Struggling with sciatica or pain down your leg?
The internet is littered with headlines like, “Fix your sciatica fast!” and “Instant sciatica relief!” There are times in which sciatica can be alleviated quickly; however, one of the best options for long-term sciatica relief without surgery or injections is an exercise-based rehab program from a physical therapist.
In this article, I will show you 3 exercises for sciatica relief. These exercises should be done after an assessment from your physical therapist.
What can you do for sciatica relief?
If you visit your primary care doctor for sciatica, they will likely refer you to a physical therapist for an assessment and an exercise-based rehab program.
After an assessment with your physical therapist, he/she may determine you may benefit from flossing the sciatic nerve. Yes, you can floss the sciatic nerve! The research shows that nerve flossing exercises can provide sciatica relief for some people.
These nerve flossing exercises help to desensitize the sciatic nerve by allowing it to adapt to previously painful movements. Over time, the nerve should become less sensitive to those same movements – ultimately reducing your discomfort.
Should you be flossing the sciatic nerve?
Nerve flossing exercise can be helpful, but they are only one part of a rehab program for sciatica relief. Before doing these nerve flossing exercises, your physical therapist should identify if your lower back is contributing to your sciatica.
The lower back is often the main issue contributing to sciatica. Your physical therapist will provide you with specific exercises to reduce sciatica based on your assessment.
These exercises may cause you to feel better, worse, or the same. Based on your response to these exercises, your physical therapist will discover the information needed to guide you on the right path to recovery.
If you are currently working with a physical therapist, then ask your physical therapist if these exercises are right for you.
If you are a physical therapist or rehab professional, then you may want to share this article and YouTube video with your client to help guide them with their nerve flossing exercises at home.
What is nerve flossing?
Nerves need to move back and forth. It is hypothesized that nerves can get “stuck” to adjacent tissue resulting in a decreased ability of the nerve to glide back and forth.
Consequently, this “sticky” nerve may increase the sensitivity of the nervous system potentially increasing your sciatica.
Stretching the sciatic nerve for more than a few seconds may irritate the nerve and increase the intensity of your sciatica; however, flossing the sciatic nerve for a couple of seconds can help to decrease your discomfort.
Nerve flossing involves placing tension on one end of the sciatic nerve for a couple of seconds to pull the nerve in one direction. Then, tension is placed on the nerve in the opposite end to pull the sciatic nerve in the opposite direction. Sounds confusing, right?
Essentially, you are playing tug of war with your sciatic nerve to glide it back and forth like dental floss between your teeth. The movement of the nerve helps to “unstick” the nerve from the adjacent tissue to move better.
More importantly, the nerve flossing desensitizes the neurological system to help you feel better.
How can you put tension on the sciatic nerve?
The sciatic nerve originates from the nerve roots in the lower back; therefore, sitting in a slouched position can increase tension on the sciatic nerve.
The tension can be increased with the neck bent, knee straight, and ankle pointed upward.
Next, I'll show you 3 exercises to floss the sciatica nerve by altering the tension on the nerve.
Disclaimer: Consult with your physical therapist before trying these exercises. The results of each person may vary. Be smart if you try them at home.
Exercise #1: Flossing in Sitting.
Starting position: The neck should be bent forward with the leg down.
Ending position: The neck should extend back with the leg straight.
Instructions: Begin in a slouched sitting position. Straighten the knee, point the toes upward, and move the neck backwards. Then, bend the knee, point the toes downward and move the neck forward.
Helpful Tips: Be sure to move the neck backward and forward to avoid excessive tension on the sciatic nerve.
Where should you feel it? You should feel a pull or stretch along the back of your leg. There will be some tension on the sciatic nerve as it glides back and forth.
Why should you do it? This exercise will improve the mobility of the sciatic nerve. Nerves, like muscles, need to move. If someone has sciatica, the nerve may not move well and it can be sensitive to movement. This exercise will help to desensitize the nerve and it may provide pain relief for some people.
Please note: This exercise is not meant to be a quick fix for sciatica. Over time, it can provide relief as the nerve recovers. Consult with a physical therapist for modifications with this exercise.
Exercise #2: Nerve flossing in lying.
Starting position: The foot should be pointed downward with the leg down.
Ending position: The foot should be pointed upward with the leg up.
Instructions: Begin on your back. Straighten the knee, point the toes upward, and lift the leg upward. Then, lower the leg and point the toes downward.
Helpful Tips: Keep the toes pointed upward to add tension on the sciatica. The position should only be held for 1-2 seconds to avoid aggravating the nerve.
Where should you feel it? You should feel a pull or stretch along the back of your leg. There will be some tension on the sciatic nerve as tension is placed on it.
Why should you do it? This exercise will improve the mobility of the sciatic to provide pain relief for some people. The position of this exercise may be more comfortable than exercise #1. If it’s too easy, then you can try exercise #3.
Exercise #3: Nerve flossing in lying with neck bends.
Starting position: The foot should be pointed upward as the leg is down.
Ending position: The foot should be pointed downward as the leg is lifted up.
Instructions: Begin on your back. Straighten the knee, point the toes upward, and lift the leg upward and bend the neck forward. Then, lower the leg and point the toes downward and bring the neck back down to the floor.
Helpful Tips: Keep the toes pointed upward to add tension on the sciatic nerve. The position should only be held for 1-2 seconds to avoid aggravating the nerve.
Where should you feel it? You should feel a pull or stretch along the back of your leg. There will be some tension on the sciatic nerve as tension is added to it.
Why should you do it? This exercise will improve the mobility of the sciatic nerve to provide pain relief for some people. The movement of the neck increases the intensity of the stretch to provide relief to the sciatic nerve.
Watch this YouTube video for additional guidance with sciatic nerve flossing.
Why is nerve flossing important?
The lower back often contributes to sciatica. It is important to go through an assessment with a physical therapist to determine if the lower back is contributing to your discomfort because there is a high probability it is playing a major role in your sciatica.
If your physical therapist determines you would benefit from flossing the sciatic nerve, then try these 3 exercises to desensitize your nervous system and help you feel better.
You do not have to live in constant discomfort with sciatica. You can learn how to manage and control it better. In many cases, you can fully eliminate sciatica with the right guidance from a physical therapist.
Do you need help with long-lasting sciatica relief?
Sciatica has a tendency to return; therefore, it’s important to focus on the long-term solution. The long-term solution will involve an exercise-based rehab program from a physical therapist.
If you are looking for additional help with sciatica, then I recommend you schedule a visit with a McKenzie Certified Physical Therapist. If you still need help then join our sciatic nerve support group on Facebook to learn what others are doing and learn about our sciatic nerve pain recovery program.
How can you reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve when sitting?
Sitting slouched for a short period of time is okay, but prolonged slouching may trigger your sciatica. If you have sciatica, then you will benefit from maintaining the curve in the lower back more often when sitting.
I developed the Evercore lower back support to help you maintain the curve of the lower back during those long days at the office. Many of my clients love it and experience lower back pain relief. You may benefit from using it too.
Click here to learn more about the Evercore low back support. (currently out of stock)
Do you need calm an irritated nerve?
Excessive systemic inflammation released chemicals that irritate the nerve and cause pain. People often feel partial relief by taking Ibuprofen, but recently there were a few studies showing that Turmeric Extract provided similar benefits as Ibuprofen for joint pain associated with inflammation.
Turmeric Extract, taken at the right dose, helps to promote a healthy inflammation response in the body which can help to calm a hypersensitive sciatic nerve. Click the learn more button below and visit our learning center to see how Turmeric Extract can help you.