What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the term given to the sciatic nerve being impinged or irritated by the bones and the cervical disks (1). This nerve is located at the lower back and runs down to the feet; thereby, its impingement can cause excruciating pain at the back of the leg, more specifically known as the hamstrings (1). Sciatica, in most cases, is a temporary issue that can subside within a month but can reoccur if the correct interventions are not considered (1). In the occurrence of sciatica, one can correct their walking pattern to form a ‘natural’ bone alignment and a clear pathway for the sciatic nerve (2).
Seating Positions and Walking Patterns that may cause Sciatica
There are several seating positions and walking patterns that can stress the lower back and cause weakness at the surrounding muscles of the hip and gluteus, thus, hindering the stabilization of the spine and causing spinal misalignment with subsequent impingement of the sciatic nerve (1). Note that there are some muscle imbalances that can hinder spine positioning, for example, overactive chest and underactive upper back (1) where you would need to be individually addressed by a relevant professional. I have highlighted below some walking and seating patterns to avoid.
#1 Walking with an Exaggerated Curve at your Lower Back
Excessive trunk flexion while walking or sitting can stress the spinal facet joints and hinder the spine alignment, which could lead to sciatic nerve impingement.
#2 Sitting with an Excessive Kyphotic Curvature at the Upper Back
This position is better known as the “hunchback” which is commonly observed during activities such as sitting at a work desk, using your smartphone devices, or watching TV. This position can increase the stress on the core stability muscles and may hinder posture, causing nerve impingements.
#3 Walking with an Anterior Pelvic Tilt
An anterior pelvic tilt is essentially pushing your hips forwards and pulling your spine back. This position can also stress the lower back and cause weakness in the surrounding stabilizing muscles.
#4 Forcing an Erect Walking Position
The natural curve of the spine is important; it is common for those who are looking to improve their sitting or walking position to force an erect position that can fatigue and weaken muscle stabilization thus affecting their posture.
Recommended Position to Avoid Sciatica Pain
- Ensure that the head is not flexed forward or extended back to maintain a neutral position while sitting or standing, where the ears would be in line with the shoulders.
- Attain some core stability to help maintain spinal neutrality naturally.
- Perform a biomechanically appropriate foot plan, ensuring that you plant the weight onto the heel and press the mid/ball of the foot to help maintain better hip positioning.
- Take shorter strides while walking to hold a neutral lower back position
Exercises to Relieve Sciatica Symptoms
Majority of the time, the sciatic nerve becomes impinged by trunk flexion. To counteract the flexion, you will need to incorporate some hip extension-based exercises.
#1 Standing Hip Extensions
Step 1: Stand upright with the feet narrow and placing the hands on the glute muscles.
Step 2: Slowly push the pelvis forward as far as your flexibility allows by creating some positive pressure from the arms.
Step 3: Perform this movement 15-20 times with 7-8 sets.
Additional information: If you are feeling pain within the hamstrings during this exercise, discontinue immediately. You will probably be able to extend further as you get more comfortable with the movement.
#2 Prone Extensions
Step 1: Lie prone (on the front) on the floor or a massage bed.
Step 2: Start off by lying flat and assess the pain in the leg.
Step 3: Begin to extend the back and push the pelvis into the surface.
Step 4: If you are not feeling pain, you can extend a little bit further by slowly pressing off the hands.
Step 5: Hold the position for 30-40 seconds and repeat for 5-6 sets.
#3 Figure 4 Stretch
Step 1: Lie supine on a massage bed or a clean surface with both knees bent.
Step 2: Bring the affected leg perpendicular over the non-affected leg.
Step 3: Lift the other leg up and bring both hands underneath it.
Step 4: Pull the leg as far into the chest as you can without feeling any sharp pain in the sciatic nerve.
Additional information: Do not push too hard and slowly draw into the stretched position. If you feel any pains in the sciatic nerve, discontinue the exercise immediately
#4 Band Hamstring Stretch
Step 1: Lie supine on a massage bed or a clean surface.
Step 2: Place a resistance band or long cloth over the affected leg.
Step 3: Maintain an extended knee position (straight knee). Slowly pull the resistant band to bring your leg close to the body.
Step 4: Stretch as far as possible for around 20 seconds and repeat for 5-6 sets.
Additional information: Once again if you feel any sharp pain, discontinue the exercise.
#5 PNF stretch
Step 1: Lie supine on a massage bed or a clean surface in an extended position.
Step 2: Request support from another individual to slowly stretch your leg similar to the previous band stretch exercise.
Step 3: Hold the stretch for 20 seconds at a time and repeat 5-6 times.
Additional information: Similar to the band hamstring stretch, you would stretch the leg towards the body, the only difference being that the positive pressure is coming from another individual. Ensure you communicate adequately with the individual who is supporting you and so he/she does not stretch the leg past your capabilities.
(All Exercises are based on my interpretation of the Research and Personal Experience)
Poor posture which weakens muscles stabilization and hinders spinal alignment may cause sciatica. For this reason, it is important to adopt an adequate back posture. If you experience sciatica, there are a variety of exercises/stretches that may aid in relieving some symptoms.
- 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
- 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 individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.