People with sciatica may find that certain exercises and stretches help bring relief from pain and tightness in the sciatic nerve and the surrounding area. Although sciatica generally resolves in time, these exercises may speed the healing process.
Radiating pain from sciatica can be especially difficult to manage, and it can sometimes be debilitating. Unlike other forms of pain, sciatica may not get better from resting.
This article suggests various exercises that people can perform to try to ease sciatica and explains why they work. It also looks at the causes and symptoms of sciatica, possible preventive measures, and other treatment options.
Most cases of sciatica get better in
The movements below should function to increase strength and flexibility in the gluteus, piriformis, hamstring, and lower back muscles.
A person is likely to get the best results from performing these movements regularly. However, not everyone will necessarily find all of the exercises helpful because different causes of sciatica affect the sciatic nerve differently.
It is important to note that while exercises should cause a stretch and tension in the area, they should not worsen pain or cause new pain.
Knee to chest
This movement involves the following steps:
- Lie on the back with the legs bent so that the knees point upward and the feet are flat on the floor.
- Bring one knee to the chest, leaving the other foot resting on the floor.
- Hold the knee to the chest for up to 30 seconds or however long is comfortable.
- Slowly release the leg and repeat the process with the other leg.
Aim for 3 repetitions on each leg. As a variant to this stretch, bring both legs to the chest and hold them for 30 seconds.
People can perform glute bridges by following these steps:
- Lie on the back with the legs bent so that the knees point upward and the feet are flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
- Push into the heels and lift the hips until the body forms a straight line from the knees to the shoulders.
- Hold the position for several seconds, depending on comfort level, and then gently return the hips to the floor.
Aim for 8–10 repetitions at first, moving up to multiple sets when it is comfortable to do so.
Sitting Pigeon Pose
People who practice yoga may already be familiar with this movement:
- Sit on the floor and stretch the legs out straight with the feet together.
- Bend the right leg and put the right ankle across the left knee.
- Lean forward at the hips, allowing the upper body to come down gently toward the thigh.
- Alternatively, if it is possible without discomfort, bend the left leg in, placing the hands behind the thigh, to increase the stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 10–20 seconds, depending on comfort level.
- Slowly release the hold and repeat the stretch on the other side.
Sitting trunk stretch
People can also try the following to stretch their trunk:
- Sit on the ground and extend the legs straight out, flexing the toes upward.
- Bend the right knee, lift the foot, and place it on the outside of the left leg by the knee.
- Put the left elbow on the outside of the right knee and push into it gently, twisting toward the right side of the body.
- Hold for 20–30 seconds and then release and switch sides.
Repeat this 2–3 times on each side.
This pose, which is also popular in yoga, involves the following steps:
- Start in a kneeling position, lowering the buttock onto the heels.
- Separate the knees about as far apart as the hips and lie the torso down between the thighs.
- Extend the arms in a relaxed position on the floor in front of the head.
- Breathe into the position to relax. Do not force the buttocks onto the heels, but allow them to rest in the position so that it creates a gentle stretch.
Hold the position for up to 30 seconds if possible before gently releasing it.
Standing hamstring stretch
A person will need something low and steady to place their foot on for this stretch:
- Stand upright and rest one foot on something higher than the other foot but still below hip level, such as a stool or stair step.
- Flex the foot so that the toes point upward with the leg straight.
- Bend forward slightly at the hips, moving the torso down toward the leg to engage the hamstring. Keep the back straight.
- Bend down as far as is possible without causing discomfort, but do not overstretch.
- Hold the position for up to 30 seconds or however long is comfortable.
- Gently release and repeat with the other leg.
Aim for 2–3 repetitions on each leg.
This exercise works by strengthening the lower back, glutes, and lower abdominal muscles:
- Lie on the back with the legs bent and the arms at the sides.
- Tighten the stomach muscles and press the back into the floor.
- Tilt the hips and pelvis slightly upward and hold the position, focusing on the breath for a few seconds.
- Release the position and relax.
Aim for about 10 repetitions to start, and then build up this number over time, if possible.
According to the BMJ, healthcare professionals should see exercise as the main component of noninvasive treatment.
The reason for this is that, unlike some other forms of injury, sciatica pain may improve with training rather than rest. Additionally, continuing the exercises after the pain goes away may help prevent it from returning.
Factors contributing to the easing of sciatica symptoms may include the following:
Improved muscle strength
Exercises engage and strengthen the muscles in the affected area, and stronger muscles may take some weight off the surrounding tissues. According to research in the
Improved blood flow
Exercise improves blood flow to the muscles and nerves in the area. Improved blood flow helps move fresh blood and nutrients to the area while promoting the transportation of toxins and inflammation away from the area.
Improved soft tissue health
Regular mobilization exercises for sciatica may help heal the soft tissues in the disks and keep them healthy. Research suggests that the spinal disks may have a more healthy exchange of nutrients and liquid during exercise. As a result, prolonged disuse and reduced physical activity may be harmful to the disks.
Improved nerve health
A 2016 study found that targeted exercises for sciatica helped improve markers of nerve health by stimulating the nervous system to increase flexibility in the nerve and reduce stiffness and sensitivity.
Sciatica refers to a type of nerve pain along the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the widest, longest nerve in the body, and it runs from the lower back through the hips before branching down each leg. The nerve can be up to
Sciatica generally affects one leg and the same side of the body because of where the nerve pinch occurs. The symptoms include a radiating pain that may cause a tingling or numbness in the area, including near the butt, the back of the leg, or the feet and toes.
The affected area may also feel weaker than usual. In some cases, a person may also experience back pain, though this may feel secondary to the more intense pain in the sciatic nerve.
Sciatica pain occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated and inflamed. However, in many cases of sciatica, it can be difficult to diagnose any single obvious cause.
Pain may occur when a disk slips or herniates and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. Disks are areas of cartilage that cushion the vertebrae in the spine and help with spine flexibility.
Other causes of sciatica include:
- infections that spread to the spine
- injuries to the spine
- tumors in the spine
- spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal cord
- spondylolisthesis, a condition causing the disk itself to slip over a vertebra
- cauda equina syndrome, which affects the nerves in the lower part of the spinal cord
Some basic preventive measures may help reduce the risk of sciatica or prevent damage to the back, which could cause the pain.
Basic prevention tips include:
- using proper techniques to lift heavy items
- engaging in regular exercise to strengthen the muscles
- avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing
- avoiding activities that may trigger pain, such as bending and twisting, before warming up
- spending time warming up the muscles before using them
Other treatment options for sciatica include medications to control inflammation and home remedies.
Drugs that doctors may recommend or prescribe to help ease sciatica include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- muscle relaxants
- corticosteroid injections
Home remedies for sciatica pain include:
- using hot or cold packs to reduce inflammation and make the person comfortable
- engaging in regular low intensity exercises, such as gentle walking and swimming
- performing core strength exercises
- practicing good posture while sitting and standing
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated, sometimes due to a slipped disk in the spine. Strengthening the muscles and increasing flexibility in the area may speed recovery and prevent further injury.
A person can discuss treatment options, including the most effective exercises, with their doctor and physical therapist to create a treatment plan that suits them.