Unlike back pain, sciatica pain doesn’t just go away with a hot bath or quick nap. The aching pain that the sciatica nerve causes can be hard to ignore and even harder to shift. Luckily, there are some simple ways to relieve some of the pain at home, without the need to try herbal remedies or head to the nearest drug store.
All you need is a little willingness to move your body and work out the pain!
Our 8 best sciatica stretches for pain relief are selected from a range of stretches recommended by health services and doctors. There are simple positions for those with limited mobility and deeper stretches for those who are a little more flexible.
Before you begin, however, you should read our tips for stretching safely and speak to your doctor, who may have specific advice and stretches that will work best with your body.
8 Best Sciatica Stretches For Pain Relief
The key is to keep moving but be gentle on your body. A tough workout isn’t going to do you any favors! You should try to continue your usual daily routine as much as possible.
Moving around like normal isn’t going to make the pain worse, but staying stationary or laying down still for long periods could prolong the painful symptoms for longer.
The 8 stretches you can try from our list are designed to be gentle on your body and relieve the pain, but remember that everybody is different. Listen to what your body is telling you – if a position just feels awkward and puts unnecessary strain on certain areas, just skip it and move onto the next. This is a healing process, not a chance to build muscle and improve flexibility. Save that for a yoga class.
Finally, our last trip before we jump into our list of the best sciatica stretches for pain relief is to talk to your doctor! No, we’re not just saying this to cover our behinds.
Sciatica is a symptom caused by compression on the sciatic nerve in your spine… which could be caused by numerous conditions. You should have your sciatica diagnosed before searching outstretch treatments, so you don’t accidentally make an underlying condition worse!
1. The Hamstring Stretch
We’re starting with the simplest, easiest stretch of all. You can do this stretch with both feet on the floor, simply bending at the waist as directed in the video, or you can target one hamstring at a time by placing your leg up on a chair following these instructions.
Place one foot on your platform and shuffle back so that you can keep your leg straight and your foot flexed. Next, put your hands on your hip and slowly begin to bend at the waist, towards your outstretched leg. Keep bending until you feel the deep stretch in your hamstrings, but don’t bend so far that you cause more pain!
Hold for half a minute, then gently ease your leg down and switch to the other one. You can repeat this several times to stretch out the muscles in your calves and relieve pain.
This standing hamstring stretch is good for those with knee problems too, who can’t easily get down to the floor for other sciatica stretches for pain relief. If you have hypermobile knees, keep a slight micro-bend in your knees instead of stretching them out straight to protect the joint.
2. Knee to Chest Stretches
Get down to the ground for this stretch. You’ll need to lay down flat on your back, so if you don’t have a yoga mat, you should try this stretch on a plush carpet or a firm mattress. Remember that for all the floor stretches on our list.
Bend one knee and bring it up to your chest. Depending on how flexible you are, you might have the other leg stretched out completely or bent at the knee with your foot on the floor for stability. Remember to use your core abdominal muscles (or your hands) to guide your knee up to your chest – you don’t want to strain your back further when getting into position.
Hug your knee up to your chest, angling it towards your opposite shoulder if that feels good, and hold for 10 to 30 seconds with your arms. You’ll essentially be giving your knee a good ol’ hug. Release gently, with control, then switch to the other leg.
Note: This stretch is great for sciatica pain as it stretches and loosens the piriformis muscle and your glutes, which can pressurize the sciatic nerve if otherwise inflamed.
Yogis will be familiar with the name of this stretch. Start by doing a baby cobra, just to slither your way into this stretching pose – don’t push yourself, instead try to protect and strengthen your lower back instead of cranking into position.
Place a yoga mat or blanket on your floor, then lay down flat on your stomach. Make sure your legs are aligned with your hip points, not pressed together.
Bend your elbows so your hands will be flat on the floor underneath each shoulder. Actively press into the ground with the tops of your feet and your pelvis, then engage your core (tighten the muscles) and slowly, gently, lift your head and shoulders.
You should feel your lower back gently contract and stretch as you move – but you aren’t using your back muscles to move into this stretch. Instead, keep pushing your pelvis into the floor and use your abs and arms to move into position.
Note: You don’t need to crank your body, just work slowly to lift your head and shoulders so you can feel your back contract for a few seconds, then release. The key to this stretch is to move slowly. A little goes a long way.
4. Spinal Twisting
It’s not as painful as it sounds and you certainly don’t need to be a contortionist to do some simple spinal twisting stretches. You might have heard of this as a supine twist.
