How To Exercise Safely With Sciatica?

Sciatica as symptom from herniated disc and spinal nerve outline diagram. Labelled educational scheme with medical condition from compressed nerves and compared with healthy disc vector illustration.

The common pain condition that we refer to as sciatica occurs due to sciatic nerve pain that is usually because of some damage to the nerve or nerve compression in the lower (lumbar) spinal area.

In most cases, this issue occurs due to a slipped or herniated disk or extra growth of bones in the spinal column.

It causes pain and other symptoms that travel from the lower back through the hips, buttocks, and legs. In addition, many patients report having “shooting” pains and “pins and needles” with sciatica. 

In rarer situations, sciatica can occur due to the nerve being compressed by a tumor or other underlying medical conditions.

In these rare cases, patients can lose control of their bodily functions or cannot stand due to sciatica. In these instances, exercise is ill-advised.

You should seek medical assistance right away because you may require surgery to fix the underlying issue that is putting excess pressure on the sciatic nerve.

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What Is The Sciatic Nerve

sciatica pain and inflammation in pelvis, leg and hip. Piriformis muscle syndrome concept. Human nervous system and skeleton anatomical poster. Medical flat vector illustration for clinic. X ray image

And Where Is It? 

The sciatic nerve is actually two nerves that run down either side of the body. They are the largest nerves in the human body.

They start in the lower section of the back – the lumbar spine and run downwards through the buttocks and down into the legs.

The nerve(s) control movement and sensation in the legs and soles of the feet, so sciatica symptoms can occur anywhere along these nerve pathways – anywhere from the back, buttocks, hips, backs of the thighs, the calves and feet. 

Does Exercise Help With Sciatica Pain Relief?

It depends. 

Intensive, full-throttle exercise won’t help sciatica. In fact, high-impact exercise can do more damage. But there are a variety of treatments to improve the symptoms of sciatica, including exercise.

One of the most effective is physical therapy in the form of stretching exercises combined with other safe and supervised low-impact movements.

Another effective alternate treatment for sciatica in the form of exercise is Yoga and Pilates. But you need to take extra care to only practice yoga/Pilates moves that qualify as low-impact.

However, some exercises should be avoided when you have sciatica.

In this blog, we share the best and worst exercises for sciatica pain relief so you know which ones to enjoy and which to abstain from.  

Stretching and strengthening exercises can help relieve the pain, discomfort, and other symptoms of sciatica while keeping you safe and preventing further injury.

In addition, they help increase strength, improve symptoms, and reduce pain. But for chronic cases of sciatica that you’ve had for three months or more, you may need to seek help from a doctor or physical therapist. 


In certain cases, sciatica symptoms do not improve with DIY treatment at home. Instead, the symptoms you experience can worsen, and the pain and discomfort increase considerably.

Stretching and strengthening the muscles and connective tissue around the lower back can and does help, but it may not always fully resolve the symptoms.

If your symptoms become more severe, the exercises can lose effectiveness. Also, sciatica involves the spine, an extremely important part of the body.

Therefore, we recommend that you have a thorough examination to diagnose the root cause of why you got sciatica in the first place and plan an effective treatment plan.

Sometimes, this may involve undergoing medical tests or having an X-ray or MRI scan. 

Which Exercises Should I Avoid With Sciatica?

high intensity training

Exercise has immense health benefits – physical health, immunity, and disease prevention. It is also great for mental health and well-being. In almost all circumstances, regular exercise is extremely beneficial. The WHO (World Health Organization) says, 

“Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety.”

So, you can see why it’s important to stay active. However, exercising can be difficult when you have a painful condition like sciatica that can worsen with certain activities.

But if you can do it, there are some caveats to that advice and some points to consider before you begin any new exercise regimen or return to your existing routine when you have sciatica. 

If you do suffer from sciatica, you should avoid the following exercises because they can aggravate the condition:

  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Rotating or twisting the body
  • Exercises that involve the squatting position
  • Forward bends and bending in a forward position while keeping the legs straight (like a forward fold in yoga)
  • Bent over row
  • Double leg lift
  • Leg circles

In summary, any movement or exercise that puts additional pressure on the lower back (lumbar) region will increase the painful symptoms of sciatica.

Also, stretching is essential during exercise or performing yoga/Pilates moves when you have sciatica. However, it must be done with extra care – without putting extra pressure on the sciatic nerve – to prevent pain and discomfort. 

Rules For Stretching And Other Movements 

stretching helping the sciatic nerve

(When You Have Sciatica)

When you have sciatica, you can still incorporate movement and stretching exercises into your daily routine.

However, you need to be a little more careful. Here are our top tips on how to exercise safely with sciatica: 

  1. Before any stretching exercise, it is necessary to warm up to improve blood circulation in your lower back region.
  2. Do not perform any stretching exercises that require twisting the torso or involves any kind of bending forwards.
  3. If you feel any resistance while stretching, stop the movement.
  4. Similarly, if there is pain at any stage, stop all movement.  

Keep the above basics in mind to make sure that you perform the movements safely without any risk of exacerbating sciatica symptoms.

If you need help with what exercises to do. Some specific stretching movements can help with sciatica. They include: 

  • Stretching both knees toward the chest
  • Stretching the supine hamstring
  • Single knee to the chest
  • Piriformis stretches

If you do these exercises correctly (which you may need a physical therapist to help you with), they can be very effective and allow you to carry out your other daily activities relatively free of pain and discomfort. 

What Other Exercise Can I do With Sciatica?

man riding bike to help with sciatica

Aside from gentle stretching exercises, the best way to work out when you have sciatica is to choose low-impact cardio or bodyweight exercises.

It is not just the exercises that matter per se but the intensity at which you do them –  which should always be gentle – moderate.

But as a guide, the best exercises to do with sciatica to stay active, help increase flexibility and strengthen the muscles include the following:

  • Riding a bike
  • Swimming
  • Walking 
  • Pelvic tilts
  • Modified planks 
  • Bridge pose

These exercises are all gentle and easy to perform. But most importantly safe to do when you have sciatica.

Some of them, like the pelvic tilts and bridge pose, can even be done before you get out of bed in the morning. 

What Else Can I Do?

ice pack on lower back to help sciatica

While gentle exercise and stretching movements help to manage sciatica symptoms, the best results come from combining these with other methods, like ensuring you warm up adequately before any kind of exercise and cooling down afterward to prevent your symptoms from getting worse. 

Along with planned exercise and daily movement, certain other things are important when it comes to relieving sciatica symptoms. That includes some after-training activities that can be as important as the exercise. 

  1. An ice pack on painful areas after exercise can help reduce pain and inflammation. Exercise increases circulation, and your muscles get warm, so applying an ice pack afterward can help to relieve discomfort and pain. However, you should only do this for 10-15 minutes after exercise, and always ensure you don’t apply ice directly to the skin.
  2. Another method that can help is to regularly change your position throughout the day to prevent sitting or standing in the same position for extended periods, which can increase sciatica symptoms. For example, if you have to sit for long periods at work, try to stand up every 15-20 minutes and, vice-versa, sit for a while after standing to help relieve excess spinal pressure.
  3. If your pain is intense and there is also inflammation, there are some pain management medications that you can take to reduce the pain and swelling. However, we always recommend physical therapy before taking medication with potential side effects. But sometimes, a short course of medication is necessary to relieve the pain so you can engage in physical therapy and other forms of exercise. 

Contact Us Now

If you’ve got questions about sciatica or about any other pains you’ve got, don’t hesitate contact us now.

No matter big or small let us know your questions and see how we can help you.

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Andrew Vertson