15 most effective sciatica exercises to soothe ongoing pain, according to a top chiropractor (2023)

Sciatica exercises can be a #blessing when it comes to easing the pesky (… understatement of the century) nerve pain. Sure, ideally we’d put preventative measures in place to stop sciatica developing, but there are things you can do to help if it does — whether that's with the NHS' sciatica exercises, knowing which exercises to avoid if you've got sciatica, or the best sciatica exercises to do in bed. If you ended up with sciatica amid pregnancy, or as a result of a slapdash WFH setup, these exercises all apply.

We caught up with Catherine Quinn, president of the British Chiropractic Association, for everything you need to know.

What is sciatica?

‘Sciatica refers to the condition when the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back to your feet, is irritated or compressed,’ Quinn explains. ‘This can be due to a slipped disc and can cause a lot of discomfort.’

In a nutshell, there are discs in between each vertebrae, that are a bit like washers. If one starts to press into the sciatic nerve, when it moves from the position it’s meant to be in, which can happen when twisting or turning to lift an object, it can cause a whole world of ouch.

Sciatica symptoms

Quinn tells us the following could be signs of sciatica:

  • Moderate to severe pain in the lower back, which can extend to legs and feet
  • Pins and needles
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Inability to flex the foot
  • Reduction in the knee-jerk reflex

    What causes sciatica?

    Sciatica isn’t picky — anyone can get it, though there are a few things that make it more likely.

    ‘It is suggested that pregnant women can be more susceptible to sciatica due to changing pressures on the spine and pelvis,’ says Quinn.

    In fact, 50-80% of woman suffer from sciatica-like symptoms and back pain during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester — and the usual suspects can be to blame: weight gain, fluid retention, the growing uterus, the shifted centre or gravity, even the baby’s head — and, less often, a slipped disc.

    ‘Individuals with very high BMI (Body Mass Index) are also more likely to suffer from the condition, especially between the ages of 35 and 50,’ says Quinn.

    Weight makes a difference as it increases the pressure in the lower back and pelvis, especially if it’s carried around the stomach. It figures.

    That poor posture we’re getting used to when walking around and sitting at a desk, particularly when WFH and using laptops, can stress the vertebrae in your lower back as well. And you guessed it: hello, higher risk of sciatica.

    It’s all about making sure we support the spine and, if it comes to it, incorporating sciatica exercises.

    What are the best exercises for sciatica?

    ‘There are many preventative measures which can be taken into consideration, such as leading a healthy lifestyle, take regular breaks from staying seated, sleeping on a firm mattress, maintaining good posture — including at your work space, and regular exercise,’ explains Quinn.

    (Video) Best Seated Sciatica Exercises for Instant Pain Relief

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    ‘But, if these preventative measures fail, there are a number of exercises that can be done to ease symptoms, such as using a foam roller to massage the glute area, holding yoga poses aimed at opening the hip flexor, doing lower back stretches, and stretching the outer hamstring and glute. Remember there’s not one solution that fits all and you need to find the best solution for your body.’

    (Video) One Minute Sciatica Exercise to Cure Sciatica & Quick Pain Relief | Leg Pain Sciatica Disc Bulges

    As well as returning to work, activity and gentle rhythmic movement, like swimming, cycling and gentle walking, as soon as possible, there are some specific sciatica exercises that you can do in bed or lying down on the floor. Respect the pain, go gently and stop if you experience any discomfort.

    The best NHS-recommended sciatica exercises

    The NHS advises sciatica exercises specific to the cause (which you'll need to get firmed up by your GP, first and foremost). For example, if you have sciatica pain in your back, you may benefit most from doing specific back exercises. Once you've got the cause nailed down, here's what you need to do.

    If your sciatica is caused by piriformis, a tiny muscle in your butt, these are the sciatica exercises to try and stretch it out:

    This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

    Exercise 1

    • Cross your legs and draw them up towards the chest.
    • Activate your abdominals and hold for 10 seconds.
    • Repeat three times.

