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Sciatica - Exercises to Help Relieve Your Pain

Jul 17, 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 is formed from 5 nerve roots which leave the lower back from the lumbar spine and sacrum. As it does this, the sciatic nerve passes through the buttock region and down the back of the leg to the back of the knee. As it passes below the knee, it is officially no longer referred to as the sciatic nerve. However, pain which is felt anywhere down the back of the leg to as far as the toes, is typically termed sciatica (assuming it is an irritated sciatic nerve which is causing the pain).

However, if we go back to the aim of this article i.e. exercises for sciatica, it is the cause of your sciatica which is all important, not just that you are suffering with sciatica.

Although not exclusive, there are three main causes of sciatica:

1) Disc Prolapse.

This is not as bad as it may initially seem. This problem arises typically when there are too many flexion based forces across the lower back and therefore the discs of the lumbar spine begin to bulge. This bulge then presses on the sciatic nerve and subsequently pain is often felt. If this is the cause of your sciatic pain, as a rule of thumb, extension based exercises would be the main principle of your treatment. This may involve lying on your stomach, with or without a pillow underneath, little and often throughout the day. You would then increasing the degree of extension as your pain improves.

2) Facet Joint Compression.

This tends to occur when the joints of the lumbar vertebrae begin to pinch on the sciatic nerve and irritate it. In this circumstance, the opposite to the above exercise is given, where a more flexion based exercise regime would be indicated. For example lying on your back and gently hugging your knees to your chest or maybe kneeling on all fours and gently sitting back on to your heels. Once again, these should be performed little and often throughout the day and progressed as your pain improves.

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.

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.

Just to elaborate a little further before I finish, muscle imbalance is without doubt one of the biggest problems with regards to sciatica. This is where either tight or weak muscles combine to place inappropriate stresses across structures, such as the sciatic nerve, which results in pain.

The aim of treatment in these circumstances is to stretch and strengthen the appropriate muscles. Although in this article I have only discussed movement or stretching exercises, it is likely there is weakness as well as tightness present. In such circumstances, it is important strengthening exercises are also performed.
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. Subscribe to his FREE 5 Day 'Cure Your Sciatica' Course and learn how to treat your sciatica NOW!
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