If you suddenly start feeling unexplainable pain in your buttock, lower back or thigh, chances are that your sciatic nerve is not doing quite well. The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the human body that plays the crucial role of connecting the spinal cord with the leg and foot muscles. Unfortunately, every person alive has about 40% chance of experiencing some form of sciatic pain at some point in their lives. While it might not be a chronic condition for most people, even infrequent sciatic pain can be frustrating and devitalizing – it can feel like a bad leg cramp or like an electrical tingling, it can appear anytime you get up or even sneeze, and it can last for weeks.
While over-the-counter medications can offer some relief from the pain, they rarely address the underlying inflammation that’s the real root of the problem. Luckily, there are other, highly effective and drug-free sciatica treatments that can provide a long-term relief alongside with some extra health benefits. Read the rest of this article to learn more!
What causes sciatica?
Sciatic pain, or sciatica, is most commonly caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve that runs from each side of the lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine through the buttock and all the way down to the foot and in most cases, it’s the piriformis muscle (a small hip rotator muscle located in the buttock region) that irritates the nearby sciatic nerve, thereby causing pain and numbness. That being said, the nerve roots that exit the spine to form the sciatic nerve are very sensitive and can easily be irritated and a variety of back problems can also contribute to sciatic pain, including preexisting lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and/or spondylolisthesis. The pain can be made even worse if you’re overweight and physically inactive, or if you regularly wear high heels.
The specific symptoms of a troubled sciatic nerve can be different depending on how much the spinal nerve is compressed. They come in a great variety, ranging from nerve pain, numbness, electric tingling to reduced reflexes in your Achilles tendon and knee and fatigue, weakness or loss of feeling in your legs or feet. The symptoms most people experience are primarily felt in the buttock or in the back of the thigh, but they can also affect the calf, lower back and toes. For some people, sciatic pain can be severe, chronic and debilitating, while for others it might be infrequent and less intimidating, but with the potential to get worse. Therefore, addressing it on time and with adequate methods is a must for anyone looking to maintain optimal health.
In cases where the cause of sciatica is lumbar disc herniation, surgery is the most common approach. The procedure involves removing the portion of the herniated disc that is pinching the nerve. Fortunately, up to 90% of people recover from sciatica without surgery.
Exercises for reducing sciatic pain
You don’t have to use medications to treat your sciatica – they offer only short-term effects and never really fix the issue (with the rare exception of some hardcore anti-inflammatory drugs, perhaps). If you’d rather solve the problem on a more natural and more effective way, exercise is a fantastic way to both improve your overall health and get rid of your sciatica nightmare once and for all. However, if it’s too strenuous or intense, your problems could only get worse and therefore, we recommend taking it easy and creating a stretching routine with simple exercise that will actually do wonders for your back, buttock and leg muscles. Here are the best exercise stretches for strengthening your back, improving your posture and preventing or eliminating sciatic pain:
#1. The standing back twist
This exercise is great for people who are less then optimally flexible and have little experience with more advanced exercises. Place your left foot up on a chair, place your right hand on your raised knee and have your left hand rest on your hip. Turn your entire upper body to the left side as far as you can without causing pain, but keep your hips facing forward. Hold the final position for 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
#2. The knee raise
Lie on your back and draw one knee to the chest while keeping the other leg straight and resting on the floor. Press it against your chest, pushing it as far down as you can, and hold the position for 30 seconds. Make sure that your shoulders are firmly planted on the floor.
#3. The two-knee twist
Lie on your back, extend your arms to both sides, forming the letter “T” and bend both knees together. Keeping your shoulders on the floor, turn both of your knees out to one side and hold the position for one minute, then repeat on the other side.
#4. The single leg twist
Lie on your back with extended arms and bend the left knee to a 90 degree angle, while keeping the other leg straight. Place your right hand on the bent knee and turn your upper body to face the left arm and hold the position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
#5. The twisted lunge
Take a step forward with your left leg and bend the knee, keeping the other leg out behind you. Your feet should be about one leg’s length apart. Twist your back to place your right elbow on the outside of the bent knee and hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
#6. The seated twist
Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. Bend your knees and put your feet on the floor, then slide your left foot under the right leg to the outside of your right hip, bent at the knee, and lay the outside of the left leg on the floor. If this feels too uncomfortable, just keep your left leg extended in front of you. Then, bring your right foot over the left leg and place it on the floor just outside of your left hip (the knee should point directly up at the ceiling). Put your right hand on the floor behind you, twist the torso toward the inside of your right thigh and set your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh, near the knee. Hold the final position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
#7. The cat exercise
Get on all fours, bend your back down as much as you can and lift your chest by pulling the shoulders back. Hold for 10 seconds while breathing slow and deep. Return to a flat back, then perform an opposite movement by raising your back as much as you can and tucking your chin into your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then release and repeat.
#8. The child’s exercise
End your routine with this easy exercise that will relieve all stress that has accumulated in your back. Get down on all fours then move your body backward toward your heels and sit on them, keeping the upper body resting on the floor and your arms extended in front of you. Take a moment to really relax the entire body and hold the position for as long as necessary.