5 Exercises for Sciatic Nerve Pain

Sciatic nerve pain can be a pain in the butt, back, and all the way down the leg. True sciatica symptoms are caused by irritation to the Sciatic Nerve, either in the lumbar spine or caused by tight muscles along the nerve distribution down the back of the leg to the foot. Symptoms of sciatic nerve pain can include weakness, numbness and/or tingling down the leg, or a sharp shooting pain. In a study published in May 2018, researchers found that patients with low back pain, who saw a physical therapist first, had significantly lower out of pocket healthcare costs and decreased use of opioids, than those who saw physical therapist later or not at all. It pays to see a PT! Fortunately, low back pain can easily be treated in physical therapy.

Here are the top 5 exercises to help with sciatic nerve pain.

1. Sciatic Nerve Glide. Nerves don’t like to be stretched like muscles do. They require a floss or a gliding motion to restore their normal blood, movement, and space they require to function properly. To complete this exercise lay on your back. On the affected side, grab the back of your leg with your hands so your hip is at about 90°. Straighten out your knee as much as possible. Then slowly move your foot back and forth until you are feeling an “on/off” sensation. Complete 10 repetitions 2-3x/day.

2. Piriformis Stretch. The sciatic nerve runs right through the middle of the piriformis muscle, so if the muscle is tight it can pinch the nerve. To complete this exercise lay on your back. Cross one leg over the other (in a figure 4 position). The grab the top knee and pull it toward your opposite shoulder until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold for 30 seconds and complete 2 repetitions on each side 2-3x/day.

3. Lower Trunk Rotations. This is a great exercise to do before you get out of bed in the morning. It loosens up the back and hip musculature. To complete the exercise lay on your back with your knees bent up and your feet flat on the floor. Slowly rock your knees side to side. Complete 15-20 repetitions 2-3 times per day.

4. Hamstring Stretch. The hamstrings also run in close proximity to the sciatic nerve, so it’s also a good one to complete seated in chair with one leg bent and one extended out in front of you. Lean forward slightly until a
stretch is felt down the back of your thigh. Toes should be relaxed to avoid putting stress on your sciatic nerve. Hold
for 30 seconds and complete 2 repetitions on each side 2-3x/day.

5. Bridges. Strengthening the glute muscles can take stress off of the lumbar spine. To complete this exercise, keep your feet on the ground with knees bent up. Activate TA and contract your glute muscles. Lift hips off of the ground, making sure to lift hips evenly. Hold for 3-5 seconds and return to starting position. Complete 10-20 repetitions 1-2x/day.

Give these exercises a try the next time you are experiencing sciatic nerve pain. If the pain doesn’t go away after trying these exercises, give us a call a 1-888-THERAPY to schedule an initial evaluation!

Rebecca Varoga, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Isanti Physical Therapy

August 29th, 2018

Posted In: General

One Comment

  • Jennifer says:

    I like your exercise suggestions. I used to have a problem with my sciatica when I was pregnant (26 yrs ago) and remember another “stretch” suggestion I did: lay on the floor and scoot your butt up next to the base of a couch or chair and put your feet up with your knees at the edge. It took the pressure off for a few minutes and the motions used to rotate into and out of position seemed to help too.

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