Exercises to Relieve Sciatica and Low Back Pain

By Joseph Mercola, www.mercola.com
May 11, 2016 Updated: May 11, 2016

If you have back pain or sciatic nerve pain, you’re not alone. Globally, one out of 10 people suffers from lower back pain, and back pain is also the number one cause of job disability worldwide. 

The problem appears to be particularly prevalent in the US. According to estimates, as many as eight out of 10 Americans struggle with back pain, and this affliction has now become a primary cause of pain killer addiction.

Accidents and sports injuries tend to be among the most common causes of chronic back pain.

I was one of its victims because I failed to appreciate the dangers of excessive sitting and suffered with low back pain for many years. Now I firmly believe back pain can be successfully treated using a combination of posture-correcting exercises and strictly limiting sitting.

Sadly, opioid drugs are typically prescribed as a first line of treatment for back pain,not exercise, and these drugs have now surpassed both heroin and cocaine as the leading cause of fatal drug overdoses in the US. 

If you have back pain and suffer depression or anxiety you’re at even greater risk for opioid abuse and addiction, according to recent research. 

Common Back Pain Triggers

Understanding what may have triggered your back pain can help you avoid another episode, but many back pain sufferers tend to misidentify their triggers. According to recent research, about two-thirds of the patients blamed a specific incident on the day their pain began — most typically the lifting of a heavy load.

But lower back pain can actually be triggered days or weeks before any discomfort sets in, and rarely suspected triggers include alcohol consumption, sex, being distracted while performing physical tasks, and fatigue.

Accidents and sports injuries tend to be among the most common causes of chronic back pain. Poor posture, obesity, inactivity (especially chronic sitting), and stress can also increase your risk.

That said, while it can help you avoid a recurrence, it’s not essential to determine what triggered your pain in order to successfully address it.

What to Do When Back Pain Strikes

(shutterstock)
Applying ice can be helpful, as can getting acupuncture or chiropractic care. (shutterstock)

As reported by the Epoch Times, 75 to 80 percent of back pain cases will resolve on its own within two to four weeks, even without treatment. But you can certainly speed up your recovery. 

As an initial step, when pain suddenly strikes, try to relax both your back and your mind. Applying ice can be helpful, as can getting acupuncture or chiropractic care. 

In lieu of prescription painkillers, try some anti-inflammatory herbs instead: boswellia, curcumin, and ginger are a few examples. 

And, while many fail to consider this, addressing your emotions is another important component. Depression and anxiety tends to reduce or slow down your body’s innate capacity for self healing, so when pain strikes, it may be a sign that you’ve let emotional difficulties and stress go unaddressed for too long. 

Addressing Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatic nerve pain is another common problem, and it can be quite excruciating. Sciatica results when your sciatic nerve gets pinched in your lower back. The pain is typically felt as originating in your buttock, radiating down your thigh. 

Stretching exercises can help reduce sciatic pain. Your sciatic nerve runs through your piriformis, a muscle located deep in your glutes. If the piriformis gets too tight, it can impinge the sciatic nerve, causing pain, tingling, and numbness in your leg. Sometimes, stretching your piriformis may be enough to reduce the pain. Four exercises to try include the following. 

  1. Piriformis stretch
  2. Seated hip stretch
  3. Pigeon pose
  4. Self-trigger point therapy using a tennis ball or foam roller

The video below also illustrates a simple one-minute daily stretching routine that can help reduce sciatic pain stemming from an overly tight piriformis muscle in your buttocks.

Other Treatment Options for Sciatica

A related article in Prevention Magazine lists a number of other treatment alternatives for sciatica, including the following:

Chiropractic care In one 2010 study, 60 percent of people with sciatica who received chiropractic care three times a week for four weeks experienced the same degree of relief as those who ended up getting surgery 

Acupuncture Research published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that 17 out of 30 patients with sciatica experienced complete relief with acupuncture. You may need about a dozen treatment sessions to see improvement 

Yoga As reported in the featured article: “A study in the journal Pain reported that people with chronic back pain who practiced Iyengar yoga for 16 weeks saw pain reduced by 64 percent and disability by 77 percent. Although yoga’s effects on sciatica are less clear, gentle forms may be beneficial.”

Pilates A recent Spanish study found that older women with back pain can reduce their pain, improve balance, and reduce risk of falling by adding Pilates to their physiotherapy routine. All of the 100 women in the study received 40 minutes of nerve stimulation and 20 minutes of massage and stretching twice a week. Half of them also did one hour of Pilates twice a week. At the end of the six-week long study, those taking Pilates reported greater improvements.

Trigger point massage Trigger point therapy, where the therapist applies firm pressure to points on your piriformis, lower back muscles, and glutes, can help release the pressure and impingement on the sciatic nerve 

Topical preparations Anti-inflammatory oils and liniments can also be helpful. Examples include St. John’s wort oil and cayenne pepper cream. Apply to the painful area two to three times a day 

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