Sciatica pain is not fun. You’ll have pain that goes up and down the sciatic nerves, and relief is hard to find. If you want to find relief from pain you can use a coccyx cushion, but you can also start doing some exercises and take action. Sciatica pain exercises will do two things:
- Reduce pain
- Prevent future pain occurrences
If you choose to do nothing, you’re at risk of long-term pain that will not go away on its own. You have an option: work now, or suffer later.
The issue is that resting for more than a day or two leads to making the pain worse. Inactivity is the worst thing you can do when you have sciatica pain. Flare ups can be followed by a day or two of rest, but any more than this is not recommended.
What exercises can you do?
Caution: Exercise can make the condition worse if you’re doing exercises without knowing the underlying issue. Spinal stenosis, for example, will have different exercises than lumbar disc herniation.
1. Towel Hamstring Stretches
A go-to exercise for all forms of sciatica pain is hamstring stretching. Tight hamstrings are a big no-no, so you’ll want to perform regular hamstring stretches to improve your condition. You’ll be performing exercises that stretch behind your knees (where the hamstring is located).
Don’t bounce when stretching and remember to breathe.
Stretch twice per day for best results holding the stretch for 10 – 30 seconds at a time.
A simple and easy stretch for your hamstrings can be done with just a towel. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Lay flat on your back
- Wrap the towel around the back of your knee
- Lift your leg straight in the air
- Straighten the knee until you feel the back of your knee stretching
- Your toes should be facing the ceiling
- Hold for 10 – 30 seconds
You ideally want to get up to a 30-second stretch. I recommend doing this on both legs, one at a time.
2. Backward Bends
Ideal for herniated discs, back bends stretch out the lower back, which is often the root cause of the pain. This exercise should be performed as tolerated. We’ll start by:
- Laying on the floor on your stomach
- Propping the upper body up using your elbows
- Keeping your hips on the floor
- Holding for 10 – 30 seconds
This is a basic stretch, and you can achieve a more advanced stretch through further extension of the back. Follow all of the steps above, but instead of using your elbows, put your hands flat on the floor.
The goal is to use your arms to extend further to achieve a deeper back stretch.
If you’re unable to lay flat for any reason, you can perform this same exercise while standing. Stand straight with your hands on your hips and slowly start to arch backwards. The arch will allow for a deep stretch, but make sure that you do this safely.
Only go as far as you feel comfortable and confident.
A curl-up is another advanced exercise that’s often recommended for people with sciatica pain caused by disc herniation. Curl-ups require you to:
- Lay on your back
- Bend your knees
- Fold arms across the chest
- Flatten the back with the pelvis tilted
- Lift the head and shoulders to curl up
If you want to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles, you can follow the steps above, keeping a flat back and straightening one leg. Lift the straight leg 8 – 12 inches off of the ground and hold the position.
These two exercises will work the upper and lower abdominal muscles.
4. Child’s Pose
Spinal stenosis can cause sciatic pain, and this will require you to perform a series of stretches to alleviate pain. A go-to stretch that works very well is to go into child’s pose. This pose is easy to do. Just follow these steps:
- Go on your hands and knees
- Sit back on to your heels
- Move the chest down with the arms stretched out in front of you
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat 6 times
The goal is for you to sit on your heels, stomach towards the ground and arms stretched straight out on the floor above your head.
Child’s pose is a stretch that is very popular in yoga, so if you’re questioning your technique, you’ll find plenty of videos online that will offer guidance.
5. Hook-Lying Marches
Degenerative disc disease is another cause of sciatica pain. When a person has disc degeneration, they’ll need to perform lumbar stabilization exercises. These exercises are rather easy to perform.
Again, you’ll be lying on your back for this exercise. Now:
- Bend your knees
- Keep your arms at your side
- Tighten the stomach muscles
- Lift one leg 3 – 4 inches off the ground
- Alternate legs in a marching form
You’ll do this exercise in 30-second intervals.
6. Knee Grab Stretches
If your sciatica is caused by supine piriformis, stretching is very beneficial. You can perform a series of stretches to alleviate the pain, but knee grabs are often the easiest to perform. You’ll need to do the following to find relief:
- Lay flat on your back
- Pull one knee to your chest
- Hold the knee with one hand
- Use the other hand to grasp the ankle
- Gently pull the knee towards the other ankle using the hand on the ankle
You’ll want to do this until you feel a stretch. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat for 3 sets. This is a very off pose, but it does work to alleviate the pain.
Another exercise you can do is to lay on your back and cross your legs at the knee. Now, bend both legs and use the lower knee to pull up towards your shoulders. Keep lifting the lower knee until you feel a stretch and then hold for 30 seconds.
Lower the knee down slowly and return back to the starting position. You’ll want to complete this stretch three times on each side.
Anyone suffering from sciatica pain due to isthmic spondylolisthesis can also perform curl ups and hook-lying marches to find relief.