Sciatica Pain Relief Exercises: Cardio, Stretches, Weight Lifting and Yoga
You don’t have to live this pain forever. I wanted a strong body for my mom. I took her to the gym for weightlifting and her sciatica was activated. Our problem was that we started too heavy without the proper stretching or yoga techniques. We did not leave the hope and my research started then about sciatica pain relief exercises. There are some do´s and don’t that we learned hard way, which you don’t have to.
Sciatica pain relief exercises are an important part of the lives of those suffering from sciatica. Sciatica is an uncomfortable and painful condition that can reduce the quality of life and limit mobility. Thankfully, in most cases, this condition is temporary. In the meantime, there are things that you can do to relieve the pain.
In this article, I will be giving you safe and effective exercises that will provide you with relief and can increase your rate of healing. With the proper form of exercises, you may never have to look back at this pain and would be able to overcome Sciatica.
What is Sciatica
Sciatica, also known as Piriformis Syndrome, is actually a symptom of another health condition as opposed to an actual condition. Usually, sciatica develops due to the sciatic nerve which runs from the lower back down to your lower legs, being compressed or damaged.
It can be due to a bone spur, the narrowing of the spine, a herniated disc in the spine, a tumor or illness such as diabetes. Back injuries are often also a common cause of sciatica.
This results in pain radiating from your lower back into your legs. In most instances, sciatica goes away by itself as the underlying causes are treated. But in severe cases, surgery may be required.
Symptoms of Sciatica
- Pain that radiates down from your spine to your lower legs.
- The pain may go up and down your spine.
- Note that the sciatic nerve also goes through your hips and butt so the pain may be felt there too.
- Burning, stinging, dull pains, and sharp pains can occur.
- You may also experience what feels like a tingling or electrical current running from your back to your legs.
- It may worsen during coughing or sneezing.
- It may hurt more after sitting for a long time.
- You can feel a cooling sensation in the leg and your leg may feel heavy to lift after long hours of sitting
When Should You See a Doctor about Your Sciatica
- If the pain started right after an accident
- If the pain is sudden
- If your legs or back is feeling very weak
- Problems controlling your bladder or even your bowels
Other Causes of Sciatica
There are certain things that can increase your risk of developing sciatica:
- Obesity: When you are obese, the extra weight that you carry places a lot of pressure on the spine which makes you more susceptible to things like a herniated disk. Need to lose weight? Read this article on how to lose weight by eating full-fat foods.
- Diabetes: Diabetes can lead to neuropathy (damaged nerves). The best way to lower your risk is to reverse your diabetes. Yes! It is possible. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is the first step. Eating a healthy diet and staying active are also important. Follow these 5 steps to cure your diabetes naturally.
- Age: As we age, the bones in our spines often change.
- Labor intensive jobs: If you have a job where you constantly need to lift or carry heavy things, you maybe twist your back often or do anything else that places constant stress on the spine, e.g poor posture, you can develop sciatica.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Sitting for long periods of time can cause you to develop sciatica. Specially when you keep your legs on the table while sitting on the chair.
- Muscle imbalances: Muscle imbalances changes the way your body moves and your posture. They can also cause injuries and lead to compressed nerves. The Piriformis muscle (in the butt) being overly tight is one such muscle imbalance that can lead to sciatica.
Exercises to Help Sciatica
If you have severe inflammation, rest may be in order for the first while, but as you heal, exercise can really help. Exercise has amazing health benefits including treating and preventing various diseases. One of the best benefits of exercise is that it relieves pain. It also helps to boost your mood which is often needed when someone is struggling with pain.
The correct exercises will also correct muscle imbalances which is one of the biggest reasons that people develop sciatica. This will mainly take place by way of strength training and targeted stretching. You will improve your mobility just by exercising to correct imbalances.
Pre-Workout and Post-Workout:
- Warming the muscles: Warming up can take the form of walking, a few warm-up laps in the pool, or even walking on the spot and swinging your arms. Any gentle, low impact exercise for 5-10 minutes is fine.
- Pre-workout stretching: Dynamic stretching is recommended. This means that you don’t hold one stretch for 10-60 seconds, you rather alternate gently between the stretch and back to the starting position for example.
- After the workout: Always stretch after a workout, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- Ice therapy: If you struggle with pain and stiffness after workouts, ice baths can be helpful. Within 20 minutes of exercising, sit in an ice bath. Cold water with a few trays of ice blocks will work. Make sure the water reaches your waist. Taking ice baths, or cold showers was what I always wanted to do because of its numerous health benefits on mood, energy and muscle building hormones. I was finally able to do it after my infrared sauna sessions and believe me, it’s easier than you think.
