Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
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Posts for: January, 2019

Stretching and exercise can help relieve compression on the sciatic nerve root, which leads to sciatica pain. However, many stretches and exercises are too challenging for older adults. Here are 4 effective stretches and exercises that are gentle on the body and easy to perform—and most importantly, can help ease your sciatica pain.

Image of a senior woman doing a hamstring stretch for sciatic pain

Sciatica exercises help to reduce current sciatica pain and provide conditioning to prevent future recurrences. Read Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

Pelvic tilt

While this stretch works better on a yoga mat, you can perform it on a firm mattress if that’s easier for you.

  1. To begin, lie on your back. Bend your knees so both feet are flat on the surface with toes pointed forward.
  2. Pull your belly button in so your pelvis pushes toward the ceiling and your back flattens against the surface.
  3. Hold this position for 20 seconds, and then relax. Try to do this stretch 10 times.

Watch: Sciatica Exercises for Spinal Stenosis Video

Be sure to rely on your core muscles—and not to push with your legs—when you tilt your pelvis.

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The bridge is an exercise similar to the pelvic tilt.

  1. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the surface.
  2. Slowly lift your buttocks up, pushing through your heels as you raise your pelvis toward the ceiling.
  3. When your thighs and torso align, hold this stretch for 8 to 10 seconds (less if you’re just starting out), then slowly lower back down to starting position.

View Slideshow: 9 Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

As your strength develops, work toward the goal of completing 2 sets of 10 bridges.

Seated hamstring stretch

Image of three people doing the seated hamstring stretch for sciatica pain

Increasing the flexibility at the back of your legs can help ease and prevent sciatica pain.
 Seated Chair Hamstring Stretch for Sciatica Relief Video 

Tight hamstrings can worsen sciatica pain. Increasing the flexibility at the back of your legs can help ease—and further prevent—the pain. You can do this stretch while seated in a chair:

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair with 1 foot flat on the floor. Extend the other leg straight out in front of you with the heel on the ground and toes flexed up.
  2. Keeping your upper back straight, lean forward in your seat until you feel a gentle stretch behind your leg.
  3. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and then return to starting position. Work up to completing 3 repetitions.

Stretching your hamstring muscles is one of the most effective and simple steps you can take for managing sciatica pain.

See Hamstring Stretching Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

Prone leg raise

The prone leg raise is a stabilizing exercise that is particularly helpful for people with sciatica pain from degenerative disc disease.

  1. Lie prone, flat on your stomach, either on a yoga mat or the surface of a mattress. Rest your face on your folded arms in front of you.
  2. Tighten your lower stomach muscles.
  3. Raise a leg behind you, bending your knee slightly and without arching your back or neck. Your leg should be at a low level and does not have to come far off the ground.
  4. Hold for about 5 seconds, then slowly lower to starting position.

Watch: Sciatica Exercises for Degenerative Disc Disease Video

As your strength builds, try to do 2 sets of 10 leg raises.

The above stretches and exercises won’t alleviate sciatica pain for everyone. But they are worth trying and discussing with your doctor or physical therapist.

Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

Learn more:

What You Need to Know About Sciatica

Sciatica Treatment

One good way to support and protect your lumbar spine  is to strengthen your lower back and core muscles. A physical therapist or spine specialist can recommend exercises that address your specific condition. Here are two exercises that may be suggested as part of your treatment program:

Image of woman walking on the treadmill to relieve back pain

Regular exercise alleviates back stiffness and release endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers.
 Exercise and Back Pain

Arm/leg raises

Arm/leg raises help build resilience in your lower back muscles. You can practice this exercise while lying on your stomach.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your chin or forehead to the ground (you can use a towel underneath). Keep your legs straight and arms extended overhead.
  2. Slowly raise one arm off the ground, hold for a moment, and lower it back to the ground.
  3. Now repeat this for your other arm and legs, 5 repetitions each.

You may prefer to perform a similar, alternative exercise on your hands and knees. This option requires a bit more balance.

Image of woman performing bird dog pose for lower back pain

The bird dog pose can help to build resistance in your lower back.

  1. Get on your hands and knees. Keep your spine straight, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees aligned directly under your hips.
  2. Reach out with 1 arm and keep it straight and level. At the same time, extend the leg on your opposite side, keeping it straight and level.
  3. Hold for a few deep breaths, then gently lower your arm and leg to starting position.
  4. Repeat this exercise with your other arm/leg. Try for 3 to 5 repetitions on each side.

Watch Video: 5 Best Sacroiliac Joint Pain Exercises

In yoga, this exercise is called the bird-dog pose.

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Hook-lying march

Image of woman performing hook lying march exercise for lower back pain

The hook-lying march exercise helps to take pressure off the spinal discs.

