Increase Your Comfort With Some Basic Stretches
Remember, please check in with your physician or pain management specialist before beginning a new exercise regimen. Remember that sciatica pain can be caused by a number of different underlying conditions, and it’s possible that a certain exercise can be beneficial to one patient and harmful to another. You have to know what’s causing your pain before you can design an effective routine to address it.
Also keep in mind that your overall fitness is important to feeling good throughout your body, not just in the back and legs, and will help with a wide variety of health issues that include sciatica. A weight loss regimen can sometimes be a good way to start managing your symptoms, and eating well will help immensely.
Strengthen The Core
The back and abdominal muscles, also referred to as our “core”, play a major role in just about any activity, from sitting up to reaching to simply resting comfortably. This area of the body is especially critical when we’re dealing with pain in the lower back and legs, and it’s important for these muscles to be strong, healthy and well-stretched. Unfortunately, we tend to let these muscles decline in strength as we age.
Here are links to two free and simple core strength routines:
- This easy routine takes just 15 minutes three to four times a week, and was inspired by a Pilates workout.
- Here is a program recommended by The Mayo Clinic. Start slow and build up over time.
Remember — talk with your physician before you get started on these!
Stretching Your Hamstrings
In addition to taking care of your basic fitness and to keeping your core strong, one of the best things you can do is regularly stretch your hamstring muscles, the big muscles at the back of your thighs. When these muscles are tight they put a strain on your lower back and can cause a chain reaction of generalized pain.
Keep these simple tips in mind as you start:
- Stretching isn’t supposed to be painful. Don’t force your body into positions that hurt.
- Begin each stretch slowly. Don’t bounce — that’s how you tear a muscle.
- Give yourself enough room so you don’t tip over furniture.
- Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds so muscles have time to loosen up. Quick stretches are useless stretches.
- Similarly, repeat each stretch 5-10 times. It takes a while to get muscles warm and loose!
Here are four great stretches for your hamstrings:
The Standing Hamstring Stretch – You know this one. Stand with your feet at shoulder width, then just bend forward from the waist with your arms hanging down. Keep your knees straight and try to touch your toes. You probably can’t do it and that’s fine! Stop when you feel the stretch in your hamstring, then hold it for 10-15 seconds.
The Chair Stretch – For a stretch that’s easier on your lower back, sit on a chair and put one leg at a time on another chair. Bend forward and reach for your toe. Stop when you feel the stretch, and hold for 10-15 seconds.
The Towel Stretch – To make it even easier on your lower back, lie down on the floor and wrap a towel or belt around one foot. Pull up on the towel to straighten your leg. As before, move until you feel the stretch and hold it for 10-15 seconds.
The Wall Stretch – Here’s a variation of the Towel Stretch. Lay on your back with your bottom right up against a wall. Place your heels against the wall and try to straighten your legs. If this is easy you need to move to a harder version, but this is a great way to get started. Push until you feel the stretch and then hold for 10-15 seconds.
Stretching The Lower Back
For the same reason that keeping your core muscles fit is important, it can also help with sciatica pain to stretch the lower back. These stretches can be an excellent way to relieve some of the pressures on the spine. Don’t start this without talking to your pain management specialist or physician first!
Sciatica pain is often caused by inflammation of the vertebral joints or the epidural space, which can lead to muscle spasms in the surrounding area. Stretching helps address these issues by providing the back with some much-needed flexibility: space is created between the joints and vertebrae, allowing for some of the inflammation to be relieved. Muscle spasms can also be broken up by stretching out the over-contracted tissues.
We’ve compiled a special set of exercises that target the lower back. Click here to download a free PDF version of this stretching routine.
If you’re already dealing with sciatica pain, do not forget to consult your physician before starting this new routine — you don’t want to do exercises that will make your condition worse. We’re always happy to talk with you in our office, either for more information about these exercises or to help understand whether they’re right for you. Call us and ask for Daniel or Kara, and they’ll either address your concerns or arrange for us to meet directly.