The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body, so it’s not surprising that when it flares up, it feels intense.
Sciatic pain generally starts in the lower spine and can fluctuate in terms of how much it affects a person. Sometimes you may not feel it at all, and other times it may be agonizing. Pain can radiate from the upper legs down to the feet through the glute area and seem to make your lower half throb. Most certainly, it can affect walking, running, sports, work and life in general.
Many people rely on medications to alleviate sciatic pain, but physical therapy and movement, in general, can help tremendously.
What stretches are best for relieving sciatica and sciatica-related pain?
Long answer: It's complicated.
Short answer: It's complicated.
There is no single exercise that alleviates all sciatic pain and an exercise that alleviates one person's pain may aggravate another's. Actually, movement is the best way to alleviate sciatic pain or leg pain that originates in the spine. People that tend to have pain when they sit and find relief in standing will find repetitive trunk extension minimizing pain. People who find standing and walking more aggravating will find repeated trunk flexion to reduce the sciatic pain.
Why is movement effective for sciatic relief?
Motion is lotion. The body responds well to movement and detests being held in a single position even though that may be the protective response. Movement lubricates joints and brings blood flow to muscles. Movement provides a competing message to the brain that can crowd out the signal that the brain decides to be pain.
What are other movements or activities that can help relieve pain in this area?
The movements and exercises that patients find pleasurable and are likely to do are the ones that are best. If bike riding is not your thing then perhaps you may enjoy going for a walk. Activity is not only good for your muscles and joints, but it also allows us to interact with friends and neighbors which addresses the lack of social interaction that happens when we feel crippling pain. Doing something that is enjoyable may provide distraction which is a wonderful tool for pain management.
What stretches are best for improving flexibility and relieving pain in the hips and lower back? How are these different (or the same) as those for sciatica?
Flexibility is something that is often misunderstood. Is flexibility poor because muscles have "shrunk" or is the body being protective and stopping movement through a range of motion that it perceived to be harmful? Move, move, and move some more and you may be surprised how much better motion becomes which is the same advice in the management of sciatic pain.
What role does stress play in sciatica (if any)?
Think of pain like a fire and stress is like gasoline. This is true for sciatica or pain of any kind. Behavioral factors like stress, sleep, nutrition, and social support all help people manage sciatica and pain of any type.