Sciatica is a term used to describe the symptoms of a compressed sciatic nerve . The sciatic nerve runs from the lumbar spine down the leg to the foot. When irritated, it causes radiating electrical pain, numbness, or tingling in the back, buttocks, and legs.
Exercise is recommended for sciatica, but some movement can make it worse.
This article looks at how certain exercises can make sciatica worse. It also provides you with exercises and activities that you should avoid and those that can bring you relief.
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Symptoms of sciatica start in the lower back and spread down the leg. In some cases, the symptoms can also affect the foot.
Symptoms of sciatica include:
- Burning pain
- Electric shock like pain
Sciatica is often caused by a combination of factors, including:
How Exercise Can Harm Sciatica
Exercise is the main treatment for sciatica. Staying active can loosen tight muscles and help you feel better. However, certain actions and movements can worsen the sciatic nerve and make symptoms worse.
Activities that put pressure on the lower back, hips, and / or thighs can make sciatica worse due to an exacerbation of the sciatic nerve. This includes everything related to:
- Lean forward with your legs straight
- Lifting both legs off the ground
- Running, jumping, or hitting hard
- Twisting or twisting the torso
Stretching is often recommended for low back pain. Stretching, however, irritates the nerves. In sciatica, improper stretching, overstretching, or repeated stretching can aggravate symptoms.
Incorrect posture when sitting, standing, or exercising can also cause sciatic nerve pain.
Certain exercises and movements can irritate the sciatic nerve and make symptoms worse. Avoid any movement that puts pressure on your lower back, hips, and thighs. This includes lower back bending or twisting exercises, squats, and high-impact aerobic exercise.
Exercises to avoid
These are the exercises to avoid for sciatic nerve pain. But keep in mind that if an activity causes you pain or worsens your sciatica symptoms, you should stop doing it, regardless of whether it is described here or not.
Folded over row
The incline row is a full-body lifting exercise that targets the arms and back. However, this exercise is often done in poor form. Bending your back while lifting the bar or your arms can further worsen the sciatic nerve.
Doing any exercise in the wrong way puts you at risk for overexertion or injury. Movements like crouching rowing increase the risk of disc problems, which can make sciatica worse.
Seated hamstring stretch
A hamstring stretch is a standard recommendation for low back pain. However, a seated hamstring stretch puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
This four leg stretch is also called an obstacle course. It bends at the waist on a straight leg to stretch the hamstring, along which the sciatic nerve runs. This position strains the sciatic nerves and causes irritation.
Avoid exercises that require you to bend forward on your lower back, such as touching your toes or touching the floor from a standing position. This movement can irritate the sciatic nerve.
Pilates, rhythmic gymnastics, and yoga often use forward bends. The downward facing dog pose in yoga is an example of a forward bend.
Raising two legs
Exercises that require lifting both legs at the same time engage the core. Basic exercise strengthens your abdominal and lower back muscles, but it can also make sciatica worse.
Lifting two legs puts pressure on weak abdominal muscles. As a result, the lower back takes the weight off the legs. This can damage the disc or make it worse and cause pain in the sciatic joint.
Avoid exercises that lift both legs off the floor, unless your abs are strong. Moving your pelvis or trunk while lifting both legs is a sign that your abs aren't strong enough yet.
Try other exercises to increase core strength before doing double leg raises. Basic exercise can even help ease low back pain.
Exercises that involve rotating the leg in a full circle can irritate the sciatic nerve. Leg circles suddenly stretch the hamstring, which can make sciatica symptoms worse.
Avoid exercises that use the leg muscles in circular motions. Some Pilates exercises, yoga poses, and circuit workouts include circular leg movements.
High impact exercise
Exercises that repeatedly work the hips and pelvis can also make sciatica worse. Avoid running, jumping, high-impact aerobics, and horseback riding.
You can also take a break from high-contact sports like soccer or rugby. These sports can lead to spinal injuries that can worsen the condition of the sciatic nerve.
Exercises that can make sciatica worse include certain weight lifting exercises, high-impact aerobic activity, and contact sports. Stretches and forward bending exercises (downward facing dog, seated hamstring stretch) can also cause symptoms. Core strengthening exercises should be done with caution. Overloading the abdominals can make sciatica worse.
