Sciatica can cause extremely uncomfortable—if not debilitating—pain in your back, butt, and/or leg.
It can make it impossible to sit, stand, or walk comfortably, let alone work out, leading anyone suffering from sciatica to seek exercises and stretches for immediate sciatica relief.
In this article, we will discuss what causes sciatica, how stretching can potentially alleviate symptoms, and how to find some immediate relief for sciatica pain.
We will cover:
- What Is Sciatica?
- Piriformis Syndrome and Sciatica
- Acute and Chronic Sciatica
- Immediate Relief For Sciatica Pain: Sciatica Relief In 8 Minutes Or Less
Let’s get started!
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica is a painful condition caused by compression on the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body.
The sciatic nerve originates from the spinal cord in your lower back and travels down along the muscles in the butt and down the back of each leg all the way to the foot.
Pain associated with sciatica may occur anywhere along the path of the nerve, and it may radiate outward anywhere along the entire course.
Because sciatica is due to nerve compression, there may be other signs and symptoms of nerve compression in addition to pain.
For example, because the sciatic nerve contains motor information (information that controls movement), sciatica may also cause weakness in the affected leg or difficulty moving the affected leg, along with numbness and tingling.
Piriformis Syndrome and Sciatica
Additionally, some people experience piriformis syndrome in conjunction with sciatica.
Piriformis syndrome is more isolated to the glute and hip area, as the piriformis is a small muscle in the hip abductor group (muscles that help move the leg out to the side and stabilize the hip).
Piriformis syndrome is particularly common in runners and cyclists because this small muscle can get aggravated by running, especially uphill running and stair climbing, as well as repetitive cycling.
In fact, the relationship between piriformis syndrome and sciatica can be directional or a chicken-or-the-egg type of situation.
In other words, some people develop piriformis syndrome, which ends up aggravating the sciatic nerve, whereas others start with sciatica, which ends up irritating the piriformis muscle, causing piriformis syndrome.
In either scenario, the two painful conditions end up coexisting and manifesting in a literal pain in the butt, along with potential pain that radiates upward into the lower back or down through the back of the leg.
Certain runners, cyclists, and even non-athletes who sit a lot are particularly prone to this coexisting presentation of injuries.
In some individuals, the sciatic nerve wraps around the piriformis muscle rather than running straight down the butt below the level of the muscle.
Although it is certainly possible to develop piriformis syndrome in either scenario, in cases where the sciatic nerve wraps around the muscle in its course through the glutes, any inflammation or aggravation to the piriformis muscle fibers can even more readily stretch, irritate, or compress the sciatic nerve.
This increases the risk of the piriformis syndrome/sciatica sisterhood of pain and debility.
In these cases, getting immediate sciatica relief also involves focusing on stretching or relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve around the piriformis muscle.
Having a sense of whether you initially had sciatica, namely in the sense that perhaps you had pain stemming from your low back or pain that clearly radiated well down your leg rather than just lingered in the glutes, or whether having piriformis syndrome first kicked off irritation of the sciatic nerve as a consequence, can be helpful.
Although you will still likely be looking to relieve sciatica pain immediately (as well as piriformis syndrome pain!), knowing which condition began first can better help identify the root cause, correct any training or lifestyle factors that contributed to developing the problems in the first place, and target the main source of the resultant sciatica pain more directly.
Again, keep in mind that even people whose sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis muscle as it normally should rather than through or around the muscle can still develop sciatica as a result of irritation to the piriformis muscle or full-blown piriformis syndrome.
Any irritation to the piriformis muscle can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, which will initially manifest as butt pain while running, walking, or cycling.
The pain may be referred to as the hip, but it is usually most localized around one side of the butt between the meaty part and the hip.
As the sciatic nerve gets irritated by inflammation in this muscle, the pain may begin radiating upward and downward along the course of the sciatic nerve.
Acute and Chronic Sciatica
Sciatica can be acute or chronic.
Cases of acute sciatica are typically caused by a sudden movement that injures the nerve somewhere along its course. For example, you might bend over to pick something up using improper movement mechanics and twisting your spine during the lifting motion.
Chronic sciatica is often caused by repetitive exercise such as incline walking or running or sitting for too long with poor posture.
The good news is that studies show that exercises for sciatica can actually help relieve sciatica pain and get your body on the road to recovery.
Immediate Relief For Sciatica Pain: Sciatica Relief In 8 Minutes Or Less
We can’t guarantee that you will get immediate sciatica relief with these sciatica stretches and exercises; however, many people find that this little routine can help relieve sciatica pain immediately, though temporarily. Make sure to perform the stretches and exercises a couple of times per day.
The routine takes less than eight minutes and can really make a world of difference.
Also, consider working with a physical therapist for increased results.
Here are some of the best sciatica stretches to relieve sciatica pain quickly:
Rockbacks are one of the best exercises to relieve sciatica pain because they help stretch and alleviate compression in the low back.
Moreover, consistently performing this sciatica exercise can help in cases of chronic sciatica because it can improve dysfunction in the low back by building strength in your deep abdominal muscles and your mind-body connection for activating your core.
This, in turn, can help protect your spine and ensure proper alignment and movement mechanics.
- Get on your hands and knees in a tabletop position with a flat back.
- Shift your weight towards your hands while sitting your hips back towards your heels as you keep your back flat. This is somewhat like a child’s pose in yoga.
- Continue to slowly rock backward and forwards 10 to 12 times.
#2: Bird Dog
Bird dog helps lengthen the sciatic nerve through its course and build strength in the spinal stabilizers and deep core muscles:
- Kneel on all floors in a tabletop position with a flat back and core engaged.
- Inhale, lifting your right hand and left knee off of the floor and touching them together under your torso.
- Exhale, extending that same leg and arm such that the arm is straightened in front of you and the leg is straightened behind you.
- Move slowly and with control, performing 12 reps per side.
#3: Sciatic Nerve Glides
This sciatica stretch can help restore movement to the sciatic nerve.
- Lie on your back with the hip and knee of the painful leg flexed to 90 degrees so that your kneecap points to the ceiling and your shin is parallel to the floor.
- Grab onto this leg around the back of your thigh.
- Point your toes towards your nose and hold this ankle position throughout the stretch.
- Slowly straighten your knee until you feel a gentle stretch along the back of the leg.
#4: Double Knee-to-Chest Stretch
- Lie on your back, hugging both knees to your chest for 30-60 seconds.
#5: Piriformis Stretch
- Lie on your back with the foot of the non-painful flat on the floor and your knee bent.
- Cross the ankle of the painful leg over your knee.
- Gently press down on the inside of your knee on the painful leg until you feel a stretch in the front or side of your hip or back.
Note that while it is possible to treat acute and chronic sciatica if a chronic lifestyle pattern is contributing to the condition, it is imperative that you address whatever faulty movement mechanics, posture, or training issues are responsible for the compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve.
Even if you are able to find some immediate relief for sciatica with various stretches and exercises, this will be more of a temporary alleviation of symptoms. You will need to correct the underlying issues in order to prevent the continual recurrence or exacerbation of the injury.
So, while it’s not always possible to relieve sciatica pain immediately, hopefully, performing some of these easy sciatica stretches and exercises will at least temporarily reduce sciatica pain and help you get back to your fighting form.
If you are experiencing lower back pain but are unsure if it is definitively sciatica, take a look at our guide Low Back Pain When Walking? 6 Common Causes and How To Fix It.