Sciatica is something that is quite common in horse riders and it refers to pain radiating down the path of the sciatic nerve which branches down from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down through each leg. While there are a number of different causes, there are some stretches that can help sooth the intensity of the issue.
What Causes Sciatica
Sciatica can be caused by prolonged sitting, carrying heavy loads, obesity, age, and diabetes. Stretching is a great way to help in both treatment and prevention of sciatica and these poses, in particular, may help relieve nerve root compression. The reason it can be so common in riders is due the pressure that is applied to the region surrounding the sciatic nerve when in the saddle. This means that virtually any seated activity can prove to be painful and cause flare ups. However when you add the rising and movement that is created in the saddle, sometimes it can aggrevate an already existing issue.
Now these stretches certainly aren’t a magic bullet, nor do I want to suggest that they will work for all sciatic cases and that every body should do them. Its definitely important that you treat sciatica with care, but understand that prevention is the best medicine and keeping your hips mobile and active will help and you may find these stretches are useful to do before and after a ride to really help prevent any flareups happening from being in the saddle.
In the video I demonstrate each of the exercises, do it along side with me and look at for the adjustments to suit. Then try and do this series as a circuit as often as you can as a great prevention.
Childs Pose With Hands Back
This is great for loosening up the lower back and glutes.
Start by kneeling on the floor and slide your knees wide while drawing your feet together. Then fold your upper body down over your thighs and let the head rest on the floor. Let your hands rest down by your thighs on the floor and breath here for 30 – 60 seconds.
This pose helps to stretch tight hip flexors while strengthening your glutes.
Lying on your back, slide you feet in close to your bottom and lift up your hips by engaging your glutes. Let your hands rest on the floor and lengthen the back of your neck. Aim to hold this for 30 seconds.
This helps alleviate tightness and pinching of the sciatic nerve through the release of the lower back, glutes, and hips.
Come around into a pigeon pose, with both legs bent at 90 degrees. Position one leg bent in front and the other leg straight behind you. Turn your body around to face the ground and lower yourself down over your front leg onto your forearms. If the stretch is too deep, you can bend or straighten your back leg. Rather than lower yourself to the ground, you can bring yourself up higher with your arms straight.
Key Hole Stretch
This stretch relieves compression of the sciatic nerve by stretching the glutes, piriformis, and the lower back.
Lying on your back with your legs straight, bring one knee into your chest. Taking hold of your ankle, pull your leg towards to the opposite side. As you do so, you’ll feel a stretch in through your bottom. If the stretch is too deep, bending your straight leg may help make the stretch more comfortable for you. If you wish to intensify the stretch, bend your straight leg and place your heel on this thigh. Holding this knee, pull your legs toward you, deepening the stretch.
This stretch relieves compression of the lower back and hips.
Sitting on the floor, bring both of your feet together in front of you and join the soles of your feet together. Have your feet further away for less intensity and closer for more. Then using your elbows gently press your thighs down to open up your hips more.
Single leg hamstring stretch
This pose relieves tightness in the hips and glutes while also opening up the hamstrings.
Sitting on the floor extend one leg out straight and bend the other to your groin. Then reach towards your long leg and let your body fold forward in that direction. Hold here for 30 – 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Crossed ankle forward fold
Relieves tension in the lower back, hamstrings, tensor fascia latae, and gluteus medius
Standing tall, cross your right leg in front of your left and tip forward from your hips. As you do this try and press through both big toes to flatten your feet on the floor. Hold this stretch for 30 – 60 seconds.
Helps loosen up the lower back and glutes.
Remaining on your back, take one knee over your body. Turn your gaze to the opposite direction and stretch out your arm. Allow yourself to sink down as your body eases into the stretch. If you wish to intensify the stretch, you can straighten the leg crossing over your body.
Helps relieve tension through the lower back and glutes while also getting into ITB.
Sitting up, tuck one leg underneath you and cross the other over the top. As you hug your knee, twist your upper body right around to the back. Ensure both seat bones are down as you rotate your spine. Your back hand can be used as a support to keep your body lifted and your spine supported and straight. If the stretch is too challenging, you can straighten your leg out while crossing the other over.
So there are some great stretches you can try to help soothe your sciatica or prevent it from coming back. Not all sciatica is created equal, so do listen to your body and prevention is the best medicine. The more you take care of your hips and keep them supple the better they will be.
For more stretches, exercises and information to help you take your rider fitness to the next level, check out our 12 week Dressage Rider Training Program, and download our free guide.