When sciatica flares up—you know, the searing pain, tingling, or numbness that shoots from your low back to one of your legs—you’ll do just about anything to find relief. That’s why these simple stretches are so handy: They can help take pressure off your sciatic nerve without having to even get out of bed. The routines below, developed by Jennifer Howe, MPT, CMPT, a teaching associate for the University of Washington’s physical therapy department, target one of the three main causes of sciatica: herniated disc (a bulge in the cushioning between the bones in your spinal column), bone degeneration (irregularities in your vertebrae), or tight hip muscles.
If you’re unsure what’s triggering your sciatica, try all three routines and note which one helps the most. For the best results, do your stretches daily before you get out of bed in the morning, or at night before you fall asleep. If you’d prefer, you can also do these stretches on the floor.
Herniated disc? The following two stretches help create distance between the bulging discs in the spine, taking pressure off the sciatic nerve.
1. Press up
Start on your stomach with your elbows positioned directly under your shoulders and your forearms flat on the bed, parallel to one another. Lift your chest and extend through the spine from your tailbone to the top of your neck; allow your back to arch. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 repetition, breathing deeply. If the pain in your legs lessens, do 2 more reps and then move on to the next stretch in this sequence. If you don’t feel relief, skip the next move and try the routine for sciatica related to bone degeneration.
2. Press up Extension
Lie face down with your hands flat, next to your shoulders. Press your palms into the bed to lift your upper body up, keeping hips and pelvis rooted to the bed. Extend through the spine from the tailbone to the neck, allowing your back to arch. Stop lifting your chest if you feel any pressure in your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds, then slowly lower back to the start position for one rep. Do 10 reps for 1 set; do 3 sets total.
Bone degeneration? These moves help create space between your vertebrae so they’re less likely to pinch your sciatic nerve.
3. Knees to Chest
Lie on your back and slowly hug your knees to your chest, allowing your low back to round. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 rep. If this stretch lessens the pain in your legs, do 3 reps and then move on to the next stretch. If not, try the next routine for tight hip muscles.
4. Posterior Pelvic Tilt
Lie face up on the bed with your knees bent and feet flat. Draw abdominals in to flatten lower back into the bed. Hold for 5 seconds, then return to start position for 1 repetition. Do 10 reps.
Tight hip muscles? These stretches can loosen muscles in the hips that may be pressing on the sciatic nerve.
5. Knee to Opposite Shoulder
Lie on your back with legs extended, feet flexed. Lift your right leg and clasp your hands behind the knee. Gently pull your right knee across your body and toward your left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 rep. Do 3 reps. Switch legs and repeat.
6. Figure 4 Stretch
Lie on your back with bent knees, feet flat on bed. Cross your right ankle over your left knee (in the shape of a “4”). Grasp your hands behind your left knee and gently pull your legs toward chest as you press right knee away from your chest. Hold for 30 seconds for 1 rep. Do 3 reps. Switch legs and repeat.