      Exercise 2

      • Bring your knees up towards your chest and move them across to the opposite shoulder of the problem side.
      • Move your knees from side to side to mobilise and free up the piriformis, while engaging the abdominal muscles.

          If your sciatica is caused by a herniated or slipped disk, which can cause pain locally or down the body, these are the sciatica exercises to try to give the area space:

          This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

          Exercise 1

          (Video) Top 5 Exercises That Help Get Long-Term Pain Relief From Sciatica

          • Lie on your stomach with two pillows below the lower back to open it up and take pressure off.
          • Stay in this position for a few minutes.

            Exercise 2

            • Lie on your side, with the problem side up and a pillow between your knees.
            • Lie back and put a pillow or chair beneath the knees to soften the lower back.
            • Lying down, slowly tilt the pelvis.
            • With the lumbar arch in the lower back pressed down to the bed or floor, hold for five seconds.
            • Repeat 10 times.

              Exercise 3

              • Squeeze your buttocks as hard as you can for five seconds.
              • Repeat 10 times.

                If your sciatica is caused by spinal stenosis, these are the sciatica exercises to create space between the joints, and to strengthen and stabilise the surrounding area so you can take pressure off the nerve:

                This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

                Exercise 1

                • Lying on the floor or bed, bring your knees up to the chest.
                • Draw them closer 10 times.

                  Exercise 2

                  • Bring both knees up to the chest and move them out to the side and back in, in circles.
                  • Repeat for 10 in each direction.

                    Exercise 3

                    • Sitting on a bed or in a chair, pull your knees up to the chest.
                    • Bounce them carefully up and down.

                      Exercise 4

                      • Lying down on the floor or a bed, ease the lumbar arch (the curve in your lower back) down.
                      • Repeat 10 times.

                        Exercise 5

                        • Pull your stomach muscles in, roll your knees from side to side.
                        • Repeat 10 times.

                          Exercise 6

                          • Squeeze your buttocks and draw the pelvic floor in.
                          • Hold for five seconds.
                          • Repeat three times.

                              If your sciatica is caused by degenerative disc disease, these are the sciatica exercises to strengthen, mobilise and stabilise the surrounding area:

                              (Video) 18 Min Sciatica Exercises for Leg Pain Relief - Sciatica Relief & Treatment for Sciatic Nerve Pain

                              This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

                              Exercise 1

                                • Lie with the ankles beneath the knees.
                                • Squeeze the buttocks and lift the pelvis, coming up into bridge.

                                  Exercise 2

                                  • Lie on your back on the floor or bed, with your knees up to take slack off the lower back, engage the abdominals.
                                  • Lying down, slowly tilt the pelvis.
                                  • With the lumbar arch in the lower back pressed down to the bed or floor, hold for five seconds.
                                  • Repeat 10 times.

                                    Exercise 3

                                    • Lying on your back, activate the core and move knees from side to side.

                                      Exercise 4

                                      • Lying, sitting or standing, squeeze the pelvic floor.
                                      • Hold for five seconds.
                                      • Repeat five times.

                                          Sciatica exercises to do in bed

                                          Sciatica exercises to do in bed can be useful as they can be done in the morning or evening.

                                          ‘A number of exercises can be done in bed, such as pulling knees to chest, posterior pelvic tilts and knee to opposite shoulder stretch,’ advises Quinn. Most of the NHS' sciatica exercise recommendations can be done in bed, and the instructions above will help you figure out when it's an option.

                                          Exercises to avoid when suffering with sciatica

                                          Though movement can benefit the nerve pain, there are some sciatica exercises to avoid.

                                          ‘Avoid exercises that can cause more pain on the sciatic nerve,' recommends Quinn.

                                          These can include:

                                          • Weighted squats
                                          • Cycling
                                          • High impact sports
                                          • Burpees
                                          • Hurdler stretches

                                            Above all, remember to go at your own pace. If at any point you feel any sharp pain, or the sciatica exercises you're doing are making your condition worse (either during or after movement), always stop and consult a GP for further advice. Quinn's words are certainly wise, but no health advice should ever be taken as gospel—you can thank your ever-evolving and slightly unpredictable bod for that.

