If your sciatica is being a real pain in your butt, here's some good news: Gentle exercises and stretching may soothe this uber-annoying nerve, which stretches from your lower back, tush and hips down along each leg, causing discomfort when you sit, walk or do just about anything that requires, you know, movement. And, in a win-win-win, sciatica exercises may also reduce lower-back pain, increase your range of motion and strengthen your core -- and who doesn't want that?
Those in the know -- like the experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center -- report that yoga may benefit sciatica sufferers more than other types of exercise. Just be sure to avoid poses that require you to bend forward from the hips or bend with straight legs, such as Seated Forward Bend. Instead, stick with gentle poses that lift and separate your sitting bones -- and don't strain your back -- such as Head-to-Knee Forward Bend, Locust pose, Cobra pose and Bow pose. Intersperse these poses with Sun Salutations for a calming workout. Finish with Bridge pose and Pigeon pose. If a pose causes sciatica pain, knock it off; the point is to keep it gentle.
Exercises that stretch the lower back can help sciatica, too. Start by lying on your back, with your arms at your sides, legs bent and knees together. Slowly roll both your knees over to one side and hold the position for 20 seconds before repeating on the other side. Now grasp one knee and gently pull it to your chest, holding for 20 seconds before repeating with the other knee. Finally, get on your hands and knees. At the same time, extend your left arm forward and your right leg back. Keep your back straight, tighten your abs and hold the pose for three seconds before repeating with the other arm and leg. Start slowly and work your way to repeating these stretches eight to 20 times.
When you do cardio for sciatica, keep "low-impact" in mind. Water workouts, such as water gymnastics, water aerobics or swimming, get that heart pumping for aerobic benefits without placing too much stress on your already-tender sciatica. Walking helps, too, as long as you do it right. Get that proper walking posture -- and make yourself look instantly 5 pounds lighter -- by keeping your head up, your shoulders back and tucking your hips slightly forward and up, as if you're angling them toward your navel. Don't let your spine curve or your tush stick out, as this can make sciatica pain worse. Work your way up to a brisk, three-mile walk and stretch it all out afterward.
Strength-training exercises that work your core help sciatica -- and get you on the way to awesome, toned abs -- and you don't even have to go to the gym. At least three times each week, do some partial situps and pelvic tilts. Start by lying on your back with knees bent, arms crossed over your chest. Slowly raise your shoulders 3 to 6 inches off the floor, breathing out as you rise and breathing in as you lower. Repeat eight to 10 times. Now lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Tighten your tush and abdominal muscles so your pelvis tilts up slightly. Push your lower back down into the floor and hold for one second, breathing evenly the whole time. Gradually hold the pose for up to five seconds; make it more difficult by sliding your feet farther from your body.
Based in the Southwest, Linsay Evans writes about a range of topics, from parenting to gardening, nutrition to fitness, marketing to travel. Evans holds a Master of Library and Information Science and a Master of Arts in anthropology.