Sciatica is a literal pain in the butt—one that 40 percent of people will experience at some point in their lives. If you’ve ever felt a sharp, shooting, pulsing, or throbbing pain anywhere down the back of your leg, from your glute to your foot, you know what I’m talking about.
Fortunately, there are stretches and exercises you can do to alleviate these telltale signs of sciatic nerve compression. In particular, physical therapist, Jacob VanDenMeerendonk, DPT, suggests doing sciatic nerve glides, which he recently demonstrated on his Instagram feed.
Why sciatic nerve glides are good for pain relief
Compression of the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and runs down both legs, is what causes the pain associated with sciatica. “The sciatic nerve is suppose to move and glide with the rest of the body, but sometimes it can get trapped or compressed somewhere along its pathway,” says Dr. VanDenMeerendonk.
So if someone is experiencing sciatic pain because of a nerve entrapment, freeing up this nerve will bring about relief—in some cases, instantly, he says.
How to tell if sciatic nerve glides are a good exercise for you
There are many paths to sciatica pain relief, but Dr. VanDenMeerendonk says sciatic nerve glides should be a go-to for anyone experiencing numbness and tingling into the back or side portions of the thigh down into the calf and outside of the foot. “Or, if someone feels pain into the low back/gluteal region that shoots down the back of the leg,” he says.
It’s not always easy to tell where pain is originating, so if you’re unsure, it’s best to seek professional attention. “There are tests that we can do externally in physical therapy that can identify the origin of the symptoms in order to prescribe the correct exercises,” says Dr. VanDenMeerendonk.
How to do sciatic nerve glides
Dr. VanDenMeerendonk says, “Doing this movement will begin to free up the nerve from its entrapment anywhere along its pathway.” What that means: oh so sweet relief.
Start lying on your back with you knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Grab the backside of the thigh of the leg you feel sciatic pain in and gently pull it into tabletop, so that your knee is over your hip.
Alternate between flexing your foot as you lower your heel toward your glute, and then pointing your toe as you extend your leg up toward the ceiling.
As a general rule, Dr. VanDenMeerendonk says to aim to do around 10 to 20 reps for two to three sets, twice daily. But how often you need to do it may change depending on the severity of your symptoms.
While Dr. VanDenMeerendonk says this exercise isn’t a “magic bullet” when it comes to alleviating sciatica, he does believe it’s something everyone who experiences the symptoms should know how to do, as it can often help (and fast).
But bear in mind: “There are also instances where this exercise will not improve the symptoms at all because the origin of the symptoms would require a different treatment,” he says. “It is always a good idea to get evaluated by a skilled physical therapist in person to properly diagnose the issue.“