                                            (Video) How to Relieve Sciatica Pain in SECONDS


                                            What is the number one exercise for sciatica? ›

                                            What exercises help reduce sciatic nerve pain? There are 4 sciatica exercises your spine specialist may recommend to help you reduce sciatic nerve pain caused by degenerative disc disease: pelvic tilt, knee to chest, lower trunk rotations, and all fours opposite arm and leg extensions.

                                            What is best for sciatica pain chiropractor? ›

                                            Heat and cold therapies: Alternating cold and heat therapy has been used by chiropractors to do wonders and provide quick relief from sciatica pain. Heat can release tight muscles and dull the agony away. The cold therapies will slow down the blood flow and help ease the symptoms of inflammation.

                                            What are the three best stretches for sciatica? ›

                                            Sciatica pain begins in your lower back and moves down your legs. Relieve the pain with moves such as a seated glute stretch, pigeon pose, and standing hamstring stretch.

                                            What helps excruciating sciatica pain? ›

                                            Lifestyle and home remedies
                                            • Cold packs. Place a cold pack on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. ...
                                            • Hot packs. After 2 to 3 days, apply heat to the areas that hurt. ...
                                            • Stretching. Stretching exercises for the low back might provide some relief. ...
                                            • Medications.
                                            Sep 13, 2022

                                            What relaxes the sciatic nerve? ›

                                            Alternating heat and ice therapy can provide immediate relief of sciatic nerve pain. Ice can help reduce inflammation, while heat encourages blood flow to the painful area (which speeds healing). Heat and ice may also help ease painful muscle spasms that often accompany sciatica.

                                            What is the best sitting position for sciatica? ›

                                            To minimize stress to the sciatic nerve while sitting, it is recommended to sit straight with the shoulders rolled back and shoulder blades down. The legs must be hip-distance apart with feet flat on the floor.

                                            How long does it take for chiropractor to heal sciatica? ›

                                            With a commitment to proper treatment, sciatica should start to improve within four to six weeks. Keep in mind that each case varies greatly, so how long sciatica lasts depends on many individual factors. Your sciatica symptoms could last longer than six weeks or they could subside much sooner than four weeks.

                                            How many chiropractic treatments for sciatica? ›

                                            𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐦𝐚𝐣𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐜𝐮𝐬 𝐨𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐞𝐰𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐧𝐮𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐫𝐞𝐥𝐢𝐞𝐟 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬. 𝐒𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐚-𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐮𝐬𝐮𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐛𝐞 𝐫𝐞𝐥𝐢𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐝 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧 𝐟𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐯𝐢𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐨𝐫 𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐬, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐝𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐛𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐜 𝐞𝐱𝐞𝐫𝐜𝐢𝐬𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐝𝐨 𝐚𝐭 𝐡𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐢𝐧 𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐩 𝐬𝐲𝐦𝐩𝐭𝐨𝐦𝐬 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐫𝐞𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐧!

                                            Can sciatica be relieved by chiropractor? ›

                                            Although the pain may be severe, sciatica can most often be relieved through physical therapy, chiropractic and massage treatments, improvements in strength and flexibility, and the application of heat and ice packs.

                                            Is there a pressure point to relieve sciatica? ›

                                            Interestingly, acupressure, a form of acupuncture, applies pressure to the Yao Yang Guan acupuncture point to relieve acute sciatica pain and low back pain [26],[27]. This acupuncture point is below the spinous process of the fourth lumbar vertebrae, where the sciatic nerve branches out from the spinal cord.

                                            What is the 30 second stretch for sciatica? ›

                                            Simple Seated Stretch

                                            Start by sitting in a chair and cross your sore leg over the knee of your other leg. While keeping your spine straight, bend your chest forward. If you don't feel pain, bend forward a little more. Hold this position for about 30 seconds.