How Exercise Can Help Sciatica
Sciatica usually goes away on its own over time, and a little exercise can help speed healing. The main thing is not to overdo it. Listen to your body. This will let you know if you are doing too much.
A 2012 study found that four out of five people with sciatica who remain active can manage sciatica without surgery. The trick is to gradually add activity and reduce it if symptoms return, an approach known as symptom-focused exercise.
Light exercise and gentle stretching can help relax your lower back and leg muscles. For example, go for a leisurely walk or bike ride and then do some light stretches.
Strengthening the core muscles is also vital for treating sciatica. But take your time here too. Overloading the abdominal muscles can aggravate sciatica symptoms.
Stretching is another important component of the sciatica exercise plan. However, an incorrect extension can cause more problems. The sciatic nerve runs the length of the hamstring, and overstretching the muscle can further irritate the nerve.
When done correctly, exercise can help relieve sciatica. Research shows that a technique known as symptom-based exercise is effective in treating sciatica. This means listening to your body and stopping if you feel like your symptoms are returning.
Exercises for sciatica
The most important thing to remember about exercise and sciatica is not to overdo it. Once the sciatic nerve is irritated, the symptoms do not last long.
If you are having trouble doing any of the following, talk to your doctor. A physical therapist can design an exercise program based on your specific needs.
Low impact aerobic activity
Light aerobic exercise improves blood circulation and helps relax tight muscles. Begin with a warm-up with 10-15 minutes of aerobic activity with light exercise, for example:
When you first start a warm-up, your lower back, legs, or hips may feel stiff or slightly sore. This is normal and your muscles should relax after a few minutes. If not, or if you feel pain, stop.
You should do light aerobic activity at least five times a week and gradually increase the time. As long as you are not in pain, you can do this exercise daily.
After warming up, focus on exercises that strengthen your core muscles . Some activities to get started include:
Once you learn to do these exercises with ease, you can try more advanced core muscles. If symptoms return, reduce the intensity of the movement.
Strengthening exercises should only be done three to four times a week, every other day.
Gentle stretching of the hamstrings and lower back can relieve sciatica, but don't overdo it. Overstretching the muscles that surround the sciatic nerve can have the opposite effect.
Follow these tips for a proper stretch for sciatica:
- Always warm up with light aerobic activity before stretching.
- Avoid bending or twisting stretches.
- Don't make it stretch. If you feel resistance, reduce the stretch.
- If you feel pain while doing a particular stretch, stop it.
- Never stretch cold muscles. If unable to heat, apply moist heat for 15-20 minutes.
- Relax the muscle you are trying to stretch. If you feel a muscle is tight, stop, relax the muscle, and try again.
- Support the stretch with your hands, towel, scarf, or belt.
Stretch marks that help some people with sciatica include:
- Stretch from one knee to the chest
- Double knee-to-chest stretch
- The piriformis muscle stretches
- Supine hamstring stretch
An exercise program for sciatica includes low-intensity aerobics, core-strengthening exercises, and light stretching. Start slowly and gradually working through a more intense workout. If symptoms return, reduce intensity and go back to basics.
Exercise can help and harm sciatica. Certain movements, excessive activity, or improper exercise can make sciatica worse.
Symptoms of sciatica – pain, numbness, and tingling that start in the lower back and spread down the leg – are caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Some exercises relieve compression while others make it worse.
If you have sciatica, you should avoid:
- Contact sport
- Active aerobic activity such as jogging, running, or horseback riding.
- Bending or twisting movements at the waist.
- Movements that lift both feet off the ground
Exercises to relieve sciatica include light aerobic activity such as walking, core strengthening exercises, and light stretching. Make sure you use the correct form during your training.
Start slowly and slowly until you reach more strenuous exercises. Do not overdo it. Listen to your body and stop or slow down if you feel pain or symptoms return.
Physical therapy can teach you correct posture and use your core muscles. Most insurance companies pay for physical therapy, but the requirements vary. Call your insurance company to see if you need a referral or prior authorization.