By Simon Gould
Note – Please talk through with a health care professional any exercises you plan to do. As sciatica can be very different for each individual.
Sciatica is a debilitating condition affecting the sciatic nerve. The nerve goes from the lower back and down each leg. There are various symptoms that can affect each person but it is normally associated with a shooting pain that goes down the leg. Lower back pain and even difficulty moving a leg or foot can occur for some.
Exercise will help
As per Spine-Health, exercise is vital to help heal your sciatica problem. They do advise that an initial flare up may require some bed rest. But do not avoid exercise and other movement, otherwise you could make the problem worse. Inactivity is the enemy when it comes to help alleviating your symptoms.
A range of exercises are recommended, from stretching to low impact aerobic exercise. There’s still a lot you can do although you may not feel like it yet. The last thing you want is to atrophy and weaken your back muscles because your pain will worsen. Please see a health care professional before undertaking any exercise routine in case you do further damage.
With sciatica I would advise that you need a bit more preparation for your exercises than others. You could try some heat therapy on your lower back where the sciatic nerve starts. This could be a hot water bottle or warm bath. Just 15 to 20 minutes to lessen pain and soften the tissue. I would also take an anti inflammatory to ease your symptoms and reduce pain. Then you’ll be ready to start.
Using a treadmill
So you may have a treadmill already and you’ve got sciatica now as well. You can still use a treadmill but you are advised that you shouldn’t run. This is a high impact exercise and will make your problem worse. You can still walk on a treadmill and if you use an incline this will make it an aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise is where your heart beat starts to go quicker and you may sweat. You can still have a conversation so you shouldn’t be out of breath. On a treadmill you could walk at 3.0 mph and a 3% incline for 20 minutes and this would be really good exercise for you. Tailor the routine to what you can do and build up if you need to. Twenty minutes is a good target.
There are other low impact aerobic exercise you can do. This could involve an exercise bike, an elliptical trainer or swimming. Anything that get’s you moving is good for you. If your sciatica stops bothering you anymore then still keep up an exercise routine to stop it coming back. As with stretching do heat therapy before, take an anti inflammatory and cool down after.
Stretching is beneficial
Stretching exercises for the lower back and your legs will be your go to beginning. We need the back muscles and legs to remain strong and flexible. When you do your stretches they should not hurt. Perform each stretch 3 or 4 times and don’t make any sudden movements or force it. Below are some suggested stretches.
Lunges – From a standing start, make a large step forward with the left leg, the right heel will lift off the ground and both knees will be bent. From this position slowly lower yourself toward the ground around 3 to 4 inches. Then do it with the other leg by striding forward with the right leg and repeat. This will help your posture and lower back.
Knee to chest – Lie down on your mat with your back facing down. Then, while still lying down, lift the left knee to the chest and hold on to your shin with your hands. Then do this with the right knee and repeat the stretches. This helps stretch and contract the lower back. The bottom and glutes are also worked.
Bottom to heel – Get down on the floor and position yourself on all 4’s. Then push your bottom onto your heels and allow your arms to relax and out stretched. Do this movement 3 or 4 times while you feel comfortable. You can really feel the lower back on this one and your arms and shoulders will feel the benefit too.
Knee rolls – Be careful with this one. Move slowly and stop if you start to feel uncomfortable. Lie down on your back with your arms stretched out to the side. Lift your knees up and keep the soles of your feet flat on the floor. With your knees bent move your knees to the left and then to the right making sure you don’t stretch too far.
When you’ve finished your routine it’s good to get a cool down. This will be the opposite of the heat one so a 15 to 20 minute cold bath. This will allow your back and muscles to begin their recovery and make sure you’ll be able to repeat the experience a few days later. You only need to exercise around 3 times a week, don’t over do it.
With some conditions, exercise is not advised but that’s the opposite with sciatica. It is positively encouraged to help alleviate your symptoms. All types of exercise helps. I’ve given instructions for stretching and aerobic exercise. Anaerobic or strengthening exercises will help as well. A strong back is a great help for unpleasant symptoms.
Back strength exercises can be found on my upper body strength routine page. Sciatica doesn’t have to rule your life. As long as you do the research about your problem, you can help alleviate it. Some people need surgery for sciatica and this is where your health care professional comes in. This is what maybe needed if standard treatments and exercise doesn’t work.
- Medical News Today gives a nice summary of what you need to know about sciatica
- Spine-Health provides well written and the most comprehensive advice on sciatica
Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked*