4 Sciatica Exercises to Avoid for Better Health

active young man stretching before a run outside

If you suffer from sciatica pain, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your symptoms. Several articles online encourage sufferers to exercise, but did you know that some workout routines can worsen your symptoms?

Keep reading to find out the exercises you need to avoid if you have sciatica.

What Is Sciatic Nerve Pain?

The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the human body and extends from the lumbar spine to the foot. When the nerve is injured, it produces numbness, pain, or tingling in these regions. This condition is what we call sciatica.

Sciatica is typically caused by a slipped or herniated disc or the inflammation of nearby tissues (commonly referred to as lumbar spinal stenosis), which puts pressure on the nerve, preventing it from functioning normally.

Factors such as being overweight, not exercising regularly, or lower back injury could put you at risk of developing sciatica.

Sciatica Symptoms

Symptoms of sciatica include:

  • A sensation of “pins and needles” in your legs or feet
  • Poor control of bladder and bowel movements
  • Numbness in affected areas
  • A burning pain that extends down your leg
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • An inability to move your legs
  • Experiencing pain when you move

Exercises That Can Make Sciatic Pain Worse

While gentle stretching can help to alleviate sciatica pain, other exercises can worsen it. Here are four sciatica exercises to avoid:

1. Leg Circles

These exercises involve rotating one leg in a circular motion while keeping the other leg firmly on the ground. It can cause injury when you move your hamstring suddenly, aggravating sciatica symptoms as it puts strain on the lower back.

2. Stretching Your Abdominal Muscles

While stretching is essential before performing core strengthening exercises, abdominal stretches can cause injury to the lower back and compress the spinal cord if done incorrectly. If you have sciatica, these stretches can exacerbate your symptoms.

3. The Double Leg Lift

The core muscles are engaged during workouts that demand you to raise both legs simultaneously while resting on your back. Core workouts help strengthen abdominal, lower back, and leg muscles. However, they can also trigger pain in the lower back and legs.

4. Bent Over Row

The bent-over row is essentially a weightlifting exercise designed to work the arms and back. It could injure your lower back and lead to an increased risk of pain or injury if you don’t do it correctly. If you already have an existing sciatica problem, this exercise can worsen your symptoms by causing further compression to the nerve.

Sciatica Stretches and Exercises to Improve Blood Flow and Ease Symptoms

While you should avoid exercises that aggravate sciatica, other exercises can provide relief. Do these exercises to stretch soft tissues and ease symptoms.

Gently Strengthening the Core

Studies have shown that engaging in gentle core exercises can help to relieve pain and numbness. Examples of great exercises to help strengthen your core include the modified plank and the pelvic tilt.

Stretching the Hamstrings

Leg exercises such as the seated hamstring stretch can help you strengthen your hamstrings to prevent pain. Other exercises that work the hamstrings are the scissor hamstring stretch and the standing hamstring stretch.

Work Your Piriformis Muscles

Sciatica can also be caused by a disorder known as piriformis syndrome. If the piriformis muscle becomes inflamed, it can entrap the neighboring sciatic nerve, causing pain. In this case, you can do exercises like the standing piriformis stretch to help ease symptoms.

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Dr. Hawker

Dr Carmen grew up in a small town in Mpumalanga and moved to sunny Durban when she was 11 years old. She completed school and then went onto study, where she completed her Master’s in Chiropractic, at the Durban University of Technology. 

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