First, what causes sciatic nerve pain?
The immediate cause of sciatic nerve pain is tension in the hip flexor muscles (the muscles responsible for flexing your hip joint or bringing your leg up toward your body) particularly the psoas major. The sciatic nerve bifricates (splits) at the the back of pelvis and runs right under the psoas major on the front of both legs. When the psoas major is tense, it presses on or pinches the sciatic nerve and you may experience referred pain radiating through the buttocks and even down and around the leg where the nerve runs.
But the root cause of sciatic nerve pain is something very different! What makes the hip flexor muscles tense? For one, sitting plays a big role because when we sit we put the hip flexors in a folded and crunched up position for unnatural lengths of time. This of course creates tension in these muscle groups. However, there’s another chronic cause of tense hip flexors: tight hamstrings.
When the hamstrings are tight and stiff with an accumulation of dense fascia, they won’t shorten or contract and do their job in your body of holding you upright. Instead they push your pelvis up into a flexed position and tilt your whole body forward. You may try to hold yourself up with your shoulders, but ultimately the muscles on the front of the hips bare the weight of your torso… something they are not designed to do. This causes strain and tension in those muscle groups and a common symptom is sciatic nerve pain. Now let’s answer the question, “How do I get rid of sciatic nerve pain?”
Stretches to remove and provide relief from sciatic nerve pain.
For an immediate treatment to sciatic nerve pain we recommend resistance stretches for the hip flexor muscles (Psoas Major and Rectus Femorus). Stretching these muscles with resistance will remove some of the built up tension and take the pressure off of the sciatic nerve - without over stretching or causing more strain.
Exercises to avoid for sciatic nerve pain are passive stretching and strengthening (sit ups, squats, leg lifts) of the hip flexor muscles. This muscle group is already in a tense and strained state. Passively lengthening it as is done in traditional stretching will aggravate the strain and actively strengthening it will also increase strain.
For a long term solution to sciatic nerve pain, regular stretches for the hamstring muscles, particularly the central hamstring (Semi Tendinonis) are recommended. Stretching the central hamstring with resistance and tension to remove the accumulation of dense fascia will allow this muscle to shorten, the pelvis to extend and remove the symptom of tension in the hip flexors and sciatic nerve pain.
People often ask us, “how long does it take to find relief from sciatic nerve pain?” Resistance stretches for the hip flexors can give you immediate relief. However, for a long term solution you will need to change the dense fascia that has accumulated over the course of years in your hamstrings. This requires a consistent, regular resistance stretching practice.