Exercises to Avoid With Sciatica (And Some You Should Do!)

A woman in gym clothes performs the forward pigeon pose, which is a great exercise for sciatica and not one to avoid.

Also known as lumbar radiculopathy, sciatica is a condition that affects the sciatic nerve, the longest and thickest nerve in the entire body. This nerve, rooted in the lower back, extends through the glutes and down the legs into the feet.

When this nerve becomes inflamed or irritated, it can cause a variety of symptoms such as:

  • Mild to severe burning or shooting pain along the entire nerve
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Weakness in the leg and foot
  • Difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • Feeling of pins and needles in the leg, foot, and toes (paresthesia)

These symptoms often occur in one leg but can also manifest in both.

Because sciatica can lead to pain and aches that range from mild to debilitating, many people will likely seek immediate treatment options for symptom relief. If you have sciatica, one way to treat it is with stretches and exercise. 

However, because of sciatica’s relationship to the spine’s curvature and how it affects the sciatic nerve, some exercises may actually be harmful and worsen symptoms. This article will go over which exercises to avoid with sciatica and will instead recommend more appropriate and effective exercises as well as discuss more beneficial long-term solutions to sciatic pain.

Sciatica diagram

Exercises to Avoid With Sciatica

Sciatica is painful, and many look for immediate relief from the pain and discomfort that can make living with it unbearable. While stretches and exercise can be one of the most effective ways to alleviate inflammation in the pained regions, many exercises could do more harm than good because of the position and compression of the sciatic nerve. You will want to avoid exercises that involve bending, twisting, and lifting, such as:

  • Anything involving lifting both legs: Exercises such as the captain’s chair or leg raises are best avoided because they place pressure on the part of the back that houses the roots of the sciatic nerve.
  • Crossfit: Because Crossfit involves a myriad of exercises with wildly varying ranges of motion that can place pressure on the spine, performing it can further irritate the sciatic nerve.
  • Exercises that twist the torso: Exercises that involve twisting can stretch the sciatic nerve, exacerbating inflammation.
  • Forward bends: Bending the spine applies excess pressure to the sciatic nerve, which can cause further irritation. Exercises such as squats, crunches, and sit-ups are best avoided.
  • Heavy lifting: Weight training exercises such as leg presses, deadlifts or military presses can apply a great amount of force onto the sciatic nerve, which can cause symptoms to flare. 

However, there are also some great exercises and stretches that can help ease sciatica symptoms and diminish pain. 

What Exercises Can Help With Sciatica?

While the root of sciatic pain is at the base of the spine or the lumbar region, the pain from sciatica can often be felt running the length of the sciatic nerve into the legs and feet.

That’s why a good combination of exercises for relief from sciatic pain will target all of these areas. Exercises that are beneficial for sciatica involve a lack of twisting and lifting and are often done in a seated position. 

Special note: Depending on the cause of the sciatica, these exercises may still cause the symptoms to flare up. Also, performing a good stretch too often can irritate the nerve.

Some of the most impactful exercises for sciatic pain relief include:

  • Knee to opposite shoulder: Lying on your back, lift one leg and grasp the shin underneath the knee. Pull the knee into your chest and hold for up to 30 seconds.
  • Sitting glute stretch: While sitting in a chair with your feet planted on the floor, lift one leg and rest your ankle on your thigh. Apply light force to the knee and press it down. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Sitting hamstring stretch: Sit with one of your legs extended and your back straight. Bend the alternate leg inwards so that the bottom of your foot rests against the middle of your thigh. Reach toward your ankle, keeping your back straight and avoiding bending it. Hold this position for up to 60 seconds.
  • Forward pigeon pose: While on your hands and knees, bring one leg forward and lay it sideways at a 90-degree angle. Then, take the alternate leg and slide it to extend it backward. Without bending your back, try to lean forward so that you are lying face down. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
  • Child’s pose: While on your hands and knees, spread your knees slightly and bring your belly to your upper thighs, resting your forehead on your hands or stacked fists.

When done properly, these exercises can provide relief from sciatic pain without any additional damage to the sciatic nerve. While great for acute sciatica that resolves within eight weeks, they may be less effective for treating chronic sciatica.

While sciatica can often be mild and resolve on its own, if your sciatic pain extends beyond eight weeks, you may need to consider long-term solutions such as chiropractic care. Receiving chiropractic treatment for sciatica is a safe and effective way to alleviate pain. 

A combination of treatments such as massage therapy and chiropractic adjustments could be the solution you need to finally rid yourself of the often incessant pain that can come from sciatica. The first step in long-term sciatic relief is to properly identify the cause of your sciatica.

Long-Term Sciatica Relief With Chiropractic BioPhysics®

For those living with chronic sciatica, managing the pain can be a daily battle. By trying to find short-term relief for a potential long-term health issue, the underlying cause may be overlooked. That’s why the team at PostureWorks uses Chiropractic BioPhysics® to identify the cause of sciatica pain to develop effective treatment plans catered to each patient’s unique needs.

Chiropractic BioPhysics® assesses your entire medical history as well as provides an in-depth biometric analysis of your spine and posture to isolate the origin of your sciatic pain. We then use this information to craft a customized, non-invasive treatment plan involving a combination of postural exercises, neuromuscular re-education, and spinal alignment traction to free you from pain and keep you out of the doctor’s office.

Contact us today to learn more about which exercises to avoid with sciatica or to schedule your appointment with PostureWorks.

Chiropractic BioPhysics®, or CBP, is a deeply researched and results-oriented corrective care technique. CBP-trained chiropractors aim to realign the spine to health and optimal function. As with all chiropractic care, CBP is conservative, painless, and non-invasive.

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