every time our back moves. Unfortunately, they can irritate the sciatica nerve, especially if they begin to pinch on the nerve roots which make up the sciatic nerve. If this was the case, an exercise programme which is almost the opposite to the one given for a disc prolapse would be given. To begin with this would include exercises such as hugging your knees to your chest while lying on the floor, or sitting back onto your knees while on all fours.

3) Tight Muscles.

It usually tends to be a tight Piriformis muscle or Hamstring muscles which are responsible here. As the sciatic nerve passes down through the buttock area and on down the back of the leg, it passes through or underneath both the Piriformis muscle and the Hamstrings. Therefore, if either of these are tight, they will need to be stretched out, as they will be placing inappropriate stretches across the sciatic nerve, leading to pain.

Any stretch for either the Piriformis of Hamstring muscles should be a gentle one to start with. Only when you feel comfortable with it should you think about progressing to more aggressive stretches.

I cannot over emphasise that it is the cause of your sciatica which needs to be addressed with regards to an exercise programme, not just the fact that you have sciatica.

More often than not, it is tight & weak muscles i.e. muscle imbalance, which is one of the biggest causes of sciatica. Any muscle imbalance present will be placing increased stresses across the sciatic nerve, potentially leading to pain.

Strengthening exercises have not been discussed within this article However, if there is any weakness present, it is imperative these muscles are provided with a strengthening 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 people with Low Back Pain & Sciatica. Subscribe for his FREE 5 Day 'Cure Your Sciatica' Course and discover how to resolve your sciatica NOW!
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