If you search “sciatica exercises” you might see some programs say that bending forward is great for sciatica, but then a few articles later, you might read that “exact stretch” is terrible for sciatica pain. This is confusing and frustrating. This brings up the question, is forward bending, or “flexion” good for sciatica? My answer to this is “it depends”. The benefit of forward bending is dependent on the cause of sciatica pain in the first place.
If your sciatica pain is related to arthritis and “narrowing” of the foramen, or openings of the spine for the nerve, then forward bending could be helpful. As a result, every time the spine flexes forward, it opens up these areas to allow the sciatic nerve to move more freely. What would a forward bend stretch look like? It would be something like this. But we do also need to consider the function/anatomy of the discs in the spine.
If your pain is caused by a herniated disc, then forward bending may not be the best option. If we are to look at how the disc functions in the spine, forward bending may actually worsen the bulge and put more pressure on the sciatic nerve. But this is also very dependent on the direction of the herniation.
These two conditions can also be present at the same time which can be very confusing and frustrating. We can get confirmation of these changes in the spine via an MRI which can assess soft tissues and bones.
But the ultimate test to see if forward bending is going to help out with the pain is seeing how your body responds to the movement. If the pain improves, then it could be a great stretch for you. If the pain worsens, then it might not be the best for now.
Pain relief doesn’t need to be complicated. The great news is that you are the best advocate for your relief.