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Sciatica Exercises for Leg Pain – The Most Effective for Pain Relief

It is no secret that a huge part of my approach as a sciatica specialist is providing people with the right sciatica exercises for leg pain! If the exercises I give are appropriate, they can lead to truly significant sciatica leg pain relief.

However, it’s not always easy to choose the right sciatica exercises for leg pain that you should be doing.

In this article, I’ve picked some of my most effective sciatica exercises for relief of leg pain to show you today. You’ll find pictures of sciatica as well as videos for each. I’ve also included a handy guide for choosing which sciatica exercises are right for you to relieve your leg pain. You’ll find a guide to the number of repetitions and sets you should be doing for each exercise below each picture.

Of course, not all of these exercises will be right for everyone and choosing the right sciatica exercises for leg pain is often a game of trial and error.

As always, I recommend to everyone that these exercises should be pain-free at all times. See my ‘Golden Rule’ by following this link: You can read about my Golden Rule by clicking here. If you find one of the following exercises painful, simply stop and choose another instead.

How to use this guide: 
As everyone will have different requirements for their sciatica exercises for leg pain, no one should be doing all of the exercises on this page! If you did, you’d be there all day. The LAST thing someone with sciatica wants is to have to give up the things they enjoy in place of sciatica exercises. I don’t want that either!

Most people should spend no longer than 5-10 minutes per day on sciatica exercises for leg pain. This means picking just one or two but being consistent with them; day in, day out.

You’ll probably find that some of these sciatica exercises for leg pain are painful for you. These are the ones you should avoid. The best way to start is to read the descriptions and be guided by the “Who this is for” section of each exercise. Pick 1-3 to try for a period of about a week. Change any exercise that worsens your pain.

The best advice I can give you is to pay attention both during and in the hour immediately after the exercise. If you feel worse at either of those times, that exercises isn’t for you and you should change it.

First, it’s important to ask the question “Should I be doing sciatica exercises right now? Or would rest be better?”

I’ve answered this question in the video below:

So, once you’ve watched the video above, let’s have a look at some of my most effective sciatica exercises for pain relief:

 

The Best Sciatica Exercises for Leg Pain

#1 – Happy Cat/Angry Cat

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Instructions:

  • Begin on all fours, supported by your hands and knees
  • Start off by rounding your shoulders and tilting your head forward so as to look towards your knees
  • Try to push your shoulder blades apart from each other as you round your shoulders further, hollowing your tummy out at the same time. You should feel your lower back round as your tummy gets further away from the floor.
  • Now move in the opposite way. Arch your back as you lift your chin and bring your shoulder blades together again
  • Alternate between these two positions for 30-seconds, being sure to make the transition between them as smooth as possible.
  • Repeat this exercise 2-3 times per day

Who this exercise is for:

This exercise will be useful for most people with sciatica leg pain, so long as they can get onto the floor safely. You must only persist with this sciatica exercise if it doesn’t cause your sciatica leg pain to worsen.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

This sciatica exercise is a way of doing something called “nerve flossing”. You can read all about nerve flossing here.

The way your are alternating your back between an arched position and a rounded position leads to your spinal cord and sciatic nerve sliding through tight spaces in the back and legs. Doing this repeatedly can help to free up any entrapment along the course of that nerve, and help to provide sciatica leg pain relief. Less entrapment and smoother mobility of the nerve leads to less pain!


#2 – Cobra Pose

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Instructions:

  • Begin laying face-down on a firm surface like a mat on the floor or a hard mattress
  • Place your hands in line with your shoulders and gently push up, raising your torso off the floor
  • Keep your hips down on the floor
  • Only go as far as is comfortable – no need to get to full extension for a benefit!
  • Gently lower yourself to the starting position and repeat up to a maximum of 10 times.
  • Do a set of these 3-4 times per day

Who this is for:

Usually, people with a disc bulge as the cause of their sciatica leg pain find this exercise one of the most useful for improving their symptoms. However, regardless of what is causing your sciatica, you should only persist with this exercise for sciatica leg pain if it is comfortable to perform this movement. This exercise is a good place to start if you have trouble bending forward.

You may find that this exercise for sciatica leg pain actually temporarily worsens your back pain, if you suffer from back pain too. Don’t worry about this – as long as the worsening is not severe, and your sciatica leg pain improves, you’re still onto a good thing and should be able to safely continue.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

This sciatica exercise works because it involves movement of the lower back which encourages blood to flow to the injured area so healing can occur. Some researchers also believe this exercise causes a disc bulge to “centralise” into the disc where it can’t pinch on a nerve root.