Lay flat on your back, lifting your head on a pillow if that helps you feel comfortable. Then, bend your knees and lift them so they’re above your hip points and your calves are parallel to the ceiling. Your lower back should be tension-free and resting flush with the floor beneath you.
Breath deep and on an exhale shift both your knees to one side, so your lower half is twisting to rest on one hip but your shoulders and upper back are still pressed into the floor. After pausing for a few breaths, come back through center and shift your knees to the other side.
Spreading your arms wide in a T shape will help keep your shoulders level with the floor, but you can also use your hands to gently guide your knees further into the twist if that feels good for your back.
This is a great stretch to work out the kinks in your spine and relieve pressure. You also have the support of the floor beneath you, keeping your spine straight, making this a great practice for those with pain from sciatica and back pain from poor posture too.
5. Pigeon Pose
One for the more flexible people with sciatica! Pigeon pose works your legs, hips, and lower back, but can be quite a challenging position to get into. So, if you suffer regularly from sciatica pain then this stretch can be one to work towards gradually. If you have tight, inflexible hips then you will be better off trying some of our other sciatica stretches for pain relief.
This video from the hugely popular Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel will guide you into the pose and show you how to get there. However, we urge you not to push yourself too far! Yoga instructors like Adriene have had years of practice to gain the flexibility to ease into pigeon pose, so don’t beat yourself up if your pose doesn’t look exactly like hers.
You can also try pigeon variations. Once you have one leg in front of the other, try easing your body forward onto your hands or forearms to gently stretch your lower back and your glutes.
Note: Remember that you’ll need to do this pose twice, for both legs, so don’t burn all your energy trying to push your body into the pose the first time. If your body just doesn’t want to cooperate with this position, check out our next stretch for a different take on pigeon pose.
6. Seated Pigeon Pose
Another hip-opening stretch that’s good for sciatica pains in your legs, hips, and bum. Unlike the previous pigeon pose, you’ll need to start sitting upright on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you – although you can also try crossing your legs like the image.
If sitting up with your back straight puts more strain on your spine (that’s quite common if you have poor posture in general) then try lifting your hips by sitting on a pillow or folded blanket.
Bend one leg at the knee so you can rest one ankle on top of the opposite thigh, opening up your hip. Then slowly and gently ease your torso forward to stretch the lower back and glutes. You might simply rest your hands on your legs or you may be able to fold forward completely – the key is to gently stretch your lower back without hurting your hip.
Once you’ve stretched on one side for 30 seconds or so, slowly sit back up and switch to the other leg. You might find it’s nice to sit with your legs outstretched for a few moments between sides to let your hips relax.
Note: If you’re still feeling pain from sciatica after this stretch, you’re already in the perfect position to try out some spinal twisting on your back. Scroll back up to number 4 for instructions.
7. Child’s Pose
Known as a yoga resting pose, we recommend trying child’s pose if you need to stretch but are running low on energy. This sciatica stretch is quite restorative and even therapeutic when combined with deep, full breaths.
Ease yourself down onto the ground on all fours. Use a blanket or yoga mat for comfort and support underneath your knees if needed. Next, widen your knees so they’re further apart than your hips – about the same width as your yoga mat if you’re using one. Then bring your feet together so that your big toes are touching.
Slowly reach your hips backward and down, stretching the lower back and buttocks, and lean your torso forward so your heart melts towards the floor beneath you. You can stretch your arms out in front of you to lengthen your torso or let them rest gently on the floor. You could also fold your arms and use them as a pillow for your forehead if that feels good for your spine.
Stay here for as long as you like, breathing deeply into your lower back. To exit this worship-like position, push back up to all fours. From here, you could try pigeon pose if you still need to stretch out the pain or try cat/cow below. You can also stand up for a hamstring stretch if you’re feeling the pain in your legs too.
8. Cat/Cow Spinal Flex
This stretch can be as deep or shallow as you need, focusing on stretching your back and buttocks. It will also strengthen your abs if you engage your core as you stretch, which will help your body to support your spine and improve your posture in general.
Come down to the floor on all fours. Make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders and spread your fingers wide to distribute your weight evenly in your palms. Your knees should be directly under your hip points and your feet in parallel lines behind them, not splayed in or out.
As you inhale, drop your stomach and lift your head to curve your spine down towards the earth. Move gently so you don’t contract your lower back muscles further. On an exhale, draw your stomach in and drop your head so your back arches upwards – this should feel great in your lower back!
Before you go, we’ll reiterate one more time – talk to your doctor about sciatica pain before self-diagnosing and trying these stretches.Read More: 9 Best TENs Machines for Sciatica in 2021