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Sciatica Pain Exercises

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT April 09, 2020 0 Comments

Sciatica Exercises

Exercises for sciatica pain can put you on the path to recovery. Yet, it can be hard to figure out where the best place is to start, especially when you’re experiencing lower back pain. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about sciatica pain relief exercises.

How Exercise Helps Sciatica

There are many potential benefits to exercising for addressing sciatica symptoms related to low back pain and leg symptoms. These include:

  • Increased circulation to the back and legs to promote healing
  • Decreased sciatic nerve sensitivity
  • Regaining muscle balance and coordination
  • Better tolerance for daily activities 
  • Improved quality of life

If you are unsure where to start or want more personalized recommendations to get on track even quicker, consider Physical Therapy for Sciatica.

Core Stabilizing Exercises

The strength of the core is a key component for any dysfunction with the spine. It’s always important to start with the basics before progressing. There are so many options for strengthening the core and the options listed below are a great place to start for sciatica pain and recovery.

For other core strength and flexibility ideas, see our guide to yoga for sciatica.

  • Pelvic Tilt

    Start by lying on your back with the knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Then, tighten the abs as you gently flatten the low back toward the floor. To properly activate the core muscles, imagine pulling the belly button toward the spine or tensing your abs as if someone is about to punch you in the stomach.

    Hold the back flat for 5 seconds up to 10 times, 1-2 times per day. If you cannot tolerate the back movement, simply focus on tightening and holding the abs. Don’t forget to breathe!

  • Bent Knee Fall Out

    Continue in the same position as explained in the exercise above on your back. Then, tighten the abs as you let one knee fall toward the floor. Continue as far as you can go without pain or rotation of the spine. Allow the foot move with the knee, rolling onto the outside edge of the foot as you bring your knee toward the floor.

    Keep the movement slow and controlled. Complete 10 times on each leg for 1-2 sets total.

  • Dead Bug Core Exercise

    Lie on your back with the legs in a tabletop position (hips and knees bent to 90 degrees). Then, straighten out the right leg toward the floor as you simultaneously bring your left arm up overhead toward the floor. Only extend your limbs as far as you can with control, no arching of the low back or rotation of the trunk. If this is too hard, you can start with just the arms or legs and build from there.

    Alternate between the two sides 10 times on each for up to 2 sets total.

  • Bird Dog

    This is a more advanced option to try once you have the other three exercises down. Start on your hand and knees with the hands directly under your shoulders and the knees directly under your hips. Then, extend one leg out behind you as do the same in front of you with the opposite arm. Try to bring your limbs parallel to the body and hold without shaking or instability.

    Hold the end position for 2-3 seconds, repeat the motion slowly and in control 10-15 times on each side. Repeat for 1-2 sets.

Leg Strengthening Exercises

The muscles of the legs can be stiff, sore and imbalanced with sciatica. This is especially true for the glutes and hamstrings, where the sciatica nerve passes directly through. When you're done with a good butt workout, consider the use of a foam roller for sciatica to help with any lingering soreness.

  • Bridges

    Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Tighten your abs and glutes as you push through your heels and lift your butt off the floor. Do not arch the back. How high you lift depends on what you can tolerate and your symptoms. If you notice hamstring cramping, try a quick hamstring stretch and then make sure to focus on glut muscle activation.

    Hold 2-3 seconds for 10-15 repetitions for up to 1-2 sets.

  • Isometric Hip Abduction

    This is a great exercise to address the commonly problematic piriformis muscle. Lie on your back again in the same position as bridging. This time, tie a belt or use a looped resistance band around your thighs just above your knees. Once in position, you will push out against the band with your legs as your knees get further apart. If you are using a belt, your legs won’t move but you will still feel the muscles working in your hips/glutes.

    Hold 5 seconds for 10-15 repetitions, up to 2 sets total.

  • Hip Adduction Ball Squeeze

    This simple exercise is great for addressing pelvic imbalances and promoting circulation.  Simply lie on the back again with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a small ball or medium-sized pillow between your knees. Squeeze your knees together and hold.  How hard you squeeze depends on your tolerance. Alternatively, you can sit if needed to do this exercise.

    Hold 5-10 seconds for 10 repetitions, up to 2 sets total.

  • Single-Leg Balance with Hip Abduction

    Doing standing exercises will help with transitioning your new strength and coordination to actual daily activities like walking and stairs. Stand sideways on the edge of a step or elevated surface, with one foot is dangling and free to move. Keep your pelvis level as you bring your leg straight out to the side and back. Avoid leaning and keep the kneecap and toes pointing forward to prevent hip rotation.

    Complete 10-15 repetitions keeping the movement slow and controlled. Use an object for balance as needed.

Exercise Tips

Keep these tips in mind as you start and progress your exercise program for sciatic pain:

  • All exercises all require focus on good form including a “neutral” spine and pelvis.
  • Make sure you’re properly activating core muscles.
  • If you are getting a lot of cramping in random parts of the body, it means you need to modify the exercise until you have better muscle control and coordination.
  • When doing core exercises, it’s easy to hold your breath. You should be able to hold a conversation and breath throughout. 
  • Complete sciatica stretches most days of the week and exercise every other day, or at least 3 times per week.
Learn Stretches for Sciatica Pain Here
  • Keep in mind how to carry over what you are focusing on with your exercises into your normal daily activities. 
  • If you have stiffness or pain you want to address to help with recovery, consider home remedies for sciatica like heat, ice, self-massage, or a TENS unit.

For other treatments for sciatica, see our full resource.

Safe and Effective Sciatica Exercises

Exercise is an essential part of a sciatica recovery program with a focus on proper core and hip strength. A good program will help expedite your recovery and potentially give you lasting relief from sciatic nerve pain. If at any time you experience an aggravation of symptoms such as increased tingling, numbness, leg weakness, pain, impaired balance, or changes in bowel or bladder control, seek medical advice from your doctor or physical therapist as soon as possible.


Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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