Doing your own exercises for relieving sciatica can make life worth living. Though some of the exercises are moderately painful, it'll be a welcome counter-irritant 'anything's better than that old pain' type of sweet pain. With working on it, then stopping and regrouping to let things recover - like advance and retreat in a battle - will bring about a gradual fading of that dreadful toothache in the leg that's been driving you crazy,
The main aim with treating acute sciatica is reducing the inflammation of the joint and dealing with engorgement around the nerve root. Apart from reducing the pain it stops the development of post inflammatory adhesions (see below).
Inflammation of the nerve itself is extremely painful. It will be red and weeping and painfully resistant to stretch, so the straight leg raise (SLR) will be markedly reduced. With early treatment it's often necessary to have anti-inflammatory drugs to help quell treatment reaction. Remember, nerves can react badly to treatment if you don't get the rate right!
Remember, acute sciatica rarely coincides with back pain. Though there may have been problems in the past, the usual story is the pain moving from back to leg. This doesn't mean you don't treat the back!
Exercises for relieving sciatica in the acute (severe) phase focus on nursing the back along gently to 'open it up'. You can read about this softening-unclenching process called 'spinal appeasing' in the pages exercises for back pain relief, never forgetting the exercises are noteworthy in their gentleness; almost non-exercises. Better still, watch the videos of Sarah showing you how it's done. Doing these exercise properly is critical. No thumping and crashing, no tugging and pulling, just easing and softening with tiny movements. Doing the exercises gently-and-minimally like this makes all the difference between success and failure .
Proper medication through the help of your local doctor plays an important role in managing acute sciatica. So you might like to read about medications for back pain to understand more about how the different drugs work: anti-inflammatories, painkillers and muscle relaxants.
1. Knees rocking exercises release the back from over-the-top muscle clenching, get a better circulation through the water-logged tissues and help disperse inflammation. There should be no sense of urgency doing these exercises. No racking up the numbers (or intensity), no jerking, no stretching. Just small amplitude softly-softly oscillations in mid-range, keep the rhythm going like rocking a baby to sleep in a pram. Think of it as a pump, not a stretch. And let your head float away as you enjoy the pressure of your back on the floor. This can be done morning, afternoon and evening (preferably before bed) continuing for up to 3-4 minutes each time.
2. Spinal rolling is an important spinal appeasing exercise for relieving sciatica. Once again, it's small amplitude movements, hovering or see-sawing on the part of your spine (often more painful) that feels like a flat patch in a wheel. This exercise breaks up the rigidity of the lower back but because you're balancing there, finely pivoting on the spot, it can be quite hard to keep going for more than a moment or two. It can be especially hard going for the front of the neck. Try to persevere for 2 minutes once per day, preferably in the evening before bed.
3. Preparatory sciatic nerve stretches get the leg used to the idea of tension on the nerve. These exercises for relieving sciatica involve taking the knee to the chest and then pushing the heel to the ceiling. You may be surprised how difficult this is for the bad side; the knee will be as crooked as a dog's hind leg and the leg will often tremble painfully. The idea is to gently push and release it straighter at the knee, coaxing the nerve free where it is bound to that joint capsule in the back. Again, nurse it free, don't tug it free as you push your heel towards the ceiling. Try to persevere for 2 minutes once per day, preferably in the evening before bed.
If acute facet joint arthropathy isn't treated properly it may go to to cause chronic sciatica. Pain through the leg often comes about with sitting - a nagging discomfort making it impossible to get comfortable. But chronic sciatica is not just a desk-sitter problem. Runners commonly complain of leg pain, although it's commonly mis-diagnosed as a pulled muscle, not a nerve problem.
The main focus of exercises to relieve sciatica in its chronic stage is breaking down and re-absorbing adhesions. These are stringy bits of human junk tissue that collect around the nerve after acute inflammation, gluing it to nearby bone and soft tissues.
All varieties of sciatica stretching exercises help to soften adhesions (so they can be reabsorbed by the blood stream) and float the nerve free. A normal healthy nerve pulls out of the spine like a strand of cooked spaghetti but with chronic sciatica, it's like the strand of spaghetti has stuck to the side of the pot. Chronic sciatica stretches aim to coax the nerve free, although there may be some temporary increase in sciatica symptoms as the nerve reacts to being pulled about. This is why the treatment again should be gentle easing, not frantic tugging.
You only start sciatica stretches once you're on the mend. But be careful. Though the leg may crave stretching, you can overdo things and set yourself back to square one.
1. Using a Tennis Ball or a Ma Roller is an ideal sciatica nerve treatment through mobilising a chronically inflamed facet joint. You can knot two balls in a pair of tights, or better still, use a pair of gloves or socks made into a squashy ball. The latter is softer and more accommodating and you can see this demonstrated in the video Lumbar Facet Syndrome
Depending on what you are using (Ma Roller, tennis ball or pair of socks) you will need to take this facet mobilisation exercise very carefully. Assuming you go for the easier option of the rolled up socks you would do this exercise for 2-3 minutes only 3 times per week. Using the tennis balls or Ma Roller use once only every 7-10 days for 1 minute only.
See here part two of short YouTube clip of Sarah showing you how to use the Ma Roller. This is quite punishing treatment and not for the faint-hearted. You can only use it once every 7-10 days, and then not for too long. You can buy a Ma Roller here.
2. Floor Twists are really effective at drawing the nerve roots through the sides of the lumbar spine. The emphasis should be on trying to get the leg straight at the knee of the uppermost leg, rather than holding the toes. You can read about this exercise in Chapter 7 of The Back Sufferers' Bible. Better still, watch them being done properly in the back pain treatment videos where you will see it explained again by Sarah and how to get it right.
It is more important to get the leg straight at the knee than to catch hold of the toes. So if you are a long way off, it's better to hold behind the left calf with the right hand (as shown in this picture) and then try to straighten the knee. This will mean that the that the leg doesn't come quite so far up towards the right shoulder. Once you are in position, try to lever the upper body back so that the left shoulder is closer to lying flat on the floor and vice versa.
Do this exercise twice to each side, holding for 1-2 minutes only. Ideally, this exercise is always done before doing the BackBlock (.see below)
3. Using The BackBlock is one of the best exercises for relieving sciatica. The passive hyper-extension in the supine position with the block under the sacrum creates a distractive force that pulls the spinal segments apart. Done properly it consists of 3 steps that create pressure changes to suck nutrients in and out of the discs, reduce soft tissue swelling, evacuate stale inflammatory products, and slide or 'floss' the nerve root to keep it free. If you have chronic sciatica, it's common to get tingling in the toes when you are in position on the block although this usually diminishes with each repeat of the block. Always do the BackBlock in the evening when the spine is most compressed. Do the 3 steps every time: BackBlock for 60 seconds, rocking the knees for 1-2 minutes followed by 15 reverse curl-ups and repeat the 3 steps twice more.
It's important to read all about this important spinal treatment regime in the pages do your own spinal decompression using a BackBlock. Or, if you have the time you should watch the complete video package to see Sarah explaining what happens to compress the spine and create the sciatica in the first place.
You can't beat a BackBlock for getting rid of chronic sciatica!
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