People with sciatica need to avoid exercises that cause pain. However, it is still important to stay active wherever possible. This may mean avoiding certain movements and focusing on others.
For example, a person might skip certain yoga poses or gym exercises and instead engage in more physiotherapy that can specifically help with sciatic pain.
Keep reading to learn more about the exercises people with sciatica need to avoid, which types of exercise are most helpful, and how to manage sciatica.
Yes, wherever possible, it is beneficial for people with sciatica to continue exercising. However, when the symptoms flare up, a person can take a break to allow the pain to subside and then adapt their routine as they begin exercising again.
Sciatica arises from damage or pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs through the leg to the lower back. It can cause pain anywhere between the back and the toes on one side of the body. Some people also experience tingling, burning, or numbness.
Too much rest can be unhelpful, so once a person is able, they need to try to find exercises that do not cause pain. This may differ between people, so it is important to listen to the body and stop a movement if it hurts.
Exercise is an important way to maintain health, strength, and balance. However, high quality research on whether it actively helps treat sciatica is lacking.
A 2022 review and meta-analysis of previous research on physiotherapy for sciatica found that there was a high risk of bias in many studies on the subject, making it difficult to determine whether it is helpful.
The exact exercises that cause pain in people with sciatica can vary, so they need to follow what works for them. The following movements may be riskier to begin with, as they put more pressure on the lower back and hips. However, over time and with treatment, individuals may find they can do these exercises again without pain.
Double leg lift
This involves lying on the back with the legs straight, using the core muscles to lift both legs toward the ceiling, and slowly lowering them back down to the floor.
Supine leg circles
This movement also starts with a person lying on the floor with the arms and legs out straight. They lift one leg toward the ceiling and draw small circles with their foot.
Similarly to the leg lift, this involves bending the body at the hips, either from a seated position or standing.
In its seated variation, the individual sits on the floor with their legs extended and bends forward to try and touch the shins or toes. In its seated variation, the individual stands with their feet hip-width apart and performs the same movement.
Revolved triangle pose
This yoga pose begins from a standing position. A person steps one leg backward and moves into a lunge. They then extend the arms out to each side, twisting the torso away from the bent leg. So, if the right leg bends, the torso twists to the left.
Next, the person lowers the torso so that their hand touches the inside of the front foot, resting either on the ground or on a block. The other arm extends toward the ceiling.
Burpees are a type of aerobic exercise. They involve squatting, then placing the hands on the floor, and kicking the legs back into a plank position. Sometimes, people perform push-ups here. To finish the movement, a person jumps back into a squat and then to standing, with the arms stretched overhead.
This stretch involves sitting on the floor, with one leg extended straight and the other bent, with the sole of that foot against the inner thigh of the straight leg.
Reaching forwards, the individual gently folds over the straight leg. This stretches the hamstring and hip flexors.
This weightlifting movement involves holding a dumbbell or barbell. The person bends forwards at the hips with a straight back and then pulls the weights toward the lower rib cage.
This movement involves standing with the feet shoulder-width apart, with dumbbells in each hand. They can also hold a barbell across the shoulder blades. A person then lowers the body, bending at the knees while keeping the back straight.
After lowering as much as is comfortable, the individual pushes through their heels back to the starting position.
To begin with, people with sciatica can try gentle exercise as they get moving again. This may include:
Household activities, such as cooking or cleaning, can also be a form of gentle exercise. However, it is important to be mindful of any activities that put pressure on the back or hip, such as heavy lifting or sharp twisting.
Depending on what is causing the sciatica, a doctor may also recommend regular exercise to strengthen the core and spine. Activities that take weight off the joints may be the most comfortable,
For those who receive medical treatment to address the cause of the sciatica, such as surgery, people may be able to resume their usual activities after they recover.
In addition to exercise and physiotherapy, there are other management strategies that can help prevent sciatic pain. These
- practicing appropriate posture
- avoiding prolonged sitting or standing
- using suitable lifting techniques when picking up objects
When pain does occur, people can try:
- using hot or cold packs
- taking over-the-counter pain medications
If the pain is severe or keeps returning, a person may need further treatment from a doctor. They can investigate the potential causes. For short-term pain relief, they may also provide medications to reduce inflammation, such as steroid injections.
Sciatica can be a challenging condition to live with. However, a 2018 study found that
These improvements tended to be less common in those with long lasting leg pain and in people who believed the sciatica would last a long time.
Seeking medical help can allow a doctor to find the cause of the sciatica and treat it, which may reduce the chance of the pain recurring.
People with sciatica can still exercise, but they may need to take breaks during flare-ups and then resume gentle activities that do not cause pain. Short walks, stretching, and physiotherapy may be suitable options.
Some sciatica exercises to avoid temporarily could include forward bends, burpees, and high impact movements. However, this depends on whether these movements cause pain or not.
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes irritated or compressed, which can happen for several reasons. For some, the condition may continue to be a problem unless a doctor can find and treat the cause.