5

Sciatica Stretches

Last Updated: November 22, 2023

Featured Image

Table of Contents

Sciatic pain can be debilitating. These simple stretches for sciatica can reduce pain and get you back to living your pain-free life!

What are Sciatica Stretches?

A sciatica stretch can be a welcome relief for sciatic pain. These stretches are simple to perform at home and require no equipment.

The piriformis is a long muscle that wraps around the hip deep in the buttocks. Stretching the piriformis muscle can relieve sciatica symptoms and decrease pain.

Piriformis syndrome is a common cause of sciatica and occurs when the piriformis muscle is too tight and applies pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Causes of Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatica pain is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body.

The sciatic nerve extends from the lower back down both legs, and symptoms, including pain, numbness, and tingling, may be felt along the nerve pathway.

Causes of sciatica pain include compressed spinal nerves due to inflammation or a herniated disc, tight hamstring muscles, previous injuries, degenerative conditions like lumbar spinal stenosis, stress, and more.

Effects of Sciatica Stretches

Stretching relieves sciatica pain by improving flexibility, reducing muscle tension, and alleviating pressure on the sciatic nerve.

A sciatica stretch targets the muscles involved in sciatica to lengthen and relax these muscles, easing the compression on the sciatic nerve.

Regular stretching also improves spinal alignment and promotes better posture, reducing the likelihood of aggravating the sciatic nerve.

Top 5 Stretches for Sciatica Pain

Seated Piriformis Stretch

A seated version of the standing piriformis stretch, this movement can help relieve pressure in the lower spine.

  • Lie flat on a soft floor, mat, or carpet.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, and knees bent.
  • Cross your right ankle over your left knee. The crossed leg should be comfortably supported in the air.
  • Grip your left thigh and gently pull it towards your chest. Pulling further will cause a deeper stretch.
  • You should feel a gradual stretch in your right buttock and right hip. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • Gradually release your left thigh and bring your right leg back to its bent knee, flat foot position.
  • Switch to the other leg. Place the left ankle over your opposite knee and repeat the stretch.
  • Perform two or three sets of 30-60 seconds per side and repeat as needed.

Knee to Chest

The knee-to-chest stretch can relieve sciatica pain in the affected leg and lower back.

  • Start on your back on a comfortable surface, like a soft floor or mat.
  • Keep your spine straight and relax.
  • Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart.
  • Slowly lift one leg toward your chest, using both hands to clasp the shin or behind the knee of that leg. You can also use a towel or strap around the knee to help you reach.
  • Pull the knee as close to your chest as you comfortably can. You should feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and buttock area.
  • Keep your opposite leg relaxed with the foot flat. This knee can stay bent, or if comfortable, you can straighten the leg.
  • Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds while taking slow, deep breaths. Allow your body to relax into the stretch.
  • Slowly release the stretched leg and bring it back to the starting position.
  • Switch sides and repeat the stretch as necessary.

Knee To Opposite Shoulder Stretch

This variation of the knee-to-chest stretch allows a deeper stretch in the gluteals and piriformis.

  • Start on your back with your legs extended in front of you.
  • Bend one knee with the foot flat on the floor.
  • Grabbing behind the knee or wrapping around to grab the shin, gently pull that leg to the opposite shoulder across the body.
  • Hold a gentle stretch for 30-60 seconds.
  • Return to your starting position and stretch the opposite side.

Cat-Camel, Or Cat-Cow

The cat-cow or cat-camel stretch is a long-used yoga pose helpful for relaxation and relieving muscle tension throughout the back.

It is also useful for mobilizing bound sacroiliac joints, which can cause sciatica-like symptoms.

  • Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Keep your spine neutral and your chin slightly tucked in, looking at the space between your hands.
  • Take a slow, deep breath in. As you exhale, gently round your back upward, starting from your tailbone, creating a C-shape with your spine. Tuck your chin to your chest as you exhale, allowing your neck to flex.
  • Hold this rounded position, known as the "cat" pose, for five to ten seconds while focusing on feeling a comfortable stretch along your entire spine.
  • Inhale slowly and reverse the movement. Start by tilting your pelvis forward, allowing your lower back to sway gently downward.
  • As you inhale, let your chest and belly sink toward the floor and point your chin upward. Your spine should now be arched in a concave shape, resembling a cow's back.
  • Hold this arched position, known as the "camel" pose, for five to ten seconds while feeling the gentle stretch in your lower back.
  • Repeat the cat-cow or cat-camel stretch slowly for at least four cycles or more as needed.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

The standing hamstring stretch is one of the most effective stretches for sciatica pain relief. This version stretches one leg at a time.

