The sciatica is the longest nerve in the body. It branches from the lower back and extends from the hips, buttocks, and legs to the feet. This nerve passes between muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and other tissues in a tortuous path, so stress and stiffness can affect its proper performance.
The sciatic nerve is like a hose that sends the message from the faucet (brain), it can be interrupted if the flow is twisted. Sciatic problems can cause weakness and lack of activation in the buttocks, hamstrings, calves and feet. When the bones or disks in the spine press on a nerve, we feel a sharp pain. More subtle rigidity can cause weakness and inactivity in specific muscles.
Exercises to relieve pain
There is a number of exercises for treating sciatica, which can significantly reduce pain. Also, it will help you to stay fit, since most of these exercises can be done at home.
1. Check the mobility of your sciatic nerve
This test is known as the ‘slump test’ and is widely used by physiotherapists to rule out problems. Sit down, put your head down and your arms behind your back. Then, lean forward and lower yourself as far as you can. Raise the top of your foot towards your body and stretch your leg out slowly. You will feel the tension increase gradually. Don’t stretch too far, but notice where you feel the tension.
You will probably feel it in the back of your knee and in your lower hamstring. However, we are all different. Repeat these movements with your other leg to see the differences. The area to work on may vary. Sometimes you may feel more tension in your buttock than in your hamstring or even in your lower back or calf.
You may also feel that it starts at the top of the knee. Once you identify where the tightness is and where it starts, move your leg to that location, then lift your head. This should release the tension on the nerve almost completely. Compare the effect of this exercise on both legs.
2. Exercises to prevent sciatic nerve stiffness in the twins
Sit on the floor on a mat and stretch out your aching leg. Place a small, hard ball (a tennis ball will do) under the calf of that leg and locate the tender area. Then, rest the other leg on the tibia and press down. Raise the top of the foot of the affected leg, toward your body. When the foot is fully raised, lower your head and bend forward little by little. The tension will decrease as you go.
3. Exercises to avoid stiffening the sciatic nerve at the top of the hamstrings
Sit in a rigid chair and place a tennis ball – or a harder one – under your leg. Move over the ball until you find the sensitive area and sit on it until the tension subsides. Then, stretch your leg slowly as the tension decreases. Once the leg is fully raised, lean forward, little by little, until you reach the position described in the Slump test and repeat the relaxation process.
4. Exercises to avoid stiffening the sciatic nerve in the buttocks
Cross the affected leg over the other leg so that the sole of the foot touches the ground, and bring the knee closer to your chest (hold it at the back of the knee to help). Place the ball under your buttock, in the area where you feel tension. Then, lean over the ball until you feel the tension in your buttock. As with the previous movements, wait until the tension decreases and extend your knee slowly and comfortably, keeping it as straight as possible.
Keep working on the stiff areas during a couple of weeks. But if symptoms persist or return, consult a physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon, who will look for underlying problems in your back.