The term ‘Sciatica’ is used for describing some symptoms around the sciatic nerve. Theoretically, the term refers to a feeling of pain caused due to irritation or compression of one or more nerves leaving the lower spine to form the sciatic nerve. A variety of conditions may lead to this situation.
Radiculopathy is the medical term for sciatica. It indicates that radicular nerve (nerve root) within the lower back by spinal stenosis is either irritated or pinched by a herniated disc, or some lower back condition.
Since this runs from the lower back through the back of the legs and finally divides into parts of the leg and travel to the foot and then toes, the patient can experience pain anywhere alongside this nerve track. Some of the common sites for sciatica pain include:
– Low back
– Back of thigh
In most cases, an advanced exercise program customized to serve the underlying cause of the pain is recommended as a part of the treatment program. Sciatica exercises serve two primary purposes:
- Reduces pain
- Delivers conditioning to prevent recurrences of pain in the future
Who Prescribes these Exercises?
Any of the following medical experts treating leg pain or other symptoms usually prescribe exercises for sciatica:
– A physical therapist
– Physiatrist (PM&R or Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation physician)
– Certified athletic trainer (ATC)
How Exercise Help deal with Sciatica Pain?
Exercise is considered a better option for relieving sciatic pain as compared to the traditional bed rest. Rest is recommended only for a day or two. Inactivity for longer periods can make the pain worse.
Lack of exercise and movement can decondition spinal structures and back muscles. They also tend to lose their capability to support the back. Weak and deconditioned spinal structures and back muscles are more vulnerable to back injury and strain.
Active exercise is very important for overall health of the spinal discs. Regular movement helps transfer of essential nutrients and fluids within the discs which keeps them healthy. This also prevents pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Vital Elements of a Sciatica Exercise Program
Core Muscle Strength
Most sciatica exercises strengthen the back and abdominal muscles to give ample support for the back. Doctors usually suggest stretching exercises for sciatica target muscles causing pain. These muscles pain when they become tight and lose flexibility. Patients engaging in a regular exercise program that promise to strengthen and stretch muscles help them recover quicker. These exercises also make them less vulnerable to pain episodes in future.
Exercise programs are usually tailored as per the condition of the patient and to address the underlying cause of pain. For instance, there are different exercises prescribed for sciatic pain resulting from spinal stenosis, lumbar herniated disc, etc. Wrong movement or exercise can worsen the sciatic pain. Hence, accurate diagnosis prior to starting off with a sciatica exercise program is crucial.
Best Exercises for Sciatica
Doing the right exercises in a correct way is more important that just doing exercises. Proper form will make exercises effective and prevents any chances of injury. Hence, it is advisable to learn the exercises under the guidance of a trained medical practitioner (physiatrist, physical therapist, or chiropractor).
Seated Hamstring Stretch
Most patients with sciatica have shown improvement from hamstring stretches. These are quite easy on the lower back. Hamstring stretching works well on most types of sciatica pain. The hamstrings are muscles positioned in the back of the thigh. Excessively tight muscles can increase stress on the lower back. This will also intensify pain or cause conditions leading to sciatica. Hence, a regular routine involving hamstring stretching is very beneficial.
Aerobic conditioning is also recommended for general body wellbeing and fitness. If you have been inactive for a while, start walking. Walking is an excellent form of exercise for low back as it has less impact and also but can provide all benefits of an aerobic training session. It is recommended to progress gradually to around 3 miles of brisk walking on a daily basis.
Prior to starting an exercise program, it is important that patients consult a health professional. This will help them get a correct diagnosis for their pain. It will also rule out any other serious conditions. Exercises differ as per the condition of the patient causing sciatic pain. Therefore, patients should refrain from self-treatment prior to referring to a health professional.