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Foam Rolling Exercises for Sciatica Pain

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

Foam Rolling for Sciatica

Sciatica symptoms often come with a lot of frustrating muscle stiffness that makes it hard to lead a normal life. Using a foam roller for sciatica pain can be a great tool for getting on track to recovery. The best part is this low-cost tool can be used from the comfort of your own home. Keep reading to learn about foam rolling for sciatica.

How Does Foam Rolling for Sciatica Help?

Foam rolling is a technique that involves methodically rolling up and down, or holding sustained pressure, on a designated muscle group. Sciatica typically involves tight calves, hamstrings, butt, and lower back muscles. A foam roller is a perfect tool for addressing all these problem areas in the legs. However, the low back is not typically a good area to use a foam roller due to the pressure and strain it puts on the spine. A foam roller is a great home treatment tool, especially when combined with other home remedies for sciatica.

Benefits of Foam Rolling

  • Increased circulation to affected areas to promote healing
  • Improved tissue extensibility to relieve back pain
  • Muscle relaxation to reduce stiffness
  • Improved muscle balance to facilitate better daily function and movement

If you don’t like the idea of foam rolling, consider massage therapy for sciatica for similar benefits.

Find More Self-Massage Techniques, Tips & Tools Here

How to Use a Foam Roller

There are two primary ways to use a foam roller, rhythmic rolling or sustained pressure. Either way, you will address a specific muscle group with the following set up:

  1. Lay the foam roller on the floor in an area where you have plenty of space to move and stretch.
  2. Sit in a position that allows you to easily reach the muscle group you want to address (i.e. sit with the roller behind you for your glutes or upper back, versus facing it for your calves or hamstrings). 
  3. Use your arms to lift your butt just slightly off the ground. This will help facilitate either a back and forth rolling movement or allow you to roll until you find a sore spot. 
  4. Once a sore area is located, then relax and ground yourself back into the floor as you hold that specific position. 
  5. The pressure of a foam roller can be hard to tolerate initially. You can modulate the amount of pressure by putting more weight through your arms or leaning less into the roller itself. 
  6. Alternatively, you can use more of your body weight or leaning strategies to intensify the pressure as well.

If you’re unsure of how to start, consider consulting with a physical therapist for sciatica.

Foam Roller Exercises

All these options are great to coordinate with your stretching routine for sciatica  or even yoga for sciatica to maximize flexibility in the lower body.

Foam Roller for the Glutes

This addresses common problem areas like the piriformis muscle. Sit on the foam roller with the knees bent. Bring the outside ankle of the affected side (or the side you will stretch first) across to the other knee in a figure 4 position. Then, lean onto the side of your hip as you roll up and down slowly, adjusting how far you lean (or don’t lean). If you find a “hot spot” you can choose to hold for a longer period of time too.

Roll back and forth for 1-2 minutes, 1-2 times per day as needed. Hold any one spot for up to 60 seconds for further muscle work.

Hamstring Roll and Floss

To address the low back and sciatic nerve more directly, move around on the foam roller until you find a sore spot in your hamstring, focusing on one leg at a time. No need to lift yourself for this one, simply rest on the floor as you alternate between bending and straightening the knee to stretch the hamstring.

Repeat 10-15 times 1-2 times per day. You can also do the general hamstring stretch for 1-2 minutes for extra hamstring work.

Posture Stretch: Two Variations

Lay on your back with the foam roller directly under your spine. Keep your head and butt on the roller for support, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your spine should be in good alignment. This means no arching the low back and keeping the chin tucked down toward the chest. You can then choose between holding your hands in a “touchdown” position with the hands rotating back toward the floor as far as possible, or your arms out perpendicular to the roller with the arms resting on the floor.

Hold for 1-2 minutes for 1-2 sets as needed. You’ll feel a good stretch in the chest. Stop if you experience any aggravation of the back or nerve symptoms in the arms.

Calf Roll-Out

Sitting on the floor, bring your affected stiff calf onto the roller while keeping the other knee bent. Roll up and down as many times as you would like to promote overall relaxation, lifting your butt off the ground just slightly to be able to move. Additionally, you can find a sore spot, relax (butt down) and hold it while moving the ankle up and down.

Roll back and forth up to 15 times. You can hold one spot for up to 60 seconds.

Best Time to Use a Foam Roller for Sciatica Pain Relief

If you are having trouble tolerating exercise or daily activity, using a foam roller prior can reduce discomfort and help with your tolerance. Additionally, a foam roller is a great way to cool down after exercise for sciatica to minimize stiffness and enhance recovery.

If there are particular times of day that you tend to be stiffer and experience soreness, such as first thing in the morning or at night after a full day of activity, these are also great times to get your foam roller out. Basically, anytime you want to reduce stiffness and feel more flexible.

Try Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy for Added Relief

Staying Safe While Using a Foam Roller

No matter how you choose to use it, a foam roller is only beneficial if you can stay relaxed. If you feel tense or your symptoms get worse, stop immediately or try to modify the pressure or position that you’re rolling in. Seek medical advice from a physical therapist or physician if you experience a change in your sciatica symptoms such as increased tingling, numbness, weakness, or lower back pain.


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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