Sciatica is the term used to describe the symptoms of a compressed sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs from the lumbar spine over the leg to the foot. When irritated, it causes radiating electrical pain, numbness, or tingling sensation down the back and buttocks and down the leg.
Exercise is the recommended treatment for sciatica, but some movement can make it worse. This article describes how certain exercises can make sciatica worse. This article also explains which movements should be avoided and which activities can bring relief.
Nez Riaz / Verywell
What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica symptoms start in the lower back and extend down the leg. In some cases, symptoms can affect the foot as well.
Sciatica symptoms are:
- Burning pain
- Electric shock like pain
- Needles and pins
The cause of sciatica is often a combination of factors including:
How exercise can hurt sciatica
Exercise is the primary treatment for sciatica. By staying active, you can relax tight muscles and feel better. However, some activities and movements can make the sciatic nerve worse and make symptoms worse.
Actions that put pressure on the lower back, hips, and thighs can make sciatica worse. Movements and activities to avoid during a sciatica episode include:
- Bend forward with your legs straight
- Lift both legs off the floor
- Running, jumping, or other intense aerobic activity
- Twisting or twisting the trunk
Stretching is often recommended for lower back pain. However, the nerves become irritated when they are stretched. With sciatica, improper stretches, overextensions, or repeated stretches can make symptoms worse.
Improper posture while sitting, standing, or exercising can also cause sciatic nerve pain.
Certain exercises and movements can irritate the sciatic nerve and make symptoms worse. Avoid movements that put pressure on your lower back, hips, and thighs. These include exercises that bend or twist from the waist, squats, and high-impact aerobic activity.
Exercises to Avoid
Some movements can cause further injury by making the sciatic nerve worse. If an activity causes pain or makes sciatic symptoms worse, stop doing it. Here are exercises to avoid when you have sciatic nerve pain.
The bent row row is a full body weight lifting exercise that targets the arms and back. However, it is common to do this exercise with poor form. Rounding your back while lifting the barbell or weights can make the sciatic nerve worse.
Performing exercises in the wrong form carries the risk of strain or injury. Movements like the bent over row increase the risk of disc problems, which can worsen sciatica.
Hamstring stretching while sitting
Hamstring stretches are a standard recommendation for lower back pain. However, stretching the hamstring while sitting puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.
This stretch, in which the legs are positioned in a four-way position, is also known as a hurdle stretch. You bend over your straight leg at the waist to stretch the hamstring that the sciatic nerve runs along. This position pulls on the sciatic nerves and causes irritation.
Avoid exercises that require you to bend forward from your waist, such as: B. touching the toes or the ground from a standing position. This movement can make the sciatic nerve worse.
Calisthenics, Pilates, and yoga often use forward bends. The downward facing canine yoga pose is an example of a forward bend.
Double leg raises
Exercises that require you to lift both legs at the same time attack the core. Core exercises strengthen the abdominal and lower back muscles, but can also make sciatica worse.
Double leg raises put a strain on weak abs. This will allow the lower back to take the weight of your legs. This can lead to or worsen a disc injury and cause sciatic pain. Avoid exercises that lift both legs off the floor at the same time until your abs are stronger.
If you can’t lift both legs without moving your pelvis or core, your abs aren’t strong enough. Try other exercises to increase core strength before attempting double leg raises. Core exercises can even help relieve lower back pain.
Exercises that swing the leg in a full circle can irritate the sciatic nerve. Circles of the leg suddenly stretch the hamstring, which can worsen sciatic symptoms.
Avoid exercises that tense your leg muscles in circular motions. Some Pilates movements, yoga poses, and circuit training involve leg circles.
High impact exercises
Exercises that put repeated loads on the hips and pelvis can also make sciatica worse. Running, jumping, high-impact aerobics, and horse riding are activities that you should avoid.
You may also want to take a break from high-contact sports like soccer or rugby. High-contact exercise can lead to spinal injuries that can exacerbate the sciatic nerve.
Exercises that can make sciatica worse include certain weight lifting exercises, high impact aerobic activities, and contact sports. Stretches and exercises that involve a forward bend (dog facing down, hamstring stretching) can also cause symptoms. Core strengthening exercises should be done with caution. Overuse of the abdominal muscles can make sciatica worse.
