Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Ibtissama Boukas, physician specializing in family medicine
You have pain that radiates behind the thigh. Perhaps they even go down to the calf, and are associated with numbness in the foot. You think you've "squeezed" your nerve sciatica, and want to know exercises that will help relieve your sciatica symptoms.
This article shares 5 exercises that I regularly prescribe to my patients complaining of pain coming from the sciatic nerve (I am physiotherapist of occupation). Obviously, I will have made a diagnostic hypothesis beforehand, and adapted the treatment according to the symptoms.
Note: There are no exercises found on the Internet that can be specifically adapted to your particular needs or personal condition. Moreover, pain that radiates into the leg does not necessarily come from the sciatic nerve. Indeed, it may be a problem of herniated disc, a joint problem or a muscle.
To understand the reasons why the pain radiates to the leg, this article will be of great help: Why does the pain sometimes radiate to the leg?
To better understand sciatica from a global point of view (diagnosis, symptoms, treatment), I invite you to consult the following article: Sciatica from A to Z
For optimal care, consult a health professional who will integrate therapeutic exercises into overall care.
Exercise 1: Lumbar extension
- Lie on your stomach.
- Raise the trunk by placing yourself on the elbows according to tolerance.
- If the previous movement is comfortable and/or reduces your symptoms, bring the elbows more towards you to accentuate the lumbar extension.
- If the previous movement is comfortable and/or reduces your symptoms, place yourself on your stomach and push with your hands so as to bring your trunk into extension.
- Repeat the extension movement about ten times, taking breaks if necessary, and being progressive.
- If these movements seem to help you, I invite you to consult a therapist familiar with the McKenzie method.
Exercise 2: Neural mobility of the sciatic nerve
- Lie on your back with your legs extended
- In the same movement, point the right foot forward and bring the toes of the left foot towards you.
- Then do the opposite movement (right foot towards you and left foot pointing forward).
- Repeat these movements for about twenty repetitions.
Exercise 3: Neural mobility of the sciatic nerve (progression)
- Lie on your back with both legs straight.
- Grasp the symptomatic leg by placing your hands behind the thigh.
- In the same movement, pull the toes towards you and extend the leg towards the sky until tolerance. Then return to the initial position.
- Do the back-and-forth movement about twenty times.
Exercise 4: Tensioning the sciatic nerve
- Lie on your back and place a belt, towel or similar around the foot of the symptomatic leg.
- Using your arms, raise your leg towards you, keeping it straight.
- Then return to the initial position.
- Repeat the movement for about fifteen repetitions.
- Do not continue the exercise if you feel a stabbing pain, or if numbness or tingling appear.
Exercise 5: Piriformis Stretch
Note: The proximity of the sciatic nerve and the piriformis muscle is possibly related to your discomfort. So, relaxing this muscle could greatly ease your symptoms.
- Lie on your back.
- Cross the symptomatic leg so that the heel rests on the opposite leg.
- Pull the non-symptomatic leg towards you. At this point, you should feel a stretching sensation behind the symptomatic buttock.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat 3 times, taking breaks between each set
How to apply these exercises on a daily basis?
Ok, above you have a series of 5 exercises regularly prescribed by health professionals to relieve the symptoms of sciatica. Now, how do we apply these exercises concretely on a daily basis?
Already, I recommend that you do NOT do all the exercises at the same time. Why? Imagine that your symptoms increase after trying the prescribed movements. You couldn't tell which of these exercises was responsible for the increased pain. Conversely, it is difficult to identify which exercise or exercises are the most effective when you do them all at the same time.
The solution ? Here is what I recommend to my patients:
- Start with exercise 1, then reassess your symptoms in light of this new exercise.
- The next day, incorporate exercise 2 into your routine to determine the impact on your pain.
- The next day, include exercise 3 in your routine (you should then do exercises 1-2-3).
- After 5 days you should be able to do all the exercises suggested. This slow and safe progression will allow you to identify potentially harmful exercises in your case, while avoiding overloading your body.
Here are 5 exercises that can serve as a starting point if you ever experience symptoms of sciatica. Although they do not replace a consultation, they can relieve you somewhat, and encourage you to move more in avoiding prolonged rest.
If you try any exercise for your back, and don't see any improvement after a while, that's a sign you need to seek professional help.
Often it's because the exercises aren't suited to your condition, or done the wrong way. And if you ever suffer from one of following symptoms, see a healthcare professional right away.
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