The hook-lying march is an example of a lumbar stabilization exercise. It’s a great way to strengthen your lower back and core muscles, taking pressure off your spinal discs.

  1. Lie on your back with your arms at your side, knees bent, and feet planted flat on the ground.
  2. Tighten your stomach muscles and think about pulling your belly button in toward your spine. This will help flatten your lower back against the ground. Maintain this position throughout the exercise.
  3. Alternate slowly raising each leg 3 or 4 inches off the ground and holding for a brief moment. It should look like you’re marching.
  4. Do this exercise for 30 seconds, and aim to complete 2 or 3 sets.

See Core Body Strength Exercises

There are more advanced exercises you can perform from this position, but the hook-lying march is a good place to start, especially if you’re recovering from an injury or back surgery.

See Guide to Physical Therapy After Spinal Fusion

Tips for lower back exercises

Keep these pointers in mind when you do your lower back exercises:

See How a Physical Therapist Can Help with Exercise

See Stretching for Back Pain Relief

  • Talk to a doctor or physical therapist first. These health care providers can show you which exercises work best for your unique situation. They can also help you practice the correct technique for each exercise to prevent injury.
  • Supplement your lower back exercises. You may want to incorporate gentle stretching and low-impact aerobics into your treatment program. These activities are important for flexibility and conditioning.
  • Listen to your body. You may feel sore for a couple days after exercising, especially if you’re new to it. But if you feel pain during these exercises, stop immediately. Don’t push through the pain, schedule a doctor appointment instead. Either the exercise isn’t right for you, or your form is incorrect, which can aggravate the pain.

There are a number of exercises you can do to build lower back strength, so be sure to meet with your doctor about which ones best suit your condition.

Learn more:

Easy Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief

Strengthening Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief

New Year’s is the perfect time to make lifestyle changes to reduce your chronic pain. It can be difficult to stick to vague, lofty goals. Instead, resolve to build specific, realistic habits into your daily routine. Here are 4 concrete resolutions to help you experience improved health and pain relief:

See Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

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1. Walk 10,000 steps a day

Image of an unknown person walking on the sidewalk

Follow these 2 tips to prevent pain while walking. Watch Video: 2 Walking Tips to Avoid Sciatica Pain

Low-impact aerobic exercise is thought to reduce inflammation, strengthen muscles, and provide healing by sending oxygen-rich blood to painful areas. The easiest way to begin is to walk. Here are some ways you can easily incorporate this habit into your everyday life:

See Guidelines for Buying Walking Shoes

See Techniques for Effective Exercise Walking

  • Invest in a pair of walking shoes that you find comfortable and supportive.
  • Buy a pedometer so you can track your steps. A popular challenge for many people is taking 10,000 steps each day, but you can do more or less depending on your current fitness level.
  • Walk everywhere you can: around your block, to the train, throughout the shopping mall, in the office parking lot during your lunch break.
  • Team up with an accountability partner who has the same step goal. Make a game out of it, seeing who can take the most steps each day.

If walking is difficult for you, consider purchasing a cane or trekking poles.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

2. Make your bedroom a no-screen zone

Image of a man checking his cellphone in bed

Chronic pain can disrupt sleep, which will, in turn, exacerbate pain. Kicking screens out of your bedroom can increase your chances of getting good sleep. Read: Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle

People with painful back or neck conditions often sleep poorly, and poor sleep can make the pain worse.

If you want to increase your chances of getting good sleep, kick screens out of your bedroom. Smart phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens distract and stimulate you. By using these devices in bed, you make it more difficult for your body to recognize that it’s time to sleep. Break the habit and try these tips:

  • Set your phone on airplane mode and keep it out of arm’s reach. Decide ahead of time that you won’t use your phone while it’s in the bedroom.
  • Keep a physical book or magazine on your nightstand. If you need to engage your mind with something while in bed, these options are great since they don’t emit a bright glow or provide distracting Internet access.

See Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

After a while, you may notice that refraining from screen use in your bedroom helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.

See 11 Unconventional Sleep Tips: How to Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep

3. Bring a water bottle everywhere with you

Illustration of two water bottles and two toothbrushes in a cup

Drinking enough water is vital to keeping your spine healthy. 
 Video: How Much Water Do I Need to Drink?

Staying properly hydrated is important for the health of your spine, as your intervertebral discs are mostly made up of water. Drinking water also allows nutrients to flow properly and helps with joint and organ maintenance.

  • Take your body weight (in pounds) and divide that number by 2. This number is about how many ounces of water you should drink each day.
  • Purchase a durable and easily transportable water bottle to help you reach your daily water intake. Read reviews to help determine which water bottle suits you best.
  • If you prefer more flavorful beverages, get a water bottle with a built-in fruit infuser. This option allows for deliciously flavored water that’s still healthy for you.

