Is Walking Good For Sciatica?  Experts weigh in

Sciatic pain can often begin in the lower back and spread to the hip and leg. It can also affect the hips, buttocks, feet, and toes. The pain can range from mild to excruciating. Most commonly, it occurs when a disc between the vertebrae in your spine breaks through the outer lining and compresses nerves in your back.

Whether walking helps reduce or worsen the pain depends on the cause of your sciatica and the severity of your pain. It is best to consult a doctor or physical therapist to find a treatment, exercise, and stretching program that is right for you.

Sciatica usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. Treatments are available to help with pain, and in most cases the prognosis is good.

Is Walking Good For Sciatica? The short answer is, “It depends.”

You should discuss with your doctor or physical therapist whether and how much you should walk. The general view now is that exercise and activity are good things for people with sciatica, as long as you walk properly and the pain doesn’t increase.

JD Bartleson, Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, said, “If walking isn’t bothering the sciatic pain, this is a great way to stay in shape and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombophlebitis and blood clots because of you Actively move your legs. “

“But for some people,” he warned, “the pain becomes worse when walking.”

Stuart Fischer, MD, had similar advice. “On the one hand, it’s always good to move around and be active. On the flip side, if your sciatic nerve is irritated, too much walking can actually make the problem worse. And what I always tell people who walk to remind themselves is that wherever you go is only half the distance. You have to go back. “

Dr. Fischer has been with the practice for over 40 years and is the former editor-in-chief of OrthoInfo, the patient website of the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Robert Gillanders, DPT, a federally recognized clinical specialist in orthopedic physiotherapy, told Healthline that walking can be helpful because “it is often one of the first therapeutic exercises you can do.”

“I regularly have patients start taking several short walks each day. The postural muscles lose their stamina in a reactive state, as in sciatica, so regular changes in posture are helpful. “

He suggested “short walks, gentle stretching, followed by ice, lying on your back” [face up] or vulnerable [face down]. ”Repeat the process many times, he said. “The pace should be talkative. The terrain should be flat. Keep the intervals short and take breaks … as needed. “

He also advised: “Good posture is essential both when standing and when sitting. Supportive hiking shoes are a must. “

Fischer emphasized: “Your goal of treatment is to try to reduce the inflammation so that the pain gets better. Very often we tell people with sciatica to limit their activity so that the inflammation goes down. And mostly it gets better with calm. “

When does sciatic pain get worse when walking? Dr. Bartleson said that in some people, spinal pain can be aggravated when standing up.

“If you put your hand in your back, you get a little bend there when you stand up,” said Bartleson, “and that bend narrows the holes where the nerves leave the spine. This can actually make your spine pain worse. Walking makes these people worse. “

“These people are assisted by a cane or walker,” said Bartleson. “I have seen this particularly with what is known as lumbar spinal stenosis, where the spinal canal is narrowed so that you get more pain when you stand up, often more on one side than the other. Lumbar stenosis typically causes bilateral pain (and other symptoms), while sciatica is usually unilateral. “

The physiotherapist Gillanders indicated when to go and when not. “If the pain is more than 7 out of 10, I don’t let the patients do anything, they just rest. (Red light.) Pain 4 to 6 out of 10 is a yellow light that makes people take shorter walks. Pains that are 0 to 3 in 10 are a green light; The activity should only be minimally restricted. “

Sciatica pain can range from mild to overwhelming. Remedies for pain relief included:

  • rest
  • medication
  • physical therapy
  • massage
  • in severe cases, surgery

Depending on your level of pain and discomfort, you can try some of these measures:

  • Alternately apply hot or cold packs to your lower back.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen. Some people find relief in changing types of OTC anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Do gentle stretches for sciatica.
  • Use massage or yoga to help relieve your pain. If yoga makes it more painful, stop and talk to a doctor.
  • According to physical therapist Gillanders, stiffening or gluing your lower back can be helpful in some cases.
  • Try water running or aqua aerobics.
  • Avoid sitting on soft chairs and couches as this can make the pain worse.
  • Everyone is different and there is no one size fits all treatment for sciatica.
  • If your pain is severe and persistent, discuss other remedies with a doctor.

Other remedies for sciatica pain are available. Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant, stronger pain reliever, or other medication.

The doctor may also suggest a steroid injection to help relieve inflammation and pressure on the affected nerve.

If after 3 months of conservative treatment your pain is severe and debilitating, the doctor may suggest surgery. The surgery to remove the herniated disc has a good success rate.

Your doctor may refer you to physical therapy for a customized exercise and stretching program. But many health professionals prefer that patients wait and see if the sciatica clears up on its own.

Recent evidence could lead to more doctors prescribing physical therapy.

A 2020 randomized clinical trial found that early intervention with physiotherapy for sciatica resulted in greater improvement in pain and mobility.

A physical therapist can use a variety of techniques to relieve pain, improve flexibility and strength, and relieve stiffness in your joints. This can include passive techniques and more active exercises.

Physical therapist Julie Fritz, assistant dean of research at the University of Utah’s College of Health, describes a program of physical therapy exercise for sciatica that involves repetitive movements in specific directions to relieve pain.

Fritz emphasizes the need for people with sciatica to be proactive, optimistic and educate themselves about available treatments.

It is a good idea to see a doctor early if you have persistent back pain radiating to the hip and leg.

This will give you an accurate diagnosis of sciatica and its cause. Although 90 percent of sciatica results from a herniated disc, other problems such as spinal stenosis are possible causes.

It also gives you the option to seek physical therapy or other possible treatments as soon as possible.

Sciatic pain can be disabling, but in most cases the chances of recovery are very good.

Walking in moderation can help you remain flexible and in better shape if you can walk without pain.

There are many pain reduction techniques available. New evidence suggests that targeted physiotherapy started early can aid your recovery.