Exercise to Release Sciatic Nerve Pain

Julie Kirk
Senior gentleman having some back pain and a doctor

If you are experiencing a flare up of sciatic nerve pain, there are a number of exercises that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort. However, prior to performing these exercises, you should consult your doctor.

Exercises to Alleviate Sciatic Nerve Pain

There are a number of exercises you can try that can help relieve sciatic nerve pain. Prior to starting any form of exercise (even walking), be sure to discuss walking as a treatment option with your doctor. These include:

Press Up Exercise

The press up exercise can help relieve pain in the legs and buttocks while stretching the lower back.

  1. Lie on your stomach.
  2. Place hands (palms down) slightly above and to each side of your shoulders.
  3. Slowly push to raise your upper body. Your arms should be straight with little to no bend in the elbow.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds. (You can gradually increase the duration of time as you start to feel stronger.)
  5. Slowly lower your upper body down.
  6. Start with 10 repetitions and work your way up to 30 repetitions.

If straightening your arms are too difficult, you can modify this exercise by propping your upper body on your forearms or you can raise up slightly with a minimal bend in the elbow. This allows you to work your way up to straight arms gradually.

Bridging Exercise

The bridging exercise can help ease compression on the sciatic nerve and relieve pain.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Begin to push up through your heels and slowly lift your buttocks up. Your pelvis is raised to the ceiling.
  3. Your upper body and thighs should be aligned.
  4. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  5. Slowly lower down.
  6. Do 10 repetitions and increase to 20 as you get stronger.

If you're new to the bridging exercise, start out with fewer repetitions and shorter holds.

Seated Spinal Twist

The seated spinal twist can relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and will help strengthen and stretch the lower back and hips.

  1. Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.
  2. Bend your left knee up. Right leg can stand extended or you can bend it in with your foot towards your body.
  3. Bring your left foot over your right leg. Your left foot should be next to the outer knee of your right leg.
  4. Left arm should be positioned behind you.
  5. Twist your body towards your bent knee.
  6. For a deeper stretch, place your right arm on the outside of your left leg.
  7. Hold position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  8. Repeat on opposite side.

Figure Four Piriformis Stretch

The figure four piriformis stretch can help stretch the piriformis muscle which will help take pressure off the sciatic nerve.

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent.
  2. Cross right ankle over to left knee so that it rests just above the left knee. (Should look like the number 4.)
  3. Grasp hands behind the left knee and gently pull your leg toward you. Press right knee slightly away from your body at the same time.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on opposite side.
  6. Do 3 to 5 sets.

Yoga and Tai Chi For Sciatic Nerve Pain

Tai Chi and yoga are also considered some of the best exercises that release sciatic nerve pain, as they combine the all-important gentle stretching with targeted strengthening.

Yoga for Sciatic Nerve Pain

Yoga is an excellent form of exercise for people with back problems, provided it is done correctly, because it teaches you to focus on your core and to readily identify the areas of the body that need the most attention. With the right instructor, you will be able to work your way towards optimum back health. Poses to try include Intense Side Stretch, Half-Moon Pose, Torso Twist, Bridge Pose, Corpse Pose and Downward Facing Dog. Your instructor should ask you if you have any particular conditions that might make any of the poses problematic. If you do, you should be able to perform a safe variant.

Tai Chi and Sciatica

Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese exercise that links mind to body and promotes health and healing through slow, graceful movements, is an excellent exercise to overcome the pain of sciatica. The practice views sciatica as the interruption of chi and concentrates on opening joints to improve flow and circulation. Tai Chi uses controlled, mostly circular movements that encourage flexibility and release mental and physical tension. You turn, stretch and twist, all while breathing deeply and entering a meditative state that helps you concentrate. When done correctly, tai chi will leave you feeling rejuvenated, rather than tired.

Stretches for Sciatica

Any exercise, especially for a health condition, should include stretching as well as muscle work. For sciatic nerve pain, you want to do stretches that release your hamstrings and gently work your back. Some of these will be the same exercises as you would do for bulging discs. Examples of these stretches include:

Knee to Opposite Shoulder Stretch

The knee to opposite shoulder stretch can help loosen your glutes and piriformis muscles.

  1. Lie on your back with legs extended.
  2. Lift your right leg and clasp your hands behind your knee or at the front of your leg.
  3. Gently pull your right knee across your body toward your opposite (left) shoulder.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on opposite side.
  6. Do 3 to 5 repetitions.

Extended Child's Pose

The extended child's pose can give a nice, deep hamstring stretch which is instrumental in relieving sciatica pain.

  1. You will start out on your hands and knees.
  2. Bring your feet close together, knees out a bit.
  3. Lower your buttocks to your heels and extend your hands in front of you.
  4. Your chest should be at your thighs and your forehead to the floor. You should feel a deep, controlled stretch.
  5. Raise head, take a breath.
  6. Lower head to the floor, sink chest deeper into thighs and repeat the deep stretch.
  7. Do 5 repetitions.

Exercise for Sciatic Pain Relief

While most active back pain demands rest and gentle stretches, sciatica responds more efficiently to active exercise. In fact, the more time you spend in a state of inactivity, the worse the pain will become. Your back muscles will become weaker and less able to support the discs and nerves. Movement also keeps the spinal fluid flowing at its peak performance, enhancing back health.

Importance of Strengthening Abdomen and Back Muscles

As with any exercises for bad or weak backs, many of the exercises designed to release sciatic nerve pain focus on strengthening the abdominal and back muscles. This creates more support for the back and improves posture. Combine a gentle but effective abdominal workout with careful stretching exercises that target the muscles associated with the sciatic nerve and you can quickly recover from the immediate pain and prevent future recurrences.

Walking

Walking is an easy, low-impact exercise that can help treat sciatica. When you walk, your blood flow increases to the areas where you are experiencing sciatic pain especially in the buttocks and legs. It may also reduce inflammation and release endorphins that can help relieve pain. You should start at a slow pace and go short distances, then you can gradually build up your speed and distance as you are able.

Consult a Professional

Before you begin even the simplest exercise program, you should consult with your doctor or a physical therapist as to the best exercises for your specific condition. This will assure that you are doing the most good for yourself and avoiding further injury.

Exercise to Release Sciatic Nerve Pain