How exercise can help sciatica
Sciatica usually improves on its own over time, and some exercise can help speed healing. The important thing is not to overdo it. Listen to your body. It will let you know when you are doing too much.
A 2012 study found that four in five people with sciatica who stayed active could treat sciatica without surgery. The trick is to add the activity slowly and slow it down when symptoms return, a technique known as symptom-driven exercise.
Gentle activities and gentle stretching can help loosen up the lower back and leg muscles. For example, a walk or a leisurely bike ride, followed by gentle stretches.
Strengthening the core muscles is also crucial in treating sciatica. But slowly here too. Overworking abs can cause sciatica symptoms to flare up.
Stretching is another critical component in a sciatica training plan. However, an incorrect extension can cause further problems. The sciatic nerve runs along the hamstring and overstretching the muscle can further irritate the nerve.
Exercise – if done correctly – can help relieve sciatica. Research shows that a technique known as symptom-based training is effective in treating sciatica. This means listening to your body and stopping when you feel like symptoms are returning.
Exercises for sciatica
The most important thing about exercise and sciatica is not to overdo it. If the sciatic nerve is already irritated, it doesn’t take much to trigger symptoms.
If you have difficulty doing any of the following, contact your doctor. A physical therapist can create an exercise program that is tailored to your specific needs.
Aerobic activity with low exposure
Low-impact aerobic activity increases blood flow and helps loosen stiff muscles. Start your warm-up with 10 to 15 minutes of low-impact aerobic activities, such as:
Your lower back, legs, or hips may feel stiff or a little sore when you first warm up. This is normal and the muscles should relax after a few minutes. If it doesn’t, or if you are in pain, stop.
You should do some light aerobic activity at least five times a week and slowly increase the time. As long as you are not in pain, you can do this exercise every day.
After the warm up, focus on exercises that strengthen the core muscles. Start slowly and stop when you feel pain. Some activities to start with are:
- Pelvic slope
- Modified plank
Once you can do these exercises with ease, you can try more advanced core muscles. When symptoms return, reduce the intensity of the movements.
Strengthening exercises should only be done three to four times a week on alternating days.
Gently stretching the hamstrings and lower back can relieve sciatica, but don’t overdo it. Overstretching the muscles around the sciatic nerve can have the opposite effect.
To properly stretch yourself for sciatica, follow these tips:
- Always warm up with light aerobic exercise before stretching.
- Avoid stretches that bend forward or twist your torso.
- Do not force a stretch. If you feel resistance, decrease the stretch.
- If you feel pain doing a certain stretch, stop doing it.
- Never stretch cold muscles. If you can’t do any warm-up exercises, apply moist heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Relax the muscle that you want to stretch. When you feel the muscle tighten, stop, relax the muscle, and try again.
- Support the stretch with your arms, a towel, a scarf, or a strap.
Stretches that help some people with sciatica include:
- Single knee-to-chest stretch
- Double knee-to-chest stretch
- Piriformis expands
- Stretching the hamstring in the supine position
An exercise routine for treating sciatica includes gentle aerobics, core strengthening exercises, and gentle stretching. Start slowly and gradually work your way up to a more intense workout. If symptoms recur, reduce the intensity and get back to basics.
Exercise can both help and harm sciatica. Certain movements, too much activity, or incorrect exercises can make sciatica worse.
Sciatica symptoms – pain, numbness, and tingling sensations that start in the lower back and radiate into the leg – are caused by a compressed sciatic nerve. Some exercises relieve the compression, others increase it.
If you have sciatica, here are some things to avoid:
- Contact sport
- High-impact aerobic activities such as jogging, running, or horse riding
- Movements that bend or twist at the waist
- Movements that lift both feet off the ground
Exercises that help relieve sciatica include low-impact aerobic activities like walking, core strengthening exercises, and gentle stretching. Make sure you are in the right form when exercising.
Start slowly and work your way up to more strenuous exercises. Do not exaggerate. If you are in pain or symptoms reappear, listen to your body and stop or slow down.
Physiotherapy can teach you to adopt the correct posture and activate your core. Most health insurances cover physiotherapy, but the requirements vary. Call your insurance company to see if you need a referral from your doctor or pre-approval.