Sciatica is the pain or sensation that occurs along your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is formed from the nerve roots in the lumbar and sacral spine and extends through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Often a bulging disc causes sciatica. Compression, inflammation, or irritation to the sciatic nerve may also cause sciatica.
Symptoms of sciatica include shooting or burning pain as well as fatigue, numbness, or tingling.
Usually, sciatica only affects one side of your body. During a sciatica flare-up, you may find some movements difficult, but it’s important to stay active. Avoid high-impact sports, exercises, and movements that strain the sciatic region. Stay away from any activity, movement, or posture that causes pain.
Discover the types of exercises and activities to avoid when you have sciatica, plus exercises that improve your flexibility, mobility, and strength.
Listen to your body and stay away from any activities that cause pain. Certain exercises can exacerbate sciatica symptoms, especially if they strain or put pressure on your back, core, and legs. While it’s important to increase strength and flexibility in these areas, you need to do it slowly and safely.
Avoid high-impact activities which can aggravate symptoms and cause injury. If you’re experiencing severe pain, take a break from activity. However, inactivity or sitting for long periods may worsen your symptoms, so aim to do light exercise or stretching when possible.
Here are exercises, stretches, and activities to avoid if you have sciatica. If you have general back pain without sciatica, it’s a good idea to stay away from these exercises as well.
1. Seated and standing forward bend
This exercise can cause tightness and stress to your lower back, pelvis, and hamstrings, which aggravates sciatica.
2. Hurdler stretch
This stretch strains your back, hips, and hamstrings. Twisting your pelvis puts more stress on your back as you fold forward.
3. Supine leg circles
This Pilates exercise stretches your hamstring as you rotate your leg in a circular motion. This can cause pain, irritate the sciatic nerve, and cause a hamstring injury.
4. Double leg lift
This supine exercise involves lifting and lowering both legs simultaneously, which activates your abdominals and leg muscles. It can aggravate sciatic pain, especially if you use improper form.
5. Revolved triangle pose
This pose may cause you to overstretch your spine, hips, and hamstrings, which can aggravate sciatica.
This exercise involves high-impact movements that can aggravate back and hip pain. Repeatedly bending forward and jumping can aggravate sciatica symptoms.
7. Bent-over row
This weightlifting exercise can strain your low back and irritate your sciatic nerve, especially if you do it with a rounded spine. This can cause inflammation, a herniated disc, or an injury.
8. Weighted squats
Weighted squats increase compression to your lower back, nerves, and intervertebral discs. They can also put pressure on your legs, leading to pain and injury. Try them instead without weights, keeping your core engaged and your back in a neutral position. Stop if you feel any pain or tightness in your back.
Cycling may increase pressure on your spine and sciatic nerve, especially on a hard bike seat. Riding in a hunched or forward-leaning position can irritate sciatica, especially if your seat and handlebars are positioned incorrectly.
10. High-impact sports
Avoid any type of high-impact activity or contact sport that causes you to make sudden movements or put stress on your body. This includes basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, running, and HIIT workouts.
It’s important to do some physical activity daily, even if it’s only gentle stretching. Walking, swimming, and water therapy exercises are also great options. When walking, move at a comfortable pace and avoid walking uphill.
Work on increasing flexibility and building strength in your back, core, and leg muscles. You must also improve your posture, alignment, and movement patterns. Only stretch as far as you’re comfortable, and remember that flexibility can vary daily. Stop if you experience pain.
Stay away from exercises that cause pain or exacerbate sciatica symptoms. Be gentle with yourself and focus on movements that safely alleviate symptoms and develop strength, mobility, and alignment.
To enhance healing, follow a healthy diet, lower your stress levels, and get plenty of quality sleep. You can also look into acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic treatments. Topical pain medications, lumbar braces, and hot and cold therapy are also options.
See a doctor or physical therapist if you have sciatic pain that’s severe or lasts longer than a few weeks. They can create a personalized exercise plan to alleviate pain, build strength, and improve your body mechanics.