Cardio for Sciatica
Cardiovascular exercise is great for getting the blood circulation going and making sure that your body takes in more oxygen. It can also gently strengthen your muscles. You’ll want to start by doing what you can, even if it’s only 10 minutes and then go for longer and longer every week or two.
I am not a fan of cardio exercises a lot. Don’t get me wrong that moving is not good. But long cardio sessions do not provide great benefits. Another thing you can do is interval training where you go harder for 30 seconds and then take rest for 60 seconds. Repeat this 7-8 times. But, you have to way your work up to reach that level. I advise doing that on an elliptical or cycle.
When choosing a form of cardio, make sure that it is low impact. Activities that jar your spine will only aggravate your sciatica.
Avoid These Cardio Exercises:
Rather do the below exercises instead. All of these can usually be done in the gym depending on what equipment they have available, but you can also do these at home, especially the walking. If you have a pool, a stationary bicycle, or an elliptical machine at home, you’re all set.
Walking is a great low impact activity that can get your heart rate up, exercise particularly your leg muscles, boost your mood, reduce pain, and get your circulation going. Aim to go for a walk on the days that you aren’t doing your strength training, though if you become fit enough you can take a nice walk before or after your strength training session.
When you are in a pool, the water supports your body. Swimming is one of the best exercises for people with joint problems as there is no jarring at all. Doing laps in the pool or even just staying afloat in an upright position is quite a workout.
Did you know that you can strengthen your core (back and stomach muscles) in the water too? Just try walking or running in the water. Because the water causes a lot of resistance, you will likely not be able to go very fast, but you will be getting a great ab (stomach muscles) workout.
3. Stationary Bicycles
Cycling is great for your core and your legs. It also doesn’t cause any impact. While you can ride a bicycle that isn’t stationary, you may cover rough terrain which is jarring to the spine. But even if you are on smooth terrain, if you wobble, are about to fall or need to swerve, the action that your body takes to keep you balanced or from falling can put a lot of strain on your back.
If you find that riding a spinning bike isn’t comfortable for your back or makes your butt sore, try a recumbent bike. These stationary bikes usually have a bigger seat with a backrest so the angle that you sit at is may be comfortable for your back and your butt.
If you would like to purchase a stationary bicycle for home use, give this one a go.
4. Elliptical Machine
The elliptical machine works your upper and lower body at the same time. There is little to no impact when you use this machine and it is great for cardio. Just as with the bicycle, you can adjust the resistance as you get fitter and stronger which then doubles as strength training for your legs and glutes and even your upper back, chest and arms. Keep your core tight as you use the machine.
Want an elliptical machine at home, check this one out.
Stretches for Sciatica
Stretching is an important part of correcting muscle imbalances, increase range of motion, and helps to relieve the pain. When you do any stretches, always keep in mind:
- Stretch only as far as you can go, do not force it. You will become more flexible over time.
- Don’t jerk your body into a stretch, this can result in injury.
- You should feel a slight pull or stretch, but no sharp pains.
Many people often recommend using a foam roller or even a ball to stretch and massage your piriformis, but because the nerve is so close to the surface, this can just compress or irritate the nerve even more. In some cases, stretching incorrectly in this manner can even cause sciatica in people who don’t have it.
The following stretches can really help to ease the pain and even get rid of sciatica. You can see how to do them in the links.
1. Nerve Glides or Hamstring Stretches
You can do the nerve glide for the legs in the link to gently stretch out hamstrings (back of your legs) and glutes (your butt).
2. Piriformis Stretch
The piriformis stretch is a great stretch for targeting your glutes and specifically the piriformis muscle which is right over your sciatic nerve.
3. Back Flexion Stretch
The back flexion stretch helps to enlarge the sciatic nerve passageway which can ease the compression.
Leg, Glute and Core Exercises for Sciatica
Core is what stabilizes your entire body. If you have done core exercises, you would have never suffered from Sciatica. Core exercises are especially helpful for ladies because core becomes weak after baby delivery. Anyways its never too late.
1. Clamshell Exercise
The clamshell exercise targets the glutes, particularly the muscles in your butt that cause rotation of the hip. This exercise is easy to perform and will strengthen your butt and your hips.
2. Bird Dog or Pointing Dog
The bird dog, also known as the pointing dog, is an exercise that targets your hamstrings, glutes, deep abdominal muscles, and shoulders. Make sure that your body stays aligned and that you keep your torso and hips as still as possible during this exercise.
3. Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is another exercise that is great for the glutes but that will also gently strengthen your core and your hamstrings.You will also find that it helps with hip mobility. Go slowly with this one and only do what you can.
The link is full of variations, but don’t do these variations until you are strong enough to do so or you get the go-ahead from your doctor. Doing the variations too early can cause you to injure yourself or worsen your sciatica.
4. Dead Bug
The dead bug exercise gently uses your arms and legs to strengthen your core. Be sure to keep your core tight during the exercise
The plank exercise targets all of your abdominal muscles, shoulders, and when done correctly it will target your glutes too.
6. Side Plank
The side plank is a plank performed on your side. It specifically targets your oblique muscles (side stomach muscles that wrap around to your back), shoulders, and your glutes.
Strength Training for Sciatica
Keep in mind if this done correctly, it can save you from 100 different health problems. According to me, everyone irrespective of their age should be lifting weights. Strength training is definitely safe for those who suffer from sciatica as long as they maintain proper form and avoid the exercises that place pressure on the spine.
Certain exercises can put a strain on the wrong areas and cause more harm than good. So while you want to perform exercises that target the core, glutes, and legs, not all the exercises that do so should be done. Any exercises that put a lot of strain on your back or hips should be avoided.
A lot of people choose to do their strength training at the gym because of the access to weights and machines. If you have sciatica though, there are exercises that you need to avoid whether you use weights or not:
- Full squats
- Bent-over rows
- Depending on the cause of your sciatica, overhead shoulder presses
If you are using weights, especially if you are over the age of 50, use lighter weights. You don’t want to put a lot of strain on your back or risk further injuries. Once you are healed you can build up to using heavier weights again.
Using exercise machines is best because they allow you to have more control and often support the body unlike with free weights or body weight exercises where your stability muscles (core) have to work hard and can lead to further damage.
Exercises that You Can Do Using Machines:
- Seated bicep curls
- Seated leg press
- Leg extensions
- Lying leg or hamstring curls
- Half squats
Check this video out for a great leg day at the gym:
Yoga for Sciatica
Yoga is well known for bringing balance. It strengthens your muscles as you stretch and helps to relax you. These poses can bring pain relief and effectively treat sciatica. Avoid the cobra pose which is the pose where you lie on the floor and lift your torso causing your back to curve inward.
Try These Poses:
- Cat stretch: The cat stretch is great for stretching the back and the abdominals. I do catch stretch, between the exercise set
in the gym, when I feel a little bit of strain on my lower back.
- Child’s pose: The child’s pose stretches your spine, hips, glutes, and thighs. It’s also a very relaxing and calming pose.
- Pigeon pose: The pigeon pose is great for stretching out your glutes including the piriformis muscle. It also targets your hip flexors (front of your hips and top of your thigh). When performing this pose, only go until you feel a slight stretch, no further.
- The seated twist: The seated twist stretch targets your back and your glutes. This is another stretch to do gently.
- The twisted lunge: The twisted lunge pose will stretch your back, hamstrings, and hip flexors. If your knees are unstable or you feel pain, stick to the seated twist and pigeon pose.
Electrical Stimulation for Sciatica
Some people have found that using electrotherapy helps to relieve their pain. While it doesn’t work for everyone, you may want to give it a try. A Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit can be used to do this. Ask your physiotherapist to do this.
Place one pad where the pain starts which is usually the lower back and then another pad where the pain stops, usually at some point along the leg. This will allow the entire nerve to be stimulated. You will always use two pads because one by itself is not effective in creating a circuit.
You can play around with the placement on the pads to see which placement helps you the most. You can even use 4 pads too. One tip to bear in mind is that joints move, so don’t place the pads on your joints because the pads might not stick properly.
Speak to your doctor before using this device if you are pregnant or have a pacemaker and follow the instructions carefully.
- Sciatica is usually caused by the sciatic nerve being pinched or compressed by bone, herniated discs in the spine or the narrowing of the spine.
- Symptoms include pain, burning sensations, or tingling from the lower back and down the legs.
- The pain can be relieved by low impact cardio like walking, swimming, or the elliptical machine.
- Muscle imbalances can be corrected by doing planks, glute bridges, the bird dog, and clamshell exercises.
- Stretches such as nerve glides and the piriformis stretch are also beneficial.
- Yoga poses that help includes the seated twist and the pigeon pose.
Have you suffered from sciatica? What methods did you use to treat it?