Certain exercises and stretches may help relieve pain, reduce tightness, and speed healing in people with sciatica. Examples include knee-to-chest stretching exercises and the child’s pose.

Sciatica is a type of nerve pain along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back through the hips before branching down each leg.

Pain can occur on either side of the body. However, people typically experience sciatica on one side of the body.

Radiating pain from sciatica can be debilitating and difficult to manage. Unlike other forms of pain, sciatica may not get better from resting.

This article suggests various exercises people can perform to ease sciatica and explains why they work. It also looks at the causes of sciatica, possible preventive measures, and other treatment options.

A person with sciatica in the child's pose stretch.-1Share on Pinterest
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Most cases of sciatica improve in about 4–6 weeks. However, some exercises and stretches may help the healing process while also relieving pain.

The movements in this article can increase strength and flexibility in the gluteus, hamstring, piriformis, and lower back muscles.

People may get the best results from performing these movements regularly. However, not everyone will 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 or cause new pain. If someone experiences worse or new pain during these exercises, they should stop immediately.

People can also speak with their doctor for more advice about the best exercises for their specific symptoms.

Knee to chest

This movement consists of the following:

  • Lie on the back with the legs bent so 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 of this stretch, bring both legs to the chest and hold them for 30 seconds.

Glute bridges

A woman lying on the floor while demonstrating glute bridges for sciatica.
Gifs by Active Body. Creative Mind.

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.

Sitting Pigeon Pose

A woman demonstrating Sitting Pigeon Post for sciatica against a blue backdrop.
Gifs by James Farrell.

People who practice yoga may already be familiar with this movement:

  • Sit on the floor and stretch the legs 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

A woman demonstrating a sitting trunk stretch for sciatica against a white backdrop.
Gifs by Active Body. Creative Mind.

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.

Child’s Pose

This pose, which is also popular in yoga, involves the following steps:

A woman demonstrating Child's Pose for sciatica on a black yoga mat.
Gifs by Active Body. Creative Mind.
  • Start by kneeling, 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 before gently releasing it.

Prone extension stretch

Some people may also call this a cobra pose. Follow these steps to complete this stretch:

  • Lie flat on the stomach with the forearms resting on the ground.
  • Arch the back to raise the chest off the ground with the head facing forward.
  • Hold the pose for 10–30 seconds before lowering the chest back down.

Repeat this pose 10 times.

Pelvic tilts

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 abdominal muscles and press the back into the floor.
  • Tilt the hips and pelvis upward and hold that position, breathing deeply 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.

Exercise is a vital part of treatment for people with sciatica, even if they have additional treatment procedures, such as surgery.

Unlike some other forms of injury, sciatica pain may improve with training rather than rest. Additionally, continuing to exercise after the pain improves 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 muscles in the affected area, and stronger muscles may take some weight off the surrounding tissues.

According to a 2019 article, exercise can promote flexibility, improve back extension strength, and manage back pain.

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.

A 2017 report suggests that regular low impact exercise may benefit intervertebral disc material properties, including tissue quality.

Improved nerve health

According to a 2019 interview study, treatment beliefs suggest exercise may improve the elasticity of nerve and spinal tissues as well as ‘loosening up’ affected nerves.

Sciatica pain occurs due to irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The most common cause is herniation or bulging of a lumbar intervertebral disc.

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:

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.

Medical therapies

Drugs that doctors may recommend or prescribe to help ease sciatica include:

Home remedies

Home remedies for sciatica pain include:

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.