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Sciatica Exercises: What’s Best and What to Avoid

Radiating pain from sciatica can be tough to manage as it can put a stop to your routine life. Unlike other injuries or forms of pain, sciatica pain does not get better with rest. It can be better managed with stretches and exercises that are designed to ease the pressure on the sciatic nerve and muscles and restore mobility. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Eric Freeman at Redefine Healthcare if you suspect sciatic nerve compression to learn which exercises are best for you at this time. He also helps you understand what movements aggravate sciatica pain and which exercises you should avoid for preventing your condition from worsening.  

Sciatica refers to pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg caused by an injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve. The original pain comes from a compressed nerve somewhere in the lower spine region due to a herniated disc, overgrowth of a herniated disc, or a tumor or injury.

Specific stretches and exercises that target the lower back and lumbar spine can reduce pain in the back, hips, and outer leg caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. At the same time, some exercises can make the sciatic symptoms worse.

Sciatica and Exercise

According to healthcare experts, there are several ways to relieve sciatica pain. Stretching, low-impact activities, and yoga can help alleviate debilitating pain. It would not be wrong to say that exercise is the main component of non-invasive treatment for sciatica. However, you must first learn the safest positions to start with that deliver desired results.


Unlike other forms of injury, sciatica pain may improve with training rather than rest. In addition to this, continuing the exercises after the pain goes away may prevent it from returning.

Can Sciatica Exercises Relieve Nerve Pain?

Sciatica may get better on its own, but it takes time. Gentle stretches and exercises speed up the healing process and help you feel better. Stretching can loosen lower back muscles that can seize as a result of injury. They are also effective if you have been inactive for a long time, have gained a lot of weight, or carrying extra weight due to pregnancy.

The recommended stretches for relieving sciatica pain are all done on the floor, lying on your back. The only equipment you will need is a belt.

Rules for Proper Sciatica Stretches

There are certain rules you should follow to avail the benefits of gentle stretching for sciatica:

  • Always warm up with light aerobic activity before stretching to let the blood flow through the lower back muscles
  • Avoid stretches that rotate the torso or require you to bend forward.
  • Do not force a stretch. If you feel resistance, stop pushing.
  • If you feel the muscle tensing up, stop. Relax the muscle and try again.
  • If you are feeling pain during a particular stretch, it is time to stop.
  • Never stretch cold muscles. If you cannot do warm-up exercises, apply moist heat for 15 to 20 minutes before stretching.

Keeping these rules in mind and following them will help you avoid further pain, and you will be on the right path to staying safe while exercising and benefit from them.

Specific stretching exercises you should try out first include:

  • Single knee to the chest
  • Piriformis stretches
  • Supine hamstring stretches
  • Double knee to the chest stretches

When done right, these stretches are effective and prepare you for the intended activity in the most pain-free manner.

Best Sciatica Exercises

Low-impact, usually cardio exercises are the best and the safest when it comes to easing sciatica pain.

The most common and effective options include:

  • Riding a stationary bike
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Running (avoid running on hard terrain as it can cause excruciating pain to someone in your position).

It is essential to understand that it is not just about the nature of the exercises but the intensity too. These exercises boost the durability and flexibility of that area and help you with the issues you are facing.

The exercises include:

  • Bridge
  • Modified plank
  • Pelvic tilt

These are safe and simple exercises. They are also referred to as sciatica exercises in bed. Most of these exercises can be practiced in bed, ideally before you get up in the morning. These movements function to increase strength and flexibility in your muscles. Furthermore, exercise also causes your body to release endorphins, hormones that interact with pain receptors in the brain and reduce the perception of pain.

If exercise increases your pain or causes nerve-related symptoms such as weakness, tingling sensation, or numbness, stop and call your doctor immediately.

Sciatica Exercise That Should Be Avoided

Staying active can lose the tight muscles and help you feel better. However, certain exercises and activities can exert pressure on the lower back, hips, and thighs and further aggravate your sciatica pain or cause injury to the sciatic nerve. It is essential to stay away from such physical activities that can impact your sciatica negatively, and aggravate your pain.

Some exercises that you should avoid like plague include:

  • Lifting both legs off the ground
  • High impact training
  • Squatting
  • Twisting or rotating the torso
  • Bending forward with straight legs

The worst exercises for sciatica are:

  • Double leg lift
  • Leg circles
  • Bent-over row
  • Forward bends

Any activity that puts extra pressure on the lower back can worsen sciatica. You should avoid high-impact activities if you have sciatica. While it is hard to stretch properly without some of these exercises, not doing them right can lead to intense sciatica nerve pain.

When to Seek Medical Help for Sciatica?

Exercises and stretches are a safe and effective way to take pressure off the sciatic nerve and relieve sciatica pain, but they do not offer a long-term solution. If your sciatica pain persists for more than a few weeks, you are not getting better on your own, or your current pain level is transitioning into something much worse, seek immediate medical attention.

Sciatica exercises can help, but they cannot resolve the issue. As the issue progresses, they will get less and less effective, and you will have to bear more pain. The specialist will perform a physical examination and may also suggest imaging tests, including x-rays, CT, and MRI scans to identify the causes of sciatica pain.  Based on the diagnosis, he recommends the best treatment methods, including exercises and stretches, and preventative care to ensure you live a pain-free life.

Read more:
Everything You Need to Know About Upper Right Back Pain and Its Possible Causes
A Common Cause of Knee and Hip Pain and How to Treat It

The doctor may also combine sciatica exercises with other methods of pain relief for maximum benefit. What you do before and after the activity also makes a difference. Learning proper stretches, cooling the area after you are done, and knowing how to avoid making things worse is critical for preventing further injury. The only thing to do in this regard is to consult a sciatica specialist for the best guidance.

Consult Dr. Freeman to know more about sciatica pain, its causes, and the treatment options that can ease your discomfort. He is a pain management and rehabilitation specialist and understands how sciatica pain can affect your range of motion and normal life. He recommends the most effective exercises and stretches that ease the pressure on the sciatic nerve and help you feel better. With proper knowledge of the don’ts and do’s of physical activity and sciatica, you can look get back to activities you love. 

Page Updated on Dec 15, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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