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Best Stretches for Sciatica Relief

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT April 09, 2020 0 Comments

Woman performing Sciatica Stretch

Stretches for sciatica pain can be a good place to start, when dealing with this painful condition. Focusing on flexibility in the back and legs is a great way to get on the road to recovery from this low back pain, if you know which stretches are best for you. Keep reading to learn more about sciatica stretches.

How Stretches Can Help Sciatica

Sciatica stretches come with a lot of potential benefits, whether it’s more traditional stretches or yoga. Some of the benefits include:

  • Reduced stiffness in the back, glutes, and legs
  • Sciatic nerve pain relief
  • Increased blood flow to promote the healing of damaged nerve tissue
  • Improve neural tissue elasticity to reduce sensitivity and symptoms 
  • Break up any possible neural adhesions due to inflammation
  • Promote optimal function of the lower body with adequate flexibility and balance

For other home remedies for sciatica that have similar benefits, check out our full article.

Core and Lumbar Stretches

Addressing tension and pain in the low back is essential for recovery. Here are some of the best stretches available for relief.

Piriformis Stretch

Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor or bed. Bring the foot of your affected leg up and across to the opposite leg. Rest the outside of the ankle on the thigh near your knee. This will create a “figure 4” position with your leg. From there, bring the opposite leg up toward you and grab the back of the leg with your hands.  Then, pull it up toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the piriformis (deep in the butt) and hold.

Hold 30-60 seconds, 2-3 times. To further progress this stretch and address the piriformis muscle, you may also consider using a foam roller.

Prone Press-Up Low Back Stretch

First, lie on your stomach with your arms at your side and elbows bent so that your palms and forearms are flat on the floor near your shoulders. If this is tolerated, then push up through your hands and forearms as you lift up from the floor to arch the back. Do not use your back muscles to arch the back. Stretch up to what is comfortable or until you can prop yourself up entirely on your forearms.

Hold 30-60 seconds. If nerve symptoms increase, stop immediately. If extending your back is too much, you can start by simply lying on your stomach and progress from there.

Cat-Cow Yoga Stretch

Get on your hands and knees, with the hands under your shoulders and the knees under your hips and about hip-width apart. First, arch the back and bring your forehead up toward the ceiling as far as is comfortable. Then, completely reverse the curve of your spine by rounding the mid-back toward the ceiling as you tuck your chin toward your chest.

Move back and forth slowly 10-15 times for 1-2 sets per day. Add deep breathing in sync with the motion for further relaxation of the spine.

Knee to Chest Stretch

Start by lying on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then, bring one knee toward your chest, grabbing either behind the thigh or on top of the knee with both hands. Bring it as close to your chest as possible until you feel a stretch in the low back and butt.

Hold 30-60 seconds on each side. If you feel too stiff, you can use a towel or belt around the knee. When you’re ready to progress, you can try bringing both legs toward the chest at once.

Calf and Hamstring Stretches

A traditional standing leg or hamstring stretch won’t typically be comfortable with sciatica symptoms. Try out all these great alternative options instead.

Sciatic Nerve Glide

This is a classic hamstring stretch with a twist to more specifically address the sciatic nerve tissues. Start by lying on your back with the legs straight. Then, bring the affected leg up toward you and grab behind your thigh with both hands. Keep your thigh (hips at about 90 degrees) with the knee bent. Next, attempt to bring the foot toward the ceiling as you straighten the knee.  If tolerated, you can also flex the ankle as you straighten the knee for an extra-strong stretch.

Expect to have some discomfort but do not force the motion if you experience aggravated neural symptoms. Move slowly in and out of the position for up to 10 repetitions, 1-2 times per day.

Seated Neural Flossing

“Flossing” the sciatic nerve back and forth between the skull and toes can provide gradual relief from neural symptoms. Get comfortable in a seated position. Bring the chin back and forehead toward the ceiling as you straighten the leg out in front of you until you feel a stretch in the leg.  Then, return the leg to the starting position as you tuck the chin toward the chest.

Repeat up to 10 times moving slowly and controlled 1-2 times per day. Do not force the motion. Do not straighten the knee and bring the chin to the chest at the same time to avoid aggravation.

Seated Calf Stretch

This is a calf stretch with a variation to further address sciatica. Sitting upright in good posture, prop your heel on a small step or bolster with the knee straight. Then, bring the toes toward your shin as far as is comfortable and hold. Do not let the knee turn inward.

Hold 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-15 times 1-2 times per day. Do not force the stretch.

Can Stretching Make Sciatica Worse?

Neural tissue is sensitive, especially when it’s compressed and inflamed like it is with sciatica. To prevent neural aggravation, always start gently and pay close attention to your symptoms. Avoid getting into a position with the leg straight and upper body slumped and chin toward the chest. Outside of that, listen to your body and follow instructions for exercises closely for the correct form. Combining stretches with a well-balanced core and lower body strengthening exercises will also help.

Safe Exercises for Sciatica Pain

Physical Therapy for Sciatica

Avoid These Exercises with Lower Back Pain

Understanding How to Perform Sciatica Stretches Properly

Sciatica nerve stretches are all about finding a balance between healing and irritation. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for you. You will get more tuned in your body as you practice though. If you aren’t sure where to start, or your symptoms of pain, tingling, weakness, and numbness get worse, seek medical advice from an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist immediately.


Next Pages:

Yoga for Sciatica
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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