Sciatica Exercises

These are stretches and exercises that I put into practice to stretch tight muscles and regain my strength when I had sciatica. This workout routine I did three to five times a week switching them up each time to keep it interesting. Keep in mind you will have to give yourself weeks to months to build up doing all of the sciatica exercises because typically with this injury you can not advance into the stretches if you are increasing the pain down your leg.



Good Morning Start

The first sciatica exercises that you should do before getting out of bed are going to be important for reducing morning stiffness and encouraging the sciatic nerve to dislodge from what is pinching it. Begin by lying flat on your back, perhaps with a very thin pillow or towel under your lower back for support, and bend your knees. Bring your legs together and keep your feet flat on the bed. Now very slowly, drop your knees side to side together in unison to gently rock your pelvis. Keep your torso completely still for this maneuver and repeat ten to twenty times. This introduces movement into your injured disc again before you get up out of bed, thus, decreasing your chances of tearing scar tissue.

Because your sciatic nerve is pinched somewhere in your back or between muscles in your buttocks (like in Piriformis Syndrome) you want to do what you can to pull that pinched nerve out of there. A way to do this is with the straight leg raise, this essentially pulls on your long sciatic nerve like pulling on a draw string on on your hoodie. Start by lying on your back with your effected leg straight out and your other leg bent up for support. Now gradually lift your affected leg up as high as you can keeping it straight. Grab your thigh with both hands to put gentle pressure on the leg so you can pull it closer to you and increase the stretch. Rather than holding the stretch, you want to lay your leg back down right away and repeat the stretch ten to twenty times on each leg. This will encouraged your sciatic nerve to dislodge from wherever it is being compressed and not get even more trapped as scar tissue develops with the healing process.

Stretches for Sciatica

Stretches that target all your tight muscles in your back, buttocks, and leg are essential for reducing the stress on your spine and regaining your range of motion. Start slow and never go to the point of increasing the pain down your leg. If these stretches are done over the course of weeks or months you will gradually notice yourself regaining mobility like forward bending. In all instances of these stretches and exercises you want to be in control of your lower back and hips by engaging your core.

Gluteal Stretch

No matter what the cause of your sciatica symptoms, stretching out your gluteal muscles is going to be important and if your nerve is pinched by the piriformis muscle, this will loosen it. Start by getting down on your hands and knees with a straight back. Now partially cross your legs by resting one foot on the other leg’s thigh. Once in this position you can slowly lower your hips to the ground while keeping your upper body supported with your hands. One leg stretches behind you and one leg stays under you all while keeping your back straight with a slight natural lumbar curve.

Gluteal Stretch Sciatica ExercisesFeel the stretch in your buttocks of the leg that is under you. Hold stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times on either side.

Lower Back Muscle Stretch

Stretch out your lower back muscles with this simple sciatica exercise where you rock yourself down and up gently. This motion stretches these muscles and pumps your spinal discs so that fluid can move in and out. Do ten to twenty reps.

Lower Back Muscle StretchBack Extension

the back extension in prone is a hallmark sciatica exercise that is most important for those diagnosed with a bulging disc or nerve compression in the lower spine. Typically this can be caused by a lost lumbar curve and this stretch will train you to regain that alignment. Start by lying on your stomach and resting comfortably on your arms for a few minutes of relaxation and deep breathing. Focus on relaxing all the muscles in your spine, buttocks, and legs. When ready, gradually lift yourself up and see if you can rest on your forearms. Do not increase the symptoms down your leg, back off if you do and give yourself days or even weeks to build up this stretch.

Back ExtensionKeep you hips grounded at all times, only your upper body is being lifted off the floor. Eventually you want to extend back so far that you can push your upper body totally off the floor with your hands.

Hamstring Stretches

Your hamstrings are a large group of muscles in the back of your leg that have the power of pulling your back out of alignment if they are tight. Start from the bottom and work your way up when stretching tight hamstrings. This means, first stretch your calf muscles, then your individual legs, then both legs together.

Start by stretching your calf muscles with the help of a wall. Stand facing the wall one wide step back. Step forward with one leg and touch the wall with that foot. Keeping the back leg straight at all times, begin to move closer to the wall, bracing yourself on the wall with your hands and bending your front leg. You will feel a strong calf stretch in your back leg. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg.

Calf Stretch

Now find yourself a thick book, a block, a step, or a very low shelf and stand facing it a short step back. Lift one foot and place the heal onto the step. Put your hands on your hips and make sure you maintain your lumbar curve while you bend forward at the hips.

Single leg Hamstring Stretch

Your lower back should not curve forwards at all. You will feel a stretch all along the length of the back of your leg. Hold for ten seconds and repeat ten times on each leg.

Next, is an even deeper hamstring stretch that will also teach you to bend at the hips rather than with your back. Begin by finding a chair with a backing for you to grab onto. Step back a couple short steps with both feet as you hold onto the chair then rock back and forth with your hips, sticking your bum out. Ease yourself deeper, and deeper into the stretch.

hamstring stretch

Really try to maintain a nice lumbar curve so your not bending forward with your back but only with your hips. You will feel a nice stretch down the length of both your legs.

Doing these stretches regularly with frequent short walks will increase your range of motion and begin to give you sciatica pain relief. When the symptoms recede from your leg and focus more in your lower back you will know that you are on the right track. So don’t be alarmed if your lower back begins to increase in pain despite the symptoms in your leg going away, this is a sign that your sciatica is healing.