#3 – Knee Hugs

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Instructions

  • Lie on a mat on the floor or on a firm bed with both knees bent halfway.
  • Slowly raise one knee up towards your chest and secure it with a hand
  • Raise the other leg up and secure this one as well
  • Gently pull in towards your chest, allowing your lower back to slightly relax
  • One leg at a time, return to the start position
  • Repeat this 8-10 times, every 2 hours if you find it provides sciatica pain relief

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise for leg pain is also great for back pain. I use this one especially frequently as a sciatica exercise for older people who have sciatica as a result of spinal stenosis. You may find this one difficult if you have a disc bulge, so avoid if it aggravates your symptoms.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

It allows the lower back to relax and alleviates tension associated with the tight muscles around the lumbar spine. This sciatica exercise relieves tension on a compressed nerve root in people with age-related deterioration of the spine by tilting the pelvis away from the painful position.


#4 – Sciatic Nerve Flossing

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Instructions:

  • Start sitting perched on the edge of a seat or bed with one leg out in front of you
  • You should perform this exercise on the LEAST PAINFUL of the two legs. Try both sides and stick with the more comfortable one
  • As you pull the toes of the extended leg up towards your head, raise your chin and look slightly up towards the ceiling (1st picture)
  • Then, drop your toes down away from you and drop your chin down at the same time (2nd picture)
  • Alternate between these two positions for 30-seconds at a time.
  • Repeat for 3 sets, spread evenly throughout the day.

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise for leg pain works really well for most types of sciatica and it is my starting point for people suffering from a disc bulge or prolapse.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

This sciatica exercise for leg pain provides relief by literally “flossing” a trapped nerve through tight spaces in the back and legs. As you pull your toes up, you put tension on the sciatic nerve; however, by also raising your chin, you can prevent this from being painful (nerves hate to be stretched). You’ll also be adding tension by dropping your chin, but relieving it again by letting your toes drop away from you.

NEVER pull your toes up and drop your chin down at the same time with sciatica – this is the position that puts most tension on the nerve and will aggravate symptoms.


#5 – McKenzie Side Bends

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Instructions:

  • Start standing next to a wall. Most people prefer to do this exercise with their painful leg being the one FURTHEST AWAY from the wall. However, try both sides and see which one is most comfortable for you – stick with that one.
  • Use your elbow and forearm to support yourself so you are leaning on the wall (1st picture)
  • Slowly and gently, let your hips “glide” towards the wall while keeping your feet in the same position.
  • Only go as far as is comfortable, then return to the start position.
  • Repeat this 10 times, have a break, and do 3 sets total.
  • If this exercise has worked for you, you may feel rapid relief in the painful leg and possibly slightly worsening back pain – rest assured this is a normal phenomenon.

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise for leg pain works really well for disc problems and is a mainstay for a treatment approach called “McKenzie”. If you have pain in one leg only from a disc bulge or prolapse, try this exercise.  It brings significant sciatica pain relief to many people and can work rapidly.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

The McKenzie approach claims to work by encouraging the disc material called the “nucleus pulposus” to re-centralise into it’s inner middle. Whether or not this actually occurs hasn’t been proven in scientific literature but I have seen this exercise provide relief for many. Be sure to choose the direction that is least painful when performing this sciatica exercise for leg pain.


** Bonus Exercises for Sciatica Leg Pain **

In addition to the exercises above which are superb for providing sciatica leg pain relief over a period of time, there is another “family” of sciatica exercises that we haven’t spoken about yet.

These are stretches for the muscles in the legs.

Stretching the muscles in the legs can be a highly effective way to achieve sciatica pain relief. This is because, when are suffering from sciatica, your mobility in the back and legs is affected (I’m sure you’ll have noticed this in some of the sciatica exercises above).

When we are left with poor mobility for any length of time, the muscles in the legs can shorten and become tight. This can lead to a “pulling” effect on the pelvis.

This “pulling” can place extra strain on the pelvis and cause it to “tilt” either forward or back, depending on the affected muscle group. This puts the lower back in a disadvantaged position and can lead to worsening back pain and sciatica.

Luckily, these bonus sciatica exercises for leg pain should help!

One thing you should be aware of: Some of these stretches may aggravate your sciatica, while some will make you feel much better. As with the other sciatica exercises, simply discard the ones that make you feel worse when you perform them or afterwards (and just stick with the comfortable ones).

Makes sense? Let’s go over some of the leg stretches that are particularly useful for sciatica…

 

Bonus Sciatica Exercise for Leg Pain #1 – The Gluteal Stretch

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Instructions:

  • Start sitting on the floor or a comfortable surface like a soft mat.
  • You are going to be stretching the NON-PAINFUL SIDE for this exercise; when we stretch the non-painful side, we can avoid aggravating the painful area and balance the pelvis off in a technique known as Total Motion Release.
  • Cross your non-painful leg over the painful leg
  • Using your arm as shown, reach through to the inside of your non-painful leg and pull your knee towards the opposite shoulder.
  • You should feel a stretch in the buttock region of the non-painful side
  • Hold for 30-seconds, repeating 5-6 times per day.

