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Sciatica Exercises – The 9 Best for Sciatica Pain Relief (pictures & videos)

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

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

In this article, I’ve picked 9 of my most effective sciatica relief exercises to show you today. I’ve also included a handy guide for choosing which sciatica exercises are right for you. You’ll also find a guide to the number of repetitions and sets you should be doing for each exercise.

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

As always, I recommend to everyone that these exercises should be pain-free at all times. You can read about why I tell everyone this 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, no one should be doing all of the sciatic exercises on this page! If you did, you’d be there all day. You’d also find that some were probably painful for you. The best way to start is to read the descriptions and “Who this is for” section of each exercise and pick 1-3 to try for a period of about a week. Change any exercise that worsens your pain. 

 

Without further ado and in no particular order, let’s have a look at some of my most effective sciatica exercises for pain relief:

 

The 9 Best Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

#1 – Happy Cat/Angry Cat

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

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 back pain or sciatica, so long as they can get onto the floor safely. You must only persist with this sciatica exercise if it doesn’t cause your back pain or sciatica to worsen.

Why this exercise 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 entrapments along the course of that nerve, and help to provide sciatica pain relief. Less entrapment and smoother mobility of the nerve leads to less pain!


#2 – Cobra Pose

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

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 suffering with a disc bulge 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 if it is comfortable to perform this movement. This exercise is a good place to start if you have trouble bending forward.

Why this sciatica exercise 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

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

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 exercise is great for all kinds of 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 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 – Knee Rolls

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

Instructions:

  • Lie on your back on a mat or a firm mattress
  • Bend your knees up halfway
  • Slowly and gently, allow both knees to roll over to one side only as far as is comfortable
  • Bring your knees back to the start position, then allow them to roll over to the opposite direction
  • Repeat for 30-seconds total, don’t rush the repititions and try to find a rhythm
  • Try to find time to do this exercise every 2-3 hours if you can

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise is great for relieving any tension in tight muscles in the lower back. It is also a great way to begin to regain any lost rotation in the lower back following sciatica.

Why this sciatica exercise works:

By gently encouraging a slow, controlled rotation of the lower back, the muscles in your lower back will realise that it is OK to relax a little. This will bring about low back and sciatica pain relief.


#5 – Sciatic Nerve Flossing

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

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 exercise 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 works:

This sciatica exercise provides pain 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.


#6 – Seated Flexion

Sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief pictures videos

Instructions:

  • Start sitting perched on the edge of a seat or bed
  • Support the weight of your body by putting your hands on your thighs
  • Gently, start to lean forward by bending the spineand letting the lower back relax
  • Slide your hands down your legs, going as far as is comfortable
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat up to 10 times in a row, trying to perform this exercise every few hours

Who this is for:

This exercise works really well for anyone with a facet joint problem. It is also good for SOME people with disc issues, but it can aggravate a disc problem so avoid this one if it isn’t comfortable. No need to go all the way down to the floor like in the final picture; going halfway will be enough for most.

Why this sciatica exercise works:

This sciatica exercise works in the same way as #3 where it will decompress the spine, offloading pressure on a nerve root if age-related changes are the culprit for your pain. It is also a very safe way to regain forward motion of the spine. Everyone should do this exercise at some point in their rehabilitation but only when it becomes non-painful.


#7 – McKenzie Side Bends

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

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 exercise 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 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.


#8 – Standing Extension

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Instructions:

  • Start standing normally.
  • Gently try to lean back. Only go as far as is comfortable.
  • If you feel able to, use your hands to provide support in the lower back allowing you to extend further (3rd picture)
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Perform up to 10 repetitions, every few hours or so. Cut your set short as soon as you reach the first signs of pain.

Who this is for:

This is a great sciatica exercise for a disc bulge as well. It works especially well for people who have trouble leaning forward and is a more user-friendly/convenient version of #2 on this list. However, I find it to be slightly less effective compared to the Cobra pose as I find people tend to rely more on pelvic rather than spinal movement with this one. You should AVOID this exercise if you suffer from arthritis of the lower back or spinal stenosis.

Why this sciatica exercise works:

This exercise works in a similar way to #2 – it involves movement of the lower back, encouraging blood to flow to the injured area so disc healing can occur. This exercise may help a disc bulge to “centralise” into the disc where it can’t pinch on a nerve root.


#9 – Standing Side Bends

sciatica exercises for sciatica pain relief

Instructions:

  • Start standing normally. Try this exercise on the right and left and stick with the most comfortable one.
  • Run your right hand down your right thigh as far as is comfortable.
  • Gently return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times, up to 3 times per day.

Who this is for:

This sciatica exercise is great for a range of causes of sciatic nerve pain and can help to loosen a stiff back. You’ll probably have one side (right or left) where doing this exercise is painful, and non-painful for the other. Always stick with the non-painful side.  This exercise is a good choice for people who get pain when bending forward AND leaning back.

Why this sciatica exercise works:

By relieving tension in the lower back and stretching out the muscles that run vertically along the spinal column, some can achieve effective sciatica pain relief with this exercise. It works well for people who find that they “shift” away from their painful leg and can help to reduce the pain causing this movement away from the painful side.


** Bonus Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief **

In addition to the exercises above which are superb for providing sciatica 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 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 #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 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 #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 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 #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 works:

This sciatica exercise 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 9 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.

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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