The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest single nerve in your body, running from your lower spine down each leg and ending in each foot.
Sciatica refers to the pain, numbness and other symptoms caused by compression or inflammation of this important nerve.
Read More: The 4 Causes of All Sciatica
Sciatica exercises are designed to specifically target the areas surrounding the sciatic nerve, to both stretch and strengthen key muscles affecting your pain.
Certain exercises will not only reduce your pain quickly, they may prevent the need for drastic measures like surgery in the future. However, some common back and leg exercises may exacerbate your pain.
Here are three sciatica exercises to avoid, followed by the top five most effective stretches to relieve your sciatica pain.
3 Sciatica exercises to avoid
When sciatica pain is at its worst these stretches may seem like common sense, instinctual exercises to do… but they can actually make your pain worse.
This popular “fix all, relax all” yoga pose may feel good after a long vinyasa, but not if your sciatica is currently acting up. Downward-Facing Dog not only stretches the hamstrings, but your calves and tendons down to your heel
Downward-Facing Dog and yoga are recommended for maintaining your condition, but only after acute sciatic pain has subsided.
Whether you’re standing and leaning forward, in a runner’s stretch, or leaning over both feet, this one stretch can aggravate the entire length of your sciatic nerve, from the lower back to the heel.
A common exercise in Pilates and martial arts, swinging your leg in a full circle will stretch the hamstring suddenly, possibly causing severe pain down your sciatic nerve.
Besides these three, as a general rule you should avoid high impact, jarring exercises or sports until you have corrected the condition causing your sciatica pain.
5 Best Sciatica Stretches
These simple but effective sciatica stretches are indicated for relaxing the lower back, pelvic floor, buttocks and legs. They also work to help you strengthen these key areas for reducing or preventing sciatica pain by allowing the spine to return to its natural, functional alignment.
For best results, repeat these several times a day until your pain subsides.
Before you begin, lay flat on your back with your arms at your sides and legs outstretched. Allow your body to relax and clear your mind in preparation for these pain-relieving stretches.
Remember: listen to your body. If anything hurts, stop or reduce the intensity immediately.
The Complete Back Stretch
While you’re lying on your back, perform this stretch. It will relax your entire back and is very effective at alleviating sciatica pain.
How to Do It:
- Bring both your knees to your chest
- Wrap your arms around your legs, at the knees, and relax your lower back
- Do not try to “crack” your spine–this is purely for relaxing your back
Lower Back Stretch
This exercise stretches and relaxes your lower and middle back specifically. Remember to be gentle while stretching your back.
How to Do It:
- From your flat back position, bend one knee to a 90 degree angle while keeping your foot on the floor
- Allow your knee to “fall” gently to the opposite side of your body, letting your hips twist
- Rest your foot on the floor for support and try to keep your back and hips flat on the floor
- Repeat on both sides for 10-20 seconds
This stretch is excellent for releasing tension in your buttocks and pelvic floor.
How to Do It:
- From your flat back, bend both knees while keeping your feet on the floor
- Bring the right ankle atop the left knee
- Pull your left thigh back toward your body slowly
Single Leg Stretch & Lift
A common exercise in Pilates practices, the single leg stretch and lift will strengthen your core and hip flexors while stretching the buttocks and hips.
How to Do It:
- From your flat back, lift one leg to a 90-degree angle, supporting your thigh with both hands
- Keep your foot parallel with the floor
- Then, lift your other leg a few inches off the ground, your foot at 90 degrees
- Repeat the lift 12 to 15 times, then switch
Modified Quadricep Stretch
This stretch is great for relaxing your hips and quads.
How to Do It:
- Flip gently over to your stomach and lay flat.
- Lift one leg up behind you, bend your knee, and grip your foot or ankle with the hand on the same side (i.e. right foot, right hand)
- Pull your foot as close to your body as possible, but don’t pull too hard. Go for a relaxing stretch, not an intense burn.
More sciatica exercises to end the pain for good – fully illustrated
The stretches and exercises recommended above should help relieve much of your sciatica pain. But it’s just the beginning.
For complete and lasting sciatica relief you need to address the underlying structural issues and other causes of your sciatic pain. That’s where the Lose the Back Pain® System comes in.
Starting with a complete self-diagnostic, you’ll know in minutes exactly which stretches and targeted exercises you need to fully relieve not only sciatica, but virtually any kind of back pain or neck pain.
Every exercise is clearly explained and illustrated with step-by-step color photographs. It’s simply the easiest – and most effective – way to finally get lasting relief from sciatica pain. End Sciatica pain for good with our bestselling pain relief guide.
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Written By: Updated: May 9,2018
12 thoughts on “Sciatica Exercises to Avoid: Do This, Not That”
I think it would be best to show some videos on these stretches because its very hard to understand in writing. just a little tip. PS u have helped me a great deal this past year, i thank you for that
I had back pain last year, I bought you book 7 day I back pain cure ,your run. On relief and started drinking a lot more water. The pain left. Noe I have pain in the middle of my back. Also sometimes in my lower back and goes down both legs. I’m using rub on relief and drinking a lot more water and this seems to help
Joseph, If you go to the top of this page, you will see a tab for “Videos” if you click on that tab, and then search for the stretches you will find many of these stretches and many more…
HI I have very sharp pain in rt but check goes all way down leg to calf in back of leg then big toe gets icy cold i am wanting to try your program to see if i can some relief. Thanks Barry
Thank you for your visit and comment. If you would like to try our Lose The Back Pain System you can find out more by visiting this link
I’m on the LTBP program and have sciatic pain. Do I only stick to the sciatica stretches until the pain reduces or should I do the corrective treatment exercises at the same time? Many of the corrective exercises are inhibited by the amount of pain I’m in.
Marcel, Please do both, the sciatica specific and the corrective exercises to correct your dysfunctions, be sure to also, incorporate some of the pain reduction strategies, in the Lose the Back Pain Manual.
Hello – I do yoga 4-5 times a week. Should I avoid down dog altogether? It seems like such a centra posture to the practice. I appreciate your feedback.
Dolly, the gist of the article, is that, everyone has a different set of muscle imbalances and if you have Sciatica and you do not know your specific muscle imbalances, that are the root cause of your Sciatica, chances are you should not do the downward dog, for a specific reason… now that reason my not apply to everyone and thus downward dog my be just fine for others.
That is why we teach what we call Muscle Balance Therapy, as the keystone to our Lose the Back Pain System, it will walk you through a simple process to help self identify your specific muscle imbalances and after that you will know what stretches and exercise are most appropriate for you in order to keep your body out of pain and working in an optimal way…
Hi I am suffering from sciatica pain .It isvery painful in the evening time below knees to ankle .
Thank you for posting. We believe education is key to dealing with pain and we would suggest as a good starting point that you get yourself a copy of our book the “7 Day Back Pain Cure”. The book discusses back pain issues and sciatica pain, various treatment options you can consider, pain relief suggestions, action plans and other helpful information for when dealing with pain.
Please read more details and information about the 7 Day Back Pain Cure book via the link below
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For the past 4 days I have had sciatica pain in my right buttock down through my thigh and calf. First time for me. I’ve hardly been able to walk. I take 3 3x a dayHeal and Soothe and Super Joint 4 a day. Just started 3 days ago. I have been doing the stretch exercises and using a heating pad which seems to help some. I’m in miserable pain. Can you suggest anything else I can try? I’m 59 years old and have osteoarthritis in my knees, lower back, right hip and both hands.