                                            What is the strongest drug for nerve pain? ›

                                            Tramadol. Tramadol is a powerful painkiller related to morphine that can be used to treat neuropathic pain that does not respond to other treatments a GP can prescribe. Like all opioids, tramadol can be addictive if it's taken for a long time.

                                            What makes sciatica worse? ›

                                            Anything that puts more pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause sciatica symptoms to flare up. This includes sitting too much, wearing uncomfortable footwear or too tight pants, sleeping in a wrong position, and being inactive.

                                            What medication would a doctor prescribe for sciatica? ›

                                            4 Drugs commonly prescribed for the management of sciatica include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), skeletal muscle relaxants, opioid analgesics, benzodiazepines, systemic corticosteroids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants.

                                            Does drinking water help sciatica? ›

                                            In addition to providing hydration, drinking water has the potential to alleviate sciatica, a common source of lower back and leg pain. Drinking water can slow the progression of symptoms and ease discomfort.

                                            Do muscle relaxers help sciatica? ›

                                            While muscle relaxants and other forms of medication often provide symptomatic relief, they are not a lasting solution to sciatica. At best, they only improve the pain associated with this condition, rather than permanently resolving the condition itself.

                                            How do you sit on a couch with sciatica? ›

                                            How to sit on the couch with sciatica
                                            1. Keep your lower back supported. Sit up against the backrest to help you maintain a good spinal position. ...
                                            2. Place your feet on the floor. ...
                                            3. Sit on both sides evenly.

                                            What is better for sciatica massage or chiropractor? ›

                                            Massage therapy and chiropractic care often go hand-in-hand, with massage recommended as a complementary therapy to that of a chiropractor. The chiropractor will begin the treatment of sciatica with a spinal adjustment, with a massage therapist providing targeted therapy.

                                            What is better for sciatica physical therapy or chiropractor? ›

                                            For example, if your sciatica is mild and you are looking for ways to relieve the pain and improve range of motion, you should see a physiotherapist. If you have a moderate case of sciatica and want to speed up your recovery, you might want to see a physiotherapist first and then see a chiropractor.

                                            How long does it take for nerves to heal after sciatica? ›

                                            Sciatica is where the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back to your feet, is irritated or compressed. It usually gets better in 4 to 6 weeks but can last longer.

                                            How many chiropractic adjustments are recommended? ›

                                            Common Chiropractic Adjustment Frequencies

                                            To achieve maximum benefits, most injury and pain types will need somewhere between four and twelve sessions. Ongoing maintenance is used to prevent pain from coming back and to prevent additional injuries from forming due to a misalignment of the spine.

                                            What aggravates sciatica? ›

                                            It can be worse when coughing or sneezing or sitting a long time. Usually, sciatica affects only one side of the body. Some people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness in the leg or foot.

                                            Is it better to rest or exercise with sciatic nerve pain? ›

                                            During a sciatica flare-up, you may find some movements difficult, but it's important to stay active. Avoid high-impact sports, exercises, and movements that strain the sciatic region. Stay away from any activity, movement, or posture that causes pain.

                                            Does sitting make sciatica worse? ›

                                            Sitting too much can also trigger or worsen sciatica pain. Sitting is another activity that puts a lot of pressure on your glute muscles, lower back, and sciatic nerve. Moving around gives your sciatic nerve a break, a chance to stretch and allow blood to flow to the area.


                                            1. Best 9 Exercises to Relieve Sciatica Nerve Pain
                                            (Performance Place Sports Care & Chiropractic)
                                            2. Best STANDING Sciatica Exercises for Instant Pain Relief
                                            (SpineCare Decompression and Chiropractic Center)
                                            3. One Movement for Instant Sciatica Pain Relief
                                            (Dr. James Vegher)
                                            4. Simple Stretches For Sciatic Pain For Seniors | Dealing With Sciatica | More Life Health
                                            (More Life Health)
                                            5. Stop Sciatica Pain with Pilates
                                            6. STOP Sciatica Nerve and Low Back Pain FAST with 1 Stretch
                                            (Dr. Eric Berg DC)


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