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise is great for anyone who feels sciatica symptoms in their buttock. It is also a great sciatica exercise for people who are suffering from piriformis syndrome. However, this stretch can help people with sciatica from all kinds of different causes, and should be tried by anyone suffering with sciatica. The gluteals (or buttocks) get very tight in people who stand with a number of different, common postures and should be stretched off regularly.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

By relieving tension in the gluteals and allowing the pelvis to find it’s natural “balance”, the pressure on the lower back and the sciatica nerve is reduced. This allows a better range of motion in the spine when you bend and twist, plus more freedom for the leg to swing when you walk. Stretching the non-painful side in this sciatica exercise is a great method to avoid worsening your symptoms while still getting relief.


Bonus Sciatica Exercise for Leg Pain #2 – The Piriformis Stretch

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Instructions:

  • Start laying on the floor or on a comfortable surface like a soft mat.
  • As with the sciatica exercise above, you are going to be stretching the NON-PAINFUL SIDE for this exercise
  • Bend your painful leg half way (In the above picture, the LEFT leg is the painful side)
  • Cross your non-painful leg over the painful leg as shown
  • Using your arm as shown, reach through to the shin of your painful leg and pull both your legs towards you
  • You should feel a stretch in the buttock region of the non-painful side
  • Hold for 30-seconds, repeating 5-6 times per day.

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise is very similar to the stretch I gave you as bonus #1, except the muscle that is being stretched here is slightly different to the gluteals (even though they live near to one another). The muscle being stretched here is the “Piriformis”, a small muscle that lies deep in your buttock. It gets tight in runners and people who sit for long periods of time and needs stretching regularly. This is a KEY sciatica exercise for people who have piriformis syndrome – a condition where the piriformis muscle gets tight and “pinches” on the sciatic nerve.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

By releasing a tight, unhappy piriformis muscle, the pelvis can work more efficiently. The trapped sciatic nerve within the piriformis is also allowed to be released. With this stretch, again we are stretching the NON-PAINFUL side first. We do this to avoid aggravating the sciatic nerve in the painful leg, which is already compressed by the tight piriformis. By releasing the non-painful piriformis, the pelvis is given some “slack”, allowing the tight side to relax as well.


Bonus Sciatica Exercise for Leg Pain #3 – The Hip Flexor Stretch

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Instructions:

  • Start with a mat on the floor, allowing you to rest the knee of your painful side on it
  • Kneel in the position shown, with your good leg bent up and on the knee of your painful side
  • Put your hands on your good knee, and gently lean forward, leaving the knee of your painful side behind you
  • You should start to feel a tightening of the area at the front of your hip on the painful side
  • When you feel the stretch, stop and hold for 30-seconds. Repeat this 5-6 times per day.

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise is great for releasing tension at the front of the hip for people who sit for a long period of time or people who stand with what we call an “anterior pelvic tilt”. Someone that stands with an anterior pelvic tilt gives the appearance of a rounded lower back and a sticking-out bum. Even though this is a normal posture, it can place pressure on the joints and discs in the lower back as the hip flexors get tighter and tighter.

Why this sciatica exercise for leg pain works:

This sciatica exercise for leg pain works because it releases a tight hip flexor – which has been shown to decrease pressure on the spine. Tight hip flexors can cause a build up of force at the back of the vertebral joints, placing unnecessary stress through the spine and leading to back pain (and in many cases, sciatica). With this sciatica exercise, we are stretching both the good and the bad sides rather than just the good side. Why? Because if only one hip flexor is stretched, you’ll get an unequal pull from the right and left sides. This exercise is also unlikely to aggravate sciatica (but stop it if it does).


 

Conclusion

Although those are some of my most prescribed sciatica exercises, I have only just covered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exercises that can provide sciatica pain relief.

If you’re crying out for a more complete method for complete relief of sciatica leg pain, then my new  course The Total Recovery Program for Sciatica could be exactly what you’ve been searching for.

Click here to read more about the Total Recovery Program for Sciatica

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A screenshot of the Total Recovery Program

What did you think of these sciatica exercises? Did you find any that are helpful? Let me know which one you found the best in the comments section below!

Disclaimer
We cannot guarantee any specific result from following these exercises. You try these exercises at your own risk and the author cannot be held responsible for any adverse effects, including but not limited to, a worsening of symptoms.

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