Another upside of drinking a lot of water is that it makes it easier for you to reduce your consumption of soda and alcohol—both of which can negatively affect your health.

See Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back

4. Set a tobacco quit date

Image of a person cutting cigarettes with scissors

Studies show that smoking history is associated with the development of low back pain.
 Does Smoking Cause Low Back Pain?

People who smoke experience pain more frequently than people who don’t smoke. And nicotine kills cells that help with bone growth. Quitting smoking is a difficult challenge, but it’s worth it if you want to enjoy a healthier spine. Consider these ideas:

  • Set a quit-date and stick to it. Share the date with friends and family, so you're more committed to that date and they can help hold you accountable.
  • If you associate other habits with smoking, replace those habits with new ones. For example, if you typically enjoy coffee while smoking every morning, start drinking tea instead.
  • Consider using medications to help curb your nicotine cravings, such as Zyban or Chantix.
  • For the first few weeks of not smoking, limit your exposure to other people you know who smoke.

See Ways to Quit Smoking

Add at least one of these tips to your list of New Year’s resolutions and see if you enjoy a healthier and happier 2019.

Learn more:

Walking Shoes for Exercise Walking

Quitting Smoking: A Must for People with Back Pain Video

Correct posture is a simple but very important way to keep the many intricate structures in the back and spine healthy. It is much more than cosmetic - good posture and back support are critical to reducing the incidence and levels of back pain and neck pain. Back support is especially important for patients who spend many hours sitting in an office chair or standing throughout the day.

Practicing proper sitting posture is a vital part of preventing neck and back pain. Watch: Video: 6 Tips to Improve Posture While Sitting

A stiff back can make it difficult to complete even the simplest tasks. So of course you want to figure out what is causing it, as this can help you find the right course of treatment.

Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease

Watch: Back pain accompanied by unexplained weight loss requires immediate medical attention. Read: Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

1. Tight hamstrings

Your hamstrings run through the back of each of your thighs. These large and powerful muscles can become tight for a number of reasons, including physical inactivity or a lack of stretching before and/or after working out.

See Easy Hamstring Stretches

You may be surprised to learn that tight hamstrings limit the motion in your pelvis, which in turn can increase the stress on your lower back and cause stiffness. Conversely, targeted hamstring stretching can gradually lengthen your hamstrings, and thereby relieve lower back stiffness.

However, in certain cases it is possible for severe episodes of lower back pain caused by lumbar degenerative disc disease to last from anywhere between a few days and a few months.

See Specific Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain Relief

2. Poor sitting posture

The majority of us spend over 8 hours per day sitting down. And all this time sitting can take its toll on our lower backs if we are not diligent in regards to our sitting posture.

See Posture to Straighten Your Back

Common sitting posture mistakes include:

  • Sitting on the edge of your chair
  • Hunching forward towards your computer (not utilizing the lumbar support of your chair)
  • Staring down and/or up at your computer screen

See  Identifying Incorrect Posture

Some of the possible negative effects of these posture mistakes including the following:

  • Strain on your lower back muscles
  • Stress on your lumbar spine
  • Changes to the anatomical structures of your spine over the long term (this can result in problems with your nerves, discs, or joints in your lower back).

See Good Posture Helps Reduce Back Pain

3. Lumbar Herniated Disc

Often as a result of wear and tear, the outer ring of one of your lumbar discs may bugle or crack. This in turn can lead to lower back pain and stiffness when the gel-like inner material leaks out (or herniates) and affects nearby nerve roots. Or you may experience symptoms in the disc space itself.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: Causes and Risk Factors

Stiffness and other symptoms in your lower back from a lumbar herniated disc are often aggravated by movement. For example, you might feel more pain after you get up following a prolonged period of sitting (or perhaps following a laugh or sneeze). Additionally, hunching forward may also intensify your symptoms

See Lumbar Herniated Disc Symptoms

4. Facet joint osteoarthritis can lead to back stiffness

If you have lower back stiffness that is worse first thing in the morning and later in the evening, it may be caused by facet joint osteoarthritis.

See Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Osteoarthritis can lead to back stiffness by causing the cartilage to breakdown between the facet joints in your lower back. As a result, your joints create more friction between one another, and as this limits your motion you often get stiffer and experience more back pain. This cause of back stiffness is most likely to occur in patients over 60 years old.

See Symptoms of Arthritis of the Spine

Don't become complacent when it comes to your stiff back, as ignoring the problem may only make it worse. Instead, work in tandem with your doctor to identify the cause and solution to your stiff-back problems.