Sciatica is usually caused by a herniated lumber disc where the nerve root is compressed by the disc material that has ruptured through its protected layer. The sciatic nerve has nerve roots from L4-L5 and S1-S3. Since each nerve root is responsible for a particular motor and sensory function in the leg, individuals with sciatica will experience various pain, paraesthesia (tingling), or muscle weakness depending on the nerve distribution. Sciatica is usually unilateral (only happens on one side). Commonly, individuals will complain of sharp pain in the buttock region, the back of thigh, and/or tingling sensation radiates down to the toes.
We are going to show you two very simply exercises that might help with the symptoms!
1) Knee to Opposite Shoulder
As simply as it sounds, start with lying flat on your back, with both knees extended and foot relaxed. Then, wrap your hands around the knee of the affected side and try to bring the knee to your opposite shoulder. Try to go as far as it is comfortable. You should feel a nice stretch at the buttock region. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat the stretch for 2 more times. Then repeat the same for the other leg.
2) Sciatic Nerve Flossing
Start with sitting tall on a chair, bending your knee, pointing your toes down, and looking down at your chest. Then, all at the same time, straighten your knee, point your toes up, and look up. This exercise ‘floss’ your sciatic nerve by gliding it back and forth the area where it is compressed. It is important to perform each floss slowly for it to be effective. Repeat it 10 times in a row, for a total of two sets.
In addition to exercise, avoid prolonged sitting and standing, or activities that exacerbate the symptoms. Staying active is recommended for managing sciatica.
Also, placing ice packs over the areas of pain and tingling might help with the symptoms, since ice can decrease the speed of nerve conduction and reduce pain. Be sure to place a towel in-between the skin and the ice packs to prevent skin damage. Ice for 10-15 minutes.
Reference: Ostelo, R. W. (2020). Physiotherapy management of sciatica. Journal of physiotherapy, 66(2), 83-88.
Ropper, A. H., & Zafonte, R. D. (2015). Sciatica. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(13), 1240-1248.
Gary Lai, Registered Kinesiologist