Over 40% of the population in North America will experience sciatic pain at some point in their life.
Sciatica is a condition where pain runs along the sciatic nerve, starting at the base of the spine down through the legs and buttocks. Although it doesn’t always manifest as lower back pain, it can also cause numbness, tingling and weakness in your legs and knees.
The symptoms of sciatic nerve pain are diverse. They include (1):
– lower back pain
– pain in the rear or leg that can get worse while sitting
– hip and buttock pain
– burning or tingling down the leg
– weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
– a constant pain on one side of the rear
– a shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up
Sciatica usually only affects one side of the lower body, and can extend from the lower back, all the way through the back of the thigh and down through the leg. For some people, sciatica is severe and debilitating, while for others, it can be infrequent and irritating (although has the potential to get worse).
Causes of Sciatica Pain
The causes of sciatica pain (which can manifest as lower back pain) can be due to a number of factors. It is often caused by irritation of the root(s) of the lower lumbar and lumbrosacral spine, such as compressed nerves, muscle or disc herniation, osteoarthritis or lumbar canal stenosis (2).
While it is most common for sciatica symptoms to be caused by a problem in the lower back (such as the causes mentioned above), there are other conditions that may lead to sciatica-like symptoms, like pressure on the sciatic nerve from the piriformis muscle, or tight gluteal muscles.
Sciatic Nerve & Lower Back Pain Relief
Often times, the best thing you can do to relieve lower back pain caused by sciatica is to stretch and rest. The stretches I outline below are especially helpful if the pain is caused by the piriformis. They’re designed to stretch out and relieve tension in the muscles of the lower back.
Many individuals have gained relief, and completely healed their sciatic pain by performing these stretches. However, you should be careful not to overdo it, as I personally learned the hard way by pushing myself too hard in yoga, and did more damage to my sciatic nerve than I intended (other studies have found this to be true as well).
The best advice is to go slow, breathe deep, and never go to the point of feeling a sharp pain. Go to the point where you feel a slightly uncomfortable stretch, and hold it there. Each day will get better, and you’ll eventually notice that your lower back pain has disappeared.
1. Reclined Pigeon Pose
1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
2. Cross your right foot over your left knee, with your right knee sticking out to the side. Keep your right foot flexed to maintain the integrity of the knee.
3. Reach behind the hamstring on your left leg, and hug it toward your chest as you open your right knee. Always keep your head flat on the floor by tucking your chin down.
4. Hold for 30 seconds – 2 minutes, then switch sides.
2. Knee Raise
1. Lay down on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
2. Bring one knee to your chest, keeping the other foot flat on the floor (or the other leg straight, whichever feels better on your lower back). Keep your lower back pressed to the floor.
3. Hold for 15-30 seconds, and then relax and lower the knee to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
4. Repeat 2-4 times with each leg. If you want to get more of a stretch, put your other leg flat on the floor while pulling your knee to your chest.
3. Seated Spinal Twist
1. Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you.2. Bend your right knee and place your right heel as close as possible to your right sit-bone. Then, bend your left knee and cross your left foot over your right knee. Place it on the floor so that your left ankle is next to your right knee.
2. Reach your left arm behind you and place your palm on the floor. Then, bend your right elbow and cross it over the outside of your left knee. Keep your elbow bent, and if you can, hold onto your left toes.
3. Keep your left hand on the floor for stability, or bring your left arm around your lower back. Reach for your shirt, or hook your fingers on top of your right thigh. Gaze behind you and over your left shoulder. Continue pressing your right arm into your left knee, and use each inhale to lengthen the spine and each exhale to rotate further to the left.
4. Stay here for 1 minute, then release the twist and straighten out your legs. Repeat on the other side.
4. Smiling Cow Face Variation
1. With the left leg extended out in front, bring the right knee over the left as much as you can, foot to the outside of the left hip. You can also have the foot on top of the thigh, and right knee supported by a block.
2. With the extended leg contracted, inhale lift up, and exhale round forward. Relax the shoulder and arms, and breathe deep into the belly. If you feel your left knee is hyper-extending, place a folded towel underneath it.
3. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then repeat on the other side.
5. Butterfly Stretch
1. Sit on the ground, and bend both knees. Bring your feet together and use your hands to open up your feet like a book. Use your leg muscles to press your knees down toward the floor.
2. Keeping the spine straight, relax the shoulders and then slowly fold forward, while breathing deeply. Remember to keep the spine straight. If you can only bend forward a few inches, that is fine, sit here and breathe.
3. If you want a deeper stretch, extend the arms out in front of you on the floor. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, and then return to starting position.
6. Cat and Cow
1. Start on your hands and knees, aligning your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
2. Think of the spine as a straight line connecting the shoulders to the hips. Keep the neck long.
3. Inhale, and let your belly drop down, while you lift your gaze and tailbone to the sky – do not crank the neck, keep it in line with the spine – let your eyes do the work.
4. As you exhale, slowly tuck your chin towards the chest, lift your mid-back towards the sky and scoop your tailbone under (like a Halloween cat!).
5. Repeat 6-10 times, and rest.
7. Legs Up The Wall Pose
1. Place a folded blanket or other support under the lower back, and extend your legs up the wall, allowing the soles of the feet to face the ceiling.
2. Let the sacrum drop toward the floor and feel a release in the lower back.
3. Breathe deeply for up to 5 minutes – this is a great restorative pose.