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sciatic nerve image © Sebastian Kaulitzki – fotolia.com; other images – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUOb0qA_w3I
It is estimated that 5-10%  of people suffering from lower back pain have sciatica, resulting from compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. Luckily, a variety of quick and easy exercises exist that can help to relieve the resulting pain.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a general phrase for pain related to the sciatic nerve. This is the longest nerve in the body, running from the back of the pelvis to the foot. When compressed or otherwise irritated, this can result in considerable pain or discomfort. 
Key symptoms of sciatica include:
• Constant pain in one buttock and leg
• Worsening of pain when sitting
• Burning or tingling pain, rather than an ache
• In extreme cases, loss of bladder/bowel control
Though the pain in sciatica radiates from the lower back, it typically affects the leg more. Lower back pain itself is a distinct affliction  that can occur individually or alongside sciatica. Both can wreck havoc with day to day activities, even if only experienced for a few days.
What causes sciatica and back pain?
There are various causes of sciatica: 
• Slipped disc. (90% of cases )
• Spinal stenosis (narrowing of passage for spinal cord).
• Spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebrae).
• Less commonly: spinal infections, direct injuries, tumours, or cauda equine syndrome.
A common theme of these causes is that they result from back problems. It may not be possible to entirely prevent sciatica. However, you can reduce the likelihood of both back pain and sciatica by:
• Maintaining correct posture (both seated and standing).
• Using correct lifting technique.
• Configuring car driving position to support the lower back.
• Sleeping on a firm mattress.
• Exercising regularly to maintain back muscles.
6 Of The Best Exercises For Sciatica And Lower Back Pain
Gently stretching the back and legs can help to relieve both sciatica and associated back pain. Here is a simple exercise routine that can easily be done at home and fitted around a busy schedule.
1: Knee to chest stretch: – Start by lying on your back with knees bent at 90o and feet flat to the floor. Wrap both hands around one knee and pull it gently in to your chest, holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then switch to the other leg.
2: Gluteal stretch – Stay in the same starting position. Lift your left leg and rest the ankle on the right thigh. Hook both hands around the right thigh and pull it towards you for 20-30 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times, then switch legs.
3: Knee lifts – Still in the same position, lay your arms flat by your sides. Keeping your lower back flat to the ground, lift your legs until the heels are around a foot off the ground then lower them again in a controlled fashion. Repeat 5 times.
4: Hamstring stretch – Sit on the floor with your back straight and your legs outstretched and about a hand’s width apart. Breathe in, and on the exhale, lean forwards rotating from the hips, reaching with your hands for your toes. Keep the back straight: think about pushing your collarbone towards your feet rather than slumping. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then sit back up.
5: Back Extensions – Lie face down, with the flat of the feet against the floor. Rest your forearms on the ground with your elbows alongside your body and you fingertips at about eye level. Push down on your hands to arch your back. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then lower back to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
6: Piriformis Stretch – This targets the hip rotators. Laying on your back, bend your knees by bringing your heels toward your buttocks. Then cross one leg over the other, resting your ankle near your know and use your muscles to bring the knee out. You will bend both of the knees and use your muscles to bring the knee out. Don’t overdo it, but aim for a light stretch in the hip area. When you feel that light stretch, hold it for 20 seconds. Then switch to the other side and hold that for 20 seconds. You can get a deeper stretch by pushing your leg out more.
Here’s the video that inspired this post:
Here’s a further video demonstrating some great stretches for back pain relief:
Also try: Hockey ball massage – Using a hockey ball (or similar), target areas of pain or tension in the buttocks by placing the ball under the point of pain and resting body weight on it for 30-60 seconds.
Safety note: Always consult a physiotherapist or other qualified medical professional regarding severe pain. It is advised you do this before undertaking exercises to aid sciatica.
 B. Koes, M. van Tulder and W. Peul, “Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica,” BMJ, 2007. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1895638/
 NHS, “NHS Choices: Sciatica” http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sciatica/Pages/Introduction.aspx
 NHS, “NHS Choices: Back pain” http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Back-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx
 R. Miller, “Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief” http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/exercise/sciatica-exercises-sciatica-pain-relief
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