  • Start standing upright with your feet hip-width apart, legs extended straight, and shoulders relaxed.
  • Take a small step forward with your right foot, putting your right heel a few inches in front of your left. Keep your front leg straight.
  • Lift the toes on your right foot, pulling them toward your shin.
  • Inhale deeply, lengthening your spine. As you exhale, lean forward at the hips. Keep the back straight - think of moving your entire torso as one unit rather than slouching or slumping forward.
  • Continue to bend forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your right hamstring and calf muscle.
  • Reach your hands toward your right foot or rest them on your right thigh. It's okay if you can't touch your toes - don't push to the point of pain, just mild discomfort.
  • Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds, breathing deeply and relaxing.
  • Slowly rise to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat.

Tips On Avoiding Sciatica Pain

Stretching is wonderful for reducing pain and improving health. These guidelines will make your stretches more effective and reduce the chances of injury.

Warming Up

It is recommended that you warm up briefly before stretching to prepare your muscles for the movements.

While warming up and stretching, movement may cause slight or mild discomfort, which should not be harmful. However, stretching to the point of severe pain could cause serious damage.

Gentle Movements

The stretch should be composed of gentle movements, and you should go through them slowly and gradually, holding static stretches for at least 30 seconds.

Variation

Stretches often include a variety of static and dynamic stretches for the lower and upper body and should happen on both sides of the body for all muscle groups.

Make sure to stretch on both sides to prevent worsening muscle imbalances.

Breathing

Breathe deeply and mindfully as you move from one movement to another, and exhale as you relax into each stretch. Avoid holding your breath, as your muscles need oxygen to relax.

Stretching As Part Of A Long-Term Solution

Stretching can treat sciatic nerve pain, but it is only one part of a solution to treat sciatica.

Stretches for sciatica can relieve muscle tension and treat sciatica, making it an important part of a long-term care solution. A medical professional or physical therapist can help develop a treatment strategy for fully alleviating sciatica symptoms.

When To Seek Professional Help

Because of the varied causes that can lead to sciatica, stretching may not always work. A physical therapist can help devise a full sciatica relief care plan if stretching doesn’t fully alleviate the symptoms.

Physical therapy, alterations to movement patterns, sciatic nerve glide exercises, steroid injections, medication, and more can be useful when stretching doesn’t cut it.

It is important to mention that if you have severe diagnoses that cause back pain, such as a herniated disk or lumbar spinal stenosis, you should avoid stretching independently and should seek guidance from professional medical experts.

References

Piriformis Syndrome - Abstract - Europe PMC

Slide show: A guide to basic stretches - Mayo Clinic

The role of stretching in rehabilitation of hamstring injuries: 80 athletes

Sciatic Nerve: What Is, Anatomy, Function & Conditions

Yoga for Sciatica Pain: 10 Exercises for Relief, Plus Poses to Avoid

Disclaimer

The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.

Stretching

8 min read

Stretching

Stretching builds full-body mobility, muscular flexibility, and strength and prevents injuries. Adding simple and safe stretches to a physical...

Back Pain

12 min read

Back Pain

Back pain refers to any pain and discomfort in the upper, mid, or lower back. Back pain is common and can have many causes, diagnoses, and...

Injury Prevention

5 min read

Injury Prevention

Injuries happen, but most of them are preventable. From exercise techniques to protective gear, knowing how to prevent injury and avoid pain is one...

Lower Back Pain

8 min read

Lower Back Pain

Dive deep into lower back pain: its causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention. Empower yourself with knowledge for a pain-free back.

Chronic Pain

17 min read

Chronic Pain

Pain is a subjective experience in which actual or potential physiological damage occurs. This feeling is different for everyone and can be...

Cryotherapy

10 min read

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a treatment that can help with stress, anxiety, pain, and injury rehabilitation. Cryotherapy is performed by exposing the body or skin...