If you have sciatica, you may have never considered that your tight hamstrings might be a contributing factor. Tight hamstrings place increased stress on your lower back1 —which in turn may irritate your sciatic nerve.
Here are two easy hamstring stretches that may help alleviate your sciatica symptoms:
1. Towel hamstring stretch
The supine (lying down) hamstring stretch is relatively simple and gentle on your lower back. You will need a medium size towel or a yoga strap to perform this stretch.
- Lie on your back with your left leg flat on the ground and your right leg bent.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles while slowly lifting your right leg.
- Wrap a towel or yoga strap around the ball of your right foot. Hold the two ends of the strap with each hand.
- Gently push your right heel toward the ceiling as you straighten out your right leg. (Continue to keep your left leg against the ground).
- Once a comfortable stretch is felt, hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds (slowly work your way up to 30 seconds).
- If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, gently bend your left leg that was flat on the ground to a 90° angle at your knee, allowing your foot to rest flat on the ground. (This position will rotate your pelvis on that same side and minimize stress on your lower back by placing it flatter on the ground).
Release your right leg back to its original position. Switch legs and repeat at least 3 times per leg.
2. Wall hamstring stretch
If you don’t have a towel or yoga strap handy, try the wall hamstring stretch.
- Begin by lying flat on your back near the edge of a wall or couch.
- Keeping one leg on the floor, place your other leg against the wall or arm of the couch.
- Gently push your knee (as tolerated) so that the raised leg is as straight as tolerable.
- Try to achieve as close to a 90° angle at your hip as possible. If you are new to this stretch, you can slightly bend your knee—and work your way up to 90° over time.
- Hold the stretch for 5 to 10 seconds and gradually work your way up to 30 seconds.
- The same simple modification can be made as mentioned with the towel hamstring stretch to alleviate any lower back discomfort if present.
Lower your leg back to its original position and repeat the steps with your opposite leg. Aim to perform this stretch 3 times per leg.
It is advisable to start your stretching exercises slowly, especially if you’ve never tried them before. Also, check with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure that the exercises are suitable for your lower back and will not further aggravate your sciatica symptoms.