The Lamen


by | Jan 29, 2023

What is sciatica?

Sciatica refers to the pain caused by irritation, injury, or pinching of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body, originating at the base of the spine and running down through your hips, buttocks, and legs.

While the term “sciatica” is often confused with general lower back pain, sciatic nerve pain is not exclusive to the back.

The main symptom of sciatica is stabbing pain along the sciatic nerve – from the lower back and the buttocks to either of the legs. Sciatica usually affects only one leg at a time, but it’s possible for sciatic nerve pain to occur in both legs.

Other common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • numbness in your legs or feet
  • pins and needles sensation in your legs or feet
  • discomfort while sitting, standing, walking, or changing positions
  • weakness that can make it difficult to walk or stand for extended periods
  • change in bowel or bladder function

Sciatica is a relatively common condition, with a lifetime incidence of 10 to 40 percent. While it rarely occurs before the age of 20 (unless caused by trauma), it peaks in adults over 40 years of age.

Sciatic nerve pain can be caused by several different medical conditions, including:

  • Herniated or slipped disc. A herniated or bulging disc can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. The majority of cases of sciatica (up to 90 percent) are caused due to a herniated disc.
  • Spinal stenosis. This is a condition that causes the narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis can put additional pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, which may cause sciatica.
  • Osteoarthritis. The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis causes bones in joints to rub together. In the spine, this can compress the lower back nerves and may lead to sciatic nerve pain.
  • Traumatic injury. Any injury to the spine or sciatic nerve has a risk of sciatic nerve pain.
  • Piriformis syndrome. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle found deep in the buttocks. In piriformis syndrome, this muscle becomes tight or spasms. This may trap the sciatic nerve, putting pressure on it and leading to sciatic pain.

Most cases of sciatica go away in less than 4 to 6 weeks without any medical therapy, and with no long-term complications. However, more severe cases may require a longer treatment and recovery.

If left unattended without taking any measure to relieve pressure off the sciatic nerve, it may lead to:

  • numbness in the foot that makes you unable to walk, also known as drop foot
  • loss of muscle and strength in the affected leg
  • increased pain over time
  • permanent nerve damage

The cause of sciatica can often be located in the lower back or hips. In such cases, any gentle stretch that helps reduce some tension and pressure in the affected area can help in easing the condition.

Some of the best sciatica stretches are those that target the piriformis muscle.

Sitting spinal stretch

  • Sit on the ground with your legs extended straight, with your feet flexed upwards.
  • Bend your right knee and place your foot on the opposite side of your left knee. Make sure to keep your foot flat on the ground.
  • Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee while placing your left hand on the floor to support yourself. Rotate your spine while extending your gaze behind. Remember not to overstretch.
  • Hold the position for 3 deep breaths, repeat a few times, and then switch sides.

A seated spinal stretch helps in improving the flexibility of your spine, relieving muscular tension, and improving circulation. The resulting spinal decompression helps in relieving any pinched nerves in the lower back.

Forward pigeon pose

  • Lie on the floor with your stomach and face facing the floor.
  • Push your torso up about 45 degrees with your hands.
  • Pick your right leg while keeping your left leg stretched all the way behind you. Place your right leg horizontally in front of your left leg. Make sure that your lower leg is on the ground.
  • Gradually shift your body weight from your arms to your legs by leaning forwards.
  • Take a few deep breaths while feeling the stretch in your right hip.
  • After exhaling, slowly lift your torso back up with your arms.
  • Repeat the stretch on the other side.

The seated pigeon pose targets the muscle of the hips, buttocks, and lower back.

Seated butterfly stretch

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and facing outwards, and your feet joined together.
  • Use both your hands to grab your feet, place your elbows on your knees, and gently bend forwards towards the floor.
  • Hold the stretch for 3 deep breaths, and then release.
  • Repeat the stretch three more times.

You should remember to listen to your body and not force yourself into the stretch. The seated butterfly stretch is great for your inner thighs and hips, which can remove any additional pressure from the nerves.

Alternating knees to chest

  • Lie on your back with your legs extended straight and your feet flexed upwards.
  • Lift your right leg while bending your knee, and bring your knee towards the left side of your chest. Use your hands to hold your knees in this position.
  • Take 3 deep breaths while keeping your knee in this position and your opposite leg extended, then release and repeat on the left side.
  • Repeat the process two to three times on each side.

Keep in mind to not place excess strain on your back while bringing your knees towards your chest.

Glute bridges

  • Lie on your back with a flat surface with your knees bent and your feet placed flat on the ground.
  • Keep your arms extended on each side, and lift your hips off the ground by pressing through your heels and squeezing your glutes.
  • Hold the position for about 30 seconds, then lower your hips slowly back to the ground.
  • Perform 10 repetitions of the stretch.

Remember to keep your core engaged and your body in a straight line as you lift and lower your hips. Glute bridges are great for strengthening your lower back and hips.

Standing hamstring stretch

  • Extend one of your legs out, placing the heel on a slightly raised surface like a chair.
  • Keeping your spine straight, extend your hands out and bend your hips, bringing your chest towards the extended leg’s thigh.
  • Keep your other leg slightly bent on the knee, and if you want some support grab the extended leg with your hands.
  • Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Perform the stretch 2-3 times on each side.

Keep in mind that you should not overexert yourself when bending forwards. This stretch loosens your hamstrings and helps with lower back pain.

Child’s pose

  • Start in a kneeling position with your knees beneath your hips and your toes extending backward.
  • Separate your knees about shoulder width apart while keeping your big toes joined, and lie your torso down backward between your thighs.
  • Extend your arms forward while keeping your torso between your thighs.
  • Take deep breaths in the stretched position. Hold the position for 30 seconds to a minute before gently getting back up.

If you want a deeper stretch, you can bend your torso and arms slightly towards your right (or left) while keeping your legs stationary.

Pelvic tilt

A pelvic tilt is great for strengthening the muscles supporting your lower back, particularly your core.

To perform a pelvic tilt:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the floor.
  • Exhale and gently move your hips toward your head. When you do this, you will feel your lower back pressing on the floor as the hips lift up.
  • Stay in this position for a few deep breaths, and then relax your back once again.
  • Repeat the stretch a few more times.

When you’re lifting your pelvis, remember to keep your abdominal muscles (core) engaged by breathing out.


  • Begin by sitting on your knees with your hands underneath your shoulders, making a table pose. Make sure to keep your spine neutral.
  • As you inhale, allow your belly to sink while keeping your chest pressed forwards and your pelvis lifting upwards. Relax your shoulders and look straight ahead. This is the cow pose.
  • Next, move into the cat pose by rounding your spine outwards and tucking your chest and pelvis inwards.
  • Keep your neck relaxed throughout the stretch, breathing in during the cow pose and out during the cat pose.
  • Keep your pace steady, and repeat the stretch 5 to 10 times.

Cat-cow, or Chakravakasana in Sanskrit, is one of the key yoga stretches for improving posture and relieving back pain.

Lying figure-four stretch

  • Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet placed on the floor.
  • Cross your right ankle over your left knee, and interlock your hands behind your left thigh.
  • Keeping your right leg horizontal, pull on your left thigh with your arms to bring your legs towards your chest.
  • Stay here for a few deep breaths while feeling the stretch in your glutes.
  • Slowly bring your left foot down, and repeat on the other side.
  • Perform this stretch for 2-3 sets.

Tightness in your hips and hamstrings often leads to a bad posture. A figure-four stretch can be an excellent way to loosen things up.

Therapy for sciatica

Most cases of sciatica resolve on their own without any serious treatment, lasting about a couple of months. However, the situation may not improve in serious cases unless the underlying condition is treated.

If a physician diagnoses you with sciatica, they will likely provide you with pain relief medication along with some techniques that could help relieve pain.

At-home therapy methods that can help relieve sciatica pain include:

  • Strengthening lower back and core. Strengthening your back and abdominal muscles adds additional support to your spine and improves posture, which takes some pressure off the sciatica nerves that might be pinched.
  • Stretching. Stiff muscles in your hamstrings, glutes and lower back can be causing your sciatica pain. Stretching out these muscles increases blood flow and removes any pressure on the nerves to relieve pain. Regular stretching also improves flexibility and reduces the risk of injuries.
  • Hot and cold therapy. You can get some immediate relief from sciatica pain through hot and cold therapy. Cold therapy reduces pain, muscle spasms, swelling, and inflammation. Heat, on the other hand, opens up the blood vessels, improving blood flow and loosening tense muscles. However, you should take proper precautions when using anything hot or cold, as prolonged exposure can cause skin and/or nerve damage.

Spinal surgery is typically not considered unless the situation is not improving with therapy and other treatment methods such as prescribed medications and spinal injections. The goal of the surgery is to remove any pressure on the sciatica nerves that are being pinched.

The common surgical methods used for treating sciatica include microdiscectomy and laminectomy. Microdiscectomy is a minimally invasive surgery that involves removing a small part of a herniated disc.

A laminectomy, on the other hand, involves removing part or all of the lamina to provide more room for the spinal nerves.

Should you see a doctor?

Most cases of sciatica go away on their own, with most cases of acute sciatica going away within 4 to 6 weeks. In more serious cases, however, the sciatica pain may become chronic, which could last for months.

You should seek medical help if you experience any of the following:

  • pain after a traumatic injury
  • uncontrolled pain in the lower back or legs, coupled with numbness
  • loss of muscle in the affected leg
  • losing control over your bladder function or bowels

Most treatment methods involve managing sciatica without any invasive surgery, such as pain relief medications, stretching, and other forms of physical therapy.

The gist

Sciatica refers to a painful sensation in your lower back, buttocks, and legs that is caused when the sciatic nerve is pinched, irritated, or inflamed. The condition is typically self-relieving and can be managed with OTC pain medication and physical therapy.

In case you experience any serious symptoms of sciatica, a doctor might prescribe medication, spinal injections, or condition-specific physical therapy. Surgery is considered only in cases of severe pain or when the pain is accompanied by some other serious underlying condition.