If you’ve ever suffered from sciatica, you probably know that it can be so painful and devastating that you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Fortunately, this condition can be relieved by physical therapy treatments. Here are three of the top stretches used by physical therapists, along with the common symptoms and causes of sciatica.

What is Sciatica? Basic Anatomy and Pathology of the Sciatic Nerve

Often, people think of sciatica as a medical condition, but it’s actually a symptom that suggests an underlying physical issue. The source of the pain is the sciatic nerve. There are several conditions that can produce sciatic pain, such as herniated disc, pelvic misalignment, spinal stenosis (the narrowing of the nerve space) and a hip joint that becomes tightened.

The sciatic nerve, which is the longest, thickest nerve in the human body, starts at the lower spine and then splits, traveling down both sides of the hips. This large nerve runs down to the back of the legs and then to the feet. It has a width of about 2.54 cm, which is just less than an inch in diameter.

Common Sciatica Symptoms

It’s important to recognize the common symptoms of sciatica, including:

  • A pain that shoots down the leg making it hard to stand up
  • Numbness and weakness in a leg or foot that’s can be so intense that you can’t move
  • Leg or buttock pain that becomes worse when sitting
  • Lower back pain
  • A tingling or burning sensation that runs down the leg
  • Hip pain
  • Continual pain that’s on one side of the buttock

How Physical Therapy Exercises Can Help

Physical therapists use a combination of various stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning exercises as their main part of just about any type of treatment plan for relieving sciatic pain. By regularly participating in gentle exercises, patients are able to recover faster from their pain. What’s more, they’re not as likely to have more pain.

Pigeon Pose Exercise

One of the most effective exercises for easing sciatic symptoms is known as the pigeon pose. This exercise, which is used in yoga, involves a back bend that requires a great deal of extension in the thoracic spine.

It’s so-named because of the way the chest is thrust toward the ceiling, which resembles a puffed-up pigeon. The pigeon pose is exceptionally effective in easing symptoms on both sides of the hips. Besides alleviating sciatic pain, this exercise stimulates your internal organs, stretches the deep glutes and can even improve urinary problems.

Single Knee to Chest Stretch

Another main exercise for sciatica is the “single knee to chest” stretch, which helps in stretching the hamstrings, lower back and glutes. Lying on your back, you pull one knee toward your chest, while using your hands to hold your leg for 10 seconds. The process is repeated on the other knee and leg. It’s typically done as a warm-up before exercising to prevent being injured from an over-heated body.

Piriformis Stretch

The piriformis muscle, which lies deep in the hip, runs near the sciatic nerve. When this muscle becomes swollen or tight, the sciatic nerve can be irritated, which can result in sciatic pain, along with numbness and a tingling feeling that can sometimes even radiate down the leg and to the foot.

The Piriformis stretch is done with your knees bent while lying on your back. It entails crossing the affected leg over the other knee and then holding the unaffected knee. This is done as you pull toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your buttock.

How Physical Therapy Can Be Helpful in Finding the Cause of Sciatic Pain

In addition to addressing sciatic symptoms through stretches and other exercises, physical therapy treatments can also be useful for uncovering the cause of your sciatic pain. During your physical therapy appointment, your PT doctor will ask specific questions about your symptoms so that the right treatment plan can be developed.

Expect to be asked questions, regarding when your pain started and where it’s located. You’ll be asked to rate your pain on a scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 10 representing the highest pain level. Your physical therapist doctor may also want to know about any medications or exercises you’ve used to treat pain and if they’ve been effective.

Considerations and Warnings

  • Sciatica usually affects just one side of the body.
  • PT treatments should start within 14-16 days of when you first experience pain, but the sooner the better is recommended.
  • You may have to rest for one or two days if you feel your pain is too unbearable.
  • On the other hand, it’s not recommended to rest for longer than two days because being active can lead to increased pain.

Do you battle on-going pain? Don’t hesitate to call the sciatic pain experts at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab. Please contact us and learn more about our wide range of physical therapy services and how we can help you.