Sciatica Strengthening Exercises

From stretching to strengthening, you are progressing in your workout to stabilize the lower back, strengthen your legs, and develop your balance.

Strengthening your Back

Strengthening your back muscles is going to give you more control over your spine when doing activities like skiing, swimming, or just waking. You are developing a natural strong brace for preventing further injury to your back. Begin by getting down on all fours with your arms shoulder width apart and your legs hip width apart. Keep your back straight and begin trying to lift one arm together with the opposite leg, lower down, then switch to the opposite arm and leg

Back strengthening

It may take a few tries before you will maintain your balance if you are not used to this but it will get very easy. Do about fifteen reps on each side.

Strengthening your Core

Most people think that strengthening your core involves the classical crunches, bringing your torso up off the ground, but for sciatica patients this is dangerous and will make your symptoms worse. Instead we lift the legs and keep our back straight and protected at all times. The most important part to this sciatica exercise is making sure your hips are completely square and there is no movement in your hips when you lift and move your legs. Begin by lying on he ground on your back and check that your lower back has a slight lumbar curve, that you can slip just your fingers under your waist. When you are starting out, place your hands on your hips and really pay attention to keeping them still. Now you can begin to move one leg at a time just from straight to bent and back down again. This will give you a feel for the control of your hips and encourage your to really engage your deep core muscles. Progress to what is shown in the image below: both knees bent, lift one leg up slowly (very controlled), gradually drop that leg to the side, return the leg up straight, then lower back to starting.

Stabilize CoreRepeat this about 15 to 20 times on each leg and do this exercise for a couple weeks before progressing to the next core strengthening exercises below.

Once you have mastered the core stabilization strengthening with your legs to the point that there is absolutely no movement in your hips then you can begin to do the plank exercises. Begin lying on your belly with your forearms tucked beneath you and really engage your core muscles. Push yourself up off the ground with your forearms and the tips of your feet while maintaining a straight back and hold for as long as you can.

Plank Sciatica ExerciseIf you find this too difficult, you can build up to it by keeping your knees on the ground, but eventually you will want to be up there with the use of your feet.

Once you have mastered the regular plank, you can progress to the side plank that strengthens your lateral abdominal muscles. Begin by resting on your side and prop yourself up on one of your forearms. With the other hand on your hip, straighten out both your legs and engage your core muscles. Slowly lift your hips up off the ground and balance on your one forearm and feet.

Side Plank

Strengthening your Legs

Because a pinched sciatic nerve can cause muscles in your leg to weaken, you will need to regain the strength in that leg. Begin by doing lunges without weights and slowly build up to five pound weights in each hand. Always engage your abdominal muscles to stabilize your lower back and prevent twisting. Lunges simply involve taking a wide step forward, the lowering down slowly.

Lunges - Sciatica ExercisesIt is a controlled motion that strengthens your thighs and helps you with balance.

Squats are going to be your next level up and this also helps with balance and control, especially when bending. Really focus on maintaining a straight back at all times. Start from standing with your arms outreached in front of you then slowly squat down into a sitting position.

SquatsOnly go as far as you can and gradually increase your strength over a couple weeks until you can do a full squat.

Working on your legs also involves strengthening your glutes as we have felt in the squatting exercise. Next you can learn the bridge that simply involves you really squeezing your buttocks in and using that power to lift your hips off the ground into a bridge pose. Eventually you can increase the intensity of this by outstretching one leg while really keeping your hips squared.

Strengthen GlutesIf you can build up to this level of control over your hips, then you will have a strong muscle girdle built up for your lower back’s protection.

Building your Balance

Typically with sciatica, the affected leg’s calf muscle is weaker than the other legs. Simply doing single calf raises as much as you can will strengthen that leg and reestablish your balance as well. Find yourself a solid step to stand on with the front half of your foot then lower down your heal to start. Slowly go up and down several times trying to bring your heal up as far as possible and back down as close to the floor as possible without losing your balance.

Calf Raises - Sciatica Exercises

Hip Hinge is one of the greatest balancing sciatica exercises you can build up to. You will learn to control your hips and reduce twisting. Begin by bending one knee while standing straight and begin to bring this leg straight out behind you as you slowly hinge forward from you hip joint all the while making sure your hips don’t tilt to the side. You will begin to feel a stretch in your hamstrings.

Hip HingeHold the position for a few seconds and repeat on the other side. Work up to 20 to 30 reps and five pound weights in each hand.

Exercises you Can and Can’t Do

Be aware of your nerve pain symptoms down your leg. Your goal is to reduce these symptoms and not make them worse with the activities you do. For that reason seek out low impact activities such as walking then build up to swimming. Only go to the point of not increasing your symptoms down your leg and always engage your core stabilizer muscles to reduce movement of your hips while walking.

The exercises to watch out for when you have symptoms of sciatica include but are not limited to heavy weight lifting, crunches, or any activity that requires you to bend your back forwards and put pressure on your lower spine, like bike riding. Running will not be good to do while you are still healing, only take brisk walks. Despite all these limitations it is very important that you stay active with the light activities mentioned because it increases circulation and particularly your spine needs movement for the exchange of fluids and oxygen that are important for it to heal and function normally again.




Regina (10 Posts)

I have firsthand experience of battling sciatica pain for over half a year before I found complete recovery. It was due to miss diagnosis and running into the wrong doctors for advice. It wasn't until I found the right physiotherapist that I found myself starting to recover but I reached a plateau and had to find something to fully recover. For me that was lumbar traction and it was truly my saving grace to finally be able to do the activities I love doing again.

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