May 14, 2021

Sciatica Stretches That Can be Done By Seniors

Written by: Zaakir Shakoor, MSc
Reviewed by: Mubashar Rehman, PHD

I have previously talked about sciatica which can be visited here. If you read through it, you probably have a general idea about the location of the sciatic nerve (lower back/hamstrings), how it becomes irritated by becoming trapped, the pain it causes, and how to alleviate the pain with certain positions and leg/back stretches. The current article is dedicated to giving you an idea of how seniors may use specific stretching exercises to reduce sciatica symptoms. Generally, we will focus on less physically demanding exercises, either seated or standing while being supported, which is suitable for those who cannot stand in static positions for prolonged periods or have difficulty getting on and off the ground.

My 5 ‘Go to’ Exercises for Seniors

A majority of the time, the sciatic nerve becomes impinged by trunk flexion. Therefore, if a senior experiences sciatica, I would incorporate some hip extension-based exercises in order to counteract the flexion.

 

Exercise #1: Seated hip extensions 

Step 1: Sit upright on a chair but ensure there is enough room behind you to place your hands. 

Step 2:Place your feet flat on the floor to create a stable base. 

Step 3: Place your palms on the back of your hips.    

Step 4: Slowly push the hips forward as far as your flexibility allows by creating some positive pressure from the arms.

Step 5: Make sure you continue to breathe during the stretch, perhaps, in from the nose and out from the mouth.

Step 6: Stretch for 20-30 seconds at a time for 8-10 sets.

Additional information: This is an excellent sciatica stretch for seniors as it is not too physically demanding. As it is based on a chair, it can be performed by those seniors who struggle to stand in a static position for long periods of time. Note that you must discontinue the exercise if it causes unwanted pain. 

 

Exercise #2: Sciatic nerve floss

Step 1: Sit slightly slouched on a chair or high stool.

Step 2: Both legs should be hanging off the edge.

Step 3:  Place both your hands on the upper, focused leg.

Step 4: Inhale from the nose.

Step 5: Extend the knee (straighten out), and simultaneously extend the head back (bring it back to look up at the ceiling).

Step 6: Stretch for 3-5 seconds.

Step 7: From this extended position, slowly flex at the head (bring your chin closer to your body) and at the same time bring the leg back down to the initial position.

Step 8: Repeat this movement 8-10 times and repeat it 3-4 times per day i.e. in the morning, afternoon, evening, and night.

Additional information: This is another great stretch/movement to reduce sciatic nerve irritation. Once again, it is not too physically demanding as it is conducted via a seated position and is especially suitable for seniors who cannot stand static for prolonged periods. If a senior experiences any unwanted pain, the exercise should be discontinued. 

 

Exercise #3: Seated figure 4 stretch 

Step 1: Sit upright on a chair.

Step 2: Place the feet flat on the ground to create a stable base.

Step 3: Bring the affected leg perpendicular over the non-affected leg (leg over leg). 

Step 3: Slowly bring your torso forward to stretch at the leg.

Step 4: Breath throughout the stretch, perhaps, in from the nose and out from the mouth.

Step 5: Maintain the stretch for around 20-30 seconds and repeat it 4 times.

Additional information: Do not push too hard and slowly draw into the stretched position. If you feel any pain in the sciatic nerve, discontinue the exercise immediately.

 

Exercise #4: Good morning stretch  

Step 1: Stand in an upright position with the core braced.

Step 2: Place the feet flat on the ground at the hip-width apart to create a stable base.

Step 3: Extend your arms up towards the ceiling, simultaneously stretching the hips forward.

Step 4: Breath throughout the stretch, perhaps, in from the nose and out from the mouth.

Step 5: Maintain this stretch for around 15-20 seconds and repeat it 4 times.

Additional information: A senior can request support from someone to ensure he/she does not fall over. If the senior experiences any pain, he/she should discontinue immediately. 

 

Exercise #5: Assisted hamstring extension

Step 1: Stand up in an erect position if possible and brace the core while holding on to the back of a chair.

Step 2: Place the feet flat on the ground close together.

Step 3: Take a breath in a controlled manner.

Step 4: Extend at the hip (bring the hip back).

Step 5: Breath out in a controlled manner.

Step 6: Bring the hip back to the original position.

Additional information: This exercise is slightly more advanced as it requires a senior to stand up, however, a lot of their weight will be placed on the chair. Therefore, it would not be very physically demanding. The exercise work on the hip flexors/extensors where the sciatica pain may stem from. If a senior feels pain, I stress that he/she must discontinue the exercise immediately. 

(All exercises are based on my interpretation of the research and personal experience)

Conclusion

Generally, when working with seniors, you should think about exercising within their capabilities as they may not be as flexible or stable as a younger adult. For those seniors who are unable to stand up for prolonged periods or cannot get onto the ground, seated stretches/exercises are a great option. Another key take-home message I can give is making sure you breathe throughout the exercises to get a good oxygen supply to muscles and brain to prevent fainting. Secondly, seniors should only stretch within their capabilities. If they feel any pains, they must discontinue the exercise immediately to reduce the risk of suffering from any injuries.

References

  1. Parreira, P., Maher, C.G., Steffens, D., et al. Risk factors for low back pain and sciatica: an umbrella review. The spinal Journal. 2018;18(9): 1715-1721
  2. Fernandez, M.H., Jan, F.M., Refshauge., et al. Advice to Stay Active or Structured Exercise in the Management of Sciatica. Spine. 2015; 40(18):1457-1466

DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualised exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.

Article written by Zaakir Shakoor, MSc
Zack Shakoor Kayani was born and raised in the South East of England/London. Zack has attained a bolus of knowledge regarding biosciences through academia and his career experiences. In terms of his educational background, he has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (Hons.), a Postgraduate diploma in sports nutrition with the International Olympic Committee, and a Master’s of Science in Nutritional Sciences. Zack has been fortunate enough to apply his Exercise Science and Nutrition Knowledge to aid Hundreds if not Thousands of Patients and Athletes, providing 1-1 consultation, Personal training, Information sheets, offering recommendations to collate nutrition and exercise programs, etc. Not to mention, in 2020, he authored a book called ‘Obesity Decoded’

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