Sciatica Stretches & Exercises to Relieve Pain

Marcelle Pinheiro
About the author: Marcelle Pinheiro
Physiotherapist
January 2022

To check whether you have sciatica, lie down on your back and raise one leg straight into the air, making a 45º degree angle between your leg and the floor. If you start feeling a sharp pain, burning sensation or stabbing pain in the gluteal muscles, the thighs or the foot, it’s very likely that you have sciatica. Therefore, you are advised to see a doctor who can properly diagnosis and prescribe treatment to relieve the pain. 

In addition to prescribed treatment, you can also try exercises aimed at relieving sciatica.. There are two types of exercises you should do to relieve sciatica: stretching exercises and strengthening exercises.

Ideally, these should be supervised by a physiotherapist, as it’s important to assess the pain level and the physical limitations of each person.

1. Stretching exercises

1. Lie with your back on the floor and with the help of your hands, bring your knee up to your chest. Stay in this position for 30 seconds, while you stretch your back. Then, do the same with the other leg, even if you only feel pain in one of the legs;

2. Lie in the same position, bend your knees, cross one of your legs over the opposite knee, and with your hands bring the bent leg towards you. Keep this position for 30 seconds and then do the same with the other leg;

3. Still in the same position, lift one leg and place a belt on the bottom of the lifted foot.  Raise that leg and stretch against the resistance of the belt, keeping this  position for 30 seconds. Then repeat with the other leg;

These exercises should be repeated at least three times, once or twice a day.

2. Strengthening exercises

1. Lie down with your back on the floor, bend your knees and draw your bellybutton towards your back, while maintaining normal breathing. Stay in this position for 10 seconds and then relax completely;

2. In the same position (lying on the floor with your knees bent), place a cushion between your knees, keeping your stomach contracted. At the same time squeeze the pillow between your knees for five seconds and then release. Repeat three times;

3. After this, take the cushion away, keep your knees bent and place them together. Lift your hips from the floor, and hold this position for at least five seconds, then lower slowly to place your dorsal spine, the lumbar spine and the gluteal muscles on the floor first. Do this at least five times;

4. At last, lift a bent leg, doing a 90º angle with the floor. Then repeat the exercise with the other leg, keeping them together for 3 to 5 seconds. Then lower them one at a time.

These home remedies for sciatica are great complements to the above exercises.

What exercises to avoid during a flare-up

Even though exercises are a good way to stretch and strengthen the pelvic area to relieve sciatica pain, not all exercises are recommended, especially during a flare-up. The following are some exercises you should avoid:

  • Squats
  • Dead lifts
  • Stretching the abdominal muscles
  • Any weight lifting that puts pressure on the bottom of the back.

In addition, leg exercises in the gym, as well as intense running or any type of physical activity that applies pressure on the gluteal region or the lower back should be avoided. Learn more why sciatica happens to learn how you can avoid flare-ups.

You should only perform exercises within your pain limits and avoid straining yourself, that you do not further irritate the nerve and worsen the pain.

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References

  • GASIBAT, Qais; SIMBAK, Nordin Bin; AZIZ, Aniza Abd. Stretching Exercises to Prevent Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders – A Review Article. American Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 5. 2; 27-37, 2017
  • BERNSTEIN, Ian A.; et al. Low back pain and sciatica: summary of NICE guidance. The British Medical Journal. 356. i6748; 1-4, 2017
Show more references
  • ROPPER, Allan H.; ZAFONTE, Ross D. Sciatica. The New England Journal of Medicine. 372. 13; 1240-1248, 2015
About the author:
Marcelle Pinheiro
Physiotherapist
Physiotherapist degree provided by the University of Estácio de Sá (Brazil). Licensed to practice under CREFITO #170751.