Lower back pain is a very common complaint; thirty-one million Americans suffer from it. According to the Global Burden of Disease 2010, it’s the leading cause of disability world-wide. (1)
Pain ranges from a dull ache to shooting pains through the lower extremities. Regardless of the cause of the pain, the risk can be drastically reduced and relieved through proper sciatica stretches.
Why Sciatica Stretches Are So Important
Healthcare practitioners and kinetic researchers agree that regular sciatica stretches help to prevent and improve symptoms of lower back pain. (2)
Stretching not only readies muscles for movement, it strengthens and improves flexibility to enable full range of motion. Stretching your back is beneficial for alleviating lower back pain regardless of age and current physical condition, including for the obese and elderly:
“…pain catastrophizing is significantly alleviated in the TOTRX [total body resistance exercise intervention] group that performs whole body resistance training, including lumbar extension exercise…exercise alleviates pain intensity and promotes functional improvement within 8 weeks…Strengthening exercises also impede the possibility of disability in elderly people with LBP [lower back pain].” (3)
While your first inclination in dealing with back pain is to lie in bed and pop painkillers, the vast landscape of research indicates that’s about the worst thing you can do.
The agreement among scientific studies is that exercise (including stretching) is the best way to prevent and alleviate lower back pain. (4)
What Causes Sciatica Pain?
The sciatic nerve is the longest in the body, running from the lower spine to the feet.
Sciatica is the condition in which the sciatic nerve is constricted, causing (sometimes excruciating) pain. Stretching the muscles surrounding the nerve loosens constriction, relieving pain and regaining mobility.
Go to next page to see detailed instructions and videos for each of these SIX stretches:
6 Lower Back Stretches for Sciatica Relief
It’s a good idea to warm up your muscles for at least five minutes before stretching to reduce risk of injury and improve mobility. A brisk walk, jumping jacks, rebounding, an easy bike ride—whatever you prefer to get blood flowing to your muscles.
It can’t be stressed enough that everything in the body is connected to everything else.
Strength and flexibility of the entire body takes stress from off of the lower back for lifting and ease of movement. Stretches that target the lower back also involve those of the abdomen and legs. Strong and flexible abdominal, leg, and lower back muscles improve posture, so important for preventing back pain.
Do these six stretches as a series.
Go to next Page for exercise No. 1 – Camel Pose
1. Camel Pose
Muscles stretched: rectus abdominus and external obliques
- Kneel on the floor with your lower legs at hip width and straight behind you, your feet flexed (a yoga mat or thick towel under your knees will make it easier).
- Place your hands on the bottoms of your feet and while pushing your shins to the floor, raising your hips up and forward. If you can’t comfortably reach the bottoms of your feet, place your toes on the floor, lifting the heels up and place your hands on your heels.
- Keep your head up, your face toward the ceiling.
- Stretch as far as is comfortable without compressing the lower back. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds.
2. Wide Forward Fold
Muscles stretched: adductors.
This and the frog pose below open the hips and stretch the inner thighs, increasing mobility and preventing lower back strain.
- Sit on the floor (on yoga mat or thick towel) with your legs out to either side to form a 90° angle. Knees should be parallel to the ceiling.
- Bend knees slightly and keep your spine straight. Stretch your feet with toes toward the ceiling and press through your heels.
- Reach for your feet with both hands as you slowly straighten your legs and lean forward. If you can’t reach your feet, place your hands as far forward on your legs as you comfortably can. Bend at the hips and maintain a long torso.
- When you feel the stretch in the backs of your legs, hold the position for 1 minute. Round up to the starting position.
3. Frog Pose
Muscles stretched: adductors and hip flexors.
- Begin on your hands and knees with back straight.
- Slowly widen your knees until you feel tension in your inner thighs and groin.
- Lower your forearms to the floor in line with your torso, while keeping your back straight. Keep the insides of your calves and feet in contact with the floor, ankles in line with your knees. Flex your toes.
- Look forward and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Push toward the floor with your hips to optimize the stretch.
4. Wide Side Lunge Pose
Muscles stretched: adductors and hamstrings. This stretch opens the hips and the backs of your legs, through which the sciatic nerve runs.
- Start with both feet facing forward in a wide stance, keeping your legs straight.
- Walk your hands to your right foot while bending your right knee and rotating your left foot so that the toes are pointing toward the ceiling. Make sure your right foot stays flat on the floor and your right ankle is in line with your right knee.
- Hold for 30 seconds, round up, and repeat on the opposite side.
5. Butterfly Stretch
Muscles stretched: adductors
- Sit on the floor and place the soles of your feet together, keeping your back straight.
- Press your knees down toward the floor with your hands to engage the stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat as many times as is comfortable. For a deeper stretch, bring your feet closer to your body.
6. Forearm Extensor Stretch
Muscles stretched: forearm extensors. Wait a minute…aren’t these supposed to be stretches for the lower back? Remember, strength and mobility of the entire body support the lower back when it comes to the practicality of lifting, carrying, and whole-body movement. Strengthening your arms allows stress of weight-bearing to be more dispersed to ease strain on the lower back.
- Stand with back straight, chest out, and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Extend your left hand in front of you at shoulder height, palm down.
- With your right hand, cover the back of your left hand and gently pull down the left hand.
- Press your left hand towards your body with your right hand.
- Hold stretch for 30 seconds, then release and switch hands.
A few things to keep in mind when doing these or any lower back stretches.
1. Stretching doesn’t replace the need for all-around exercise. Regular aerobic and resistance training exercises tremendously decrease the risk of lower back pain.
2. Under certain conditions, stretching may actually exacerbate lower back pain.
Inflamed vertebral discs or nerve impingement in the back or legs contraindicate some stretches. (5)
Consult a kinetic healthcare provider (i.e., physiotherapist, massage therapist, kinesiologist) before engaging in stretching if you suffer from one of these conditions.
3. Chronic lower back pain hurts and is serious in that context but it is rarely the reflection of a life-threatening condition.
Once the source of the problem is determined, a practical exercise and diet regimen can alleviate and even eradicate the pain.
Whether the cause is simple (like posture) or more complicated (like a herniated disc), pain will often dissipate when you know and remove the cause. (6)