Sciatica—the term for back pain caused by problems with the sciatic nerve—can be an excruciating and debilitating condition. The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body, running from the lower back down through the buttocks and thighs. As a result, any injury to the sciatic nerve—or any pressure put upon it—can cause pain to radiate throughout the back, hips, buttocks, and legs. The sciatic nerve even delivers nerve signals to the lower legs and feet, which means that a sciatic injury can affect the entire lower body.
The good news is that most individuals who struggle with sciatica can recover without surgery. Indeed, according to WebMD, only about 10 percent of sciatica patients require sciatica surgery to resolve the problem. For the other 90 percent of patients, the best way to manage sciatica is to remain active and to add sciatica exercises to the day-to-day routine. Motion can help reduce tension throughout the body and minimize compression on the sciatic nerve. In turn, exercising and staying active can do wonders to limit the inflammation and pain sciatica causes throughout the lower body. In this post, we will explore some of the most effective stretches and exercises for relieving sciatic nerve pain, with a specific focus on sciatica exercises for seniors.
Tightness or inflexibility in the hamstrings or throughout the legs can cause sciatica pain to feel considerably more pronounced. Stretching your hamstrings and working to increase the flexibility throughout the back of your legs can both relieve sciatic nerve pain in the moment and help protect against it in the future. For these reasons, hamstring stretches are among the best of all sciatica exercises.
Indeed, any hamstring stretches are worth a try for relieving sciatica pain. For seniors, we suggest trying the seated hamstring stretch, as it’s easy to do but still delivers significant benefits.
To start, sit on the edge of a standard chair with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet planted flat on the floor. Slowly extend one leg straight out in front of you and plant the heel on the floor. Flex your toes upward so that you are already feeling a bit of a stretch. Next, lean forward, taking care to keep your back and neck straight. Lean until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. This stretch should feel comfortable. If it hurts or feels overextended, reduce the degree of your lean.
You should hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds before switching legs and stretching the other side. If your hamstrings feel particularly stiff or tight, start by just stretching each side once. As you become more flexible, you should be able to repeat the full exercise two or three times.
If you don’t like the seated hamstring stretch, another option to try is the towel hamstring stretch. This exercise is another hamstring stretch; it just stretches the muscle differently. What you want to do is lay down on a soft surface. Bring a towel, a blanket, or something else soft that you can wrap around your knee like a sling. Wrap the towel or blanket around the back of your knee. Then, take each side of the towel/blanket in your hands, lie back down onto the ground, and use the towel/blanket to pull your leg up and toward you. Keep your leg straight and pull the blanket until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg. If the stretch hurts or feels uncomfortable, reduce the tension on the towel/blanket a bit. As with the seated hamstring stretch, hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then switch legs.
Lower back stretches
In most cases, sciatica pain starts with a spinal issue (such as a herniated disc or a pinched nerve) and then radiates down through your hips, thighs, and legs. As such, doing stretches or exercises that target the lower back can often provide the greatest sense of relief for people who suffer from sciatica.
One of our favorite lower back exercises for seniors is the backward bend. This stretch has proven a particularly effective pain relief option for individuals whose sciatic nerve pain is due to herniated disc injuries. It is almost a yoga-style stretch, not unlike the “Cobra” position in yoga. To try it out, lay down on your stomach on a carpeted floor or soft surface. Slowly, prop yourself up on either your palms or elbows. Rather than going into a push-up position, though, keep your legs and hips on the floor. Push your hips into the floor or use your hands to push your upper body further up and back. You should feel a deep stretch in your lower back.
Another good back stretch—and another effective sciatica exercise that takes its cues from yoga and Pilates—is the child’s pose. This stretch is fantastic for seniors because it is very easy to do. For this one, you will need to get on your hands and knees and slowly sit back on your heels. Next, slowly lean forward, stretching your arms out in front of you, pressing your chest toward your thighs, and placing your forehead on the floor. Hold this pose for 30 seconds before releasing. This stretch is a good one because it effectively stretches and exercises several parts of the body, including your lower back, your hips, thighs, and ankles. It is also a very passive stretch, which means it is low-impact and very safe for seniors.
Sometimes, the best sciatica exercises are the simplest ones. As we mentioned earlier, staying mobile and moving your legs, hips, and lower back regularly can do a lot to minimize the severity of sciatica pain. Going for a short walk around the block or on the treadmill each day—especially when combined into a workout that includes the other stretches mentioned here—can yield enormous benefits for sciatica sufferers.
Consult Dr. Kushwaha
While sciatica can usually be managed through exercise and stretching, there are situations where your doctor might recommend sciatica exercise. Additionally, your doctor can work with you and discuss potential sciatica exercises and recommend which ones that are best for you, considering your overall health and mobility. Request an appointment with Dr Kushwaha today to get guidance on your sciatica.