3 Signs You May Have Sciatica & 3 Stretches That Can Help

Most people have heard the term sciatica before or even experienced this injury themselves. In this blog post we will discuss what sciatica is, how it’s caused and how to spot it. Finally, we will review 3 of my top stretches I prescribe to my patients to help treat it.

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a term used to describe any condition that irritates the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve exits the spinal chord around the level of the low back and travels through the glutes, down the hamstrings and into the calves before splitting into 2 smaller nerves.

Anything along this path that compresses the sciatic nerve can result in sciatica.

If you’ve experienced this injury before you know it can be quite debilitating and it can affect daily life.

Causes of Sciatica

The most common cause of sciatica is muscle tension, particularly tension in the glutes. Tight glutes from sitting or sleeping in awkward positions can compress the sciatic nerve causing sciatica.

Another, and more severe, cause is disc herniations often referred to as “slipped discs”. With disc herniations the sciatic nerve is compressed at the nerve root and people may even experience muscle weakness because of this.

Bone spurs around the low back vertebrae or a spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column) may also cause this injury.

All of these conditions can be caused by:

  • Too much sitting
  • Inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Improper movement mechanics

Sciatica Signs and Symptoms

So how do you know if you’re suffering from sciatica? Below are 3 signs to look out for:

1. Numbness, burning or tingling down the leg

Anytime you experience numbness, burning or tingling it’s more than likely that you’re experiencing some sort of nerve pain.

In the case of sciatica, these symptoms will appear along the path of the sciatic nerve which starts from your glutes and travels along the back of your leg underneath the hamstrings and then into the calf muscles.

The further the pain goes down the leg the more severe the sciatic nerve irritation.

2. Muscle Tension

Tightness in the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve are not only a symptom of sciatica but they may actually be the cause to the pain you’re experiencing. When muscles, such as the glutes or hamstrings, tighten up it may press of the sciatic nerve causing numbness, tingling or burning.

We all know the experience of hitting your “funny bone”. Well the funny bone is not a bone at all, it’s actually a nerve. So that shooting, tingling sensation we feel is because we hit the unlar nerve as it passes through the elbow.

The same thing happens with tight muscles around the sciatic nerve only here the nerve is being compressed for more than a split second. That compression can cause a constant or more prolonged feeling of numbness and tingling.

3. Difficulty staying in one position for too long

People who experience sciatica often can’t stay still for too long.

Sitting, standing and laying down can further irritate the symptoms of sciatica and prolong recovery. Finding a comfortable positions becomes difficult and certain positions or posture may aggravate symptoms.

Try to find the positions you feel most comfortable in and avoid positions that increase pain or symptoms.

How to Get Rid of Sciatica

Now that we know what sciatica is and some factors that lead to this injury let’s go ahead and start getting rid of that pain. Below are 3 of my go to stretches I prescribe to patients suffering from sciatica:

1. Knee to chest stretch

Step 1: Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground, use your hands to bring one or both knees towards your chest

Step 2: Hold this knee-to-chest position for 1-2 seconds focusing on taking slow and deep breaths

Step 3: Return back to the starting position and repeat

Knee to Chest. .png

2. Figure 4 stretch

Step 1: Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground

Step 2: Place your ankle over top of your opposite knee and interlace your fingers behind your knee.

Step 3: Pull your knee towards your chest feeling the stretch in the opposite hip and glute area.

*You can also do this stretch while sitting if that’s more comfortable.

Figure 4 Stretch .png

3. Sciatic nerve floss

Step 1: Sitting in a chair, round your back and bring your chin to your chest.

Step 2: Slowly straighten one leg in front of you unit you reach a comfortable point of tension.

Step 3: Holding your leg in this position, raise your head up looking toward the ceiling while at the same time pointing your toes towards your shin.

Step 4: Lower your head and toes back down and repeat.

Sciatic Floss.png

Ending Sciatica for good 

If you’re experiencing sciatica I would start with these 3 stretches to get some relief. Perform all stretches on both sides and be sure not to go beyond your comfortable ranges of motion.

Although these are my go to stretches early on into treatment, remember there are different severities of sciatica and not everyone may be able to do these stretches right at the beginning of their injury.

Some people may need to modify these exercises or will need different exercises altogether. Remember to listen to your bodies and seek help from a medical professional to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Move well,

Mike Dabrowski

Elevate Rehabilitation and Performance

Heal Faster With Elevate Rehabilitation And Performance