Exercises for Treating Sciatica

Sciatic exercises

Our top five exercises for Sciatica include stretching for the lower back, gluteal muscles and nerve flossing.


What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a general term describing pain which radiates from the lower back, into your buttocks, hips, thigh and/or lower leg. It has a number of causes so it is important you get a professional diagnosis as soon as possible.

Whatever the underlying cause, sciatic pain results from the sciatic nerve becoming caught or impinged, usually by the spine. Exercises for treating sciatica aim to improve lower back mobility, and stretch tight muscles and the sciatic nerve.

If any of the following exercises hurt or make your sciatic pain worse, then do not do them!

Top 5 sciatica exercises

Nerves are very sensitive structures (excuse the pun). Therefore they need to be treated with care and attention. In order to free the sciatic nerve, it is important to gently move it and stretch it as it moves through the tissues.

Sometimes a stretch is too much for the nerve, especially if it is stopped from moving freely and is “caught” as it moves.

Glute/Piriformis Stretch

Piriformis syndrome exercises - piriformis stretch

Teaching point:

  • Put your foot on top of the other knee and push the knee downwards
  • Stretching the glute muscles and piriformis
  • Hold this position for 10-15 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times

This exercise is especially useful if the nerve is getting caught in the region of the buttock.

Nerve Flossing

Teaching point:

  • Put your leg out straight and perform a hamstring stretch
  • When you can feel the stretch in the back of the thigh, hold that position and pull your toes up towards you and then point them down again
  • Repeat this ankle movement 10 times and then release the stretch
  • Repeat this exercise 3 times

This exercise can be performed lying on your back or kneeling or standing with your foot stretched out ahead of you. Be careful not to bend the back while doing this exercise and do not stretch the nerve too much or do too many of these, as sometimes these can “irritate” the nerve and more pain.

Neural Cycles

Teaching point:

  • Lie on your back and bring your knee up to your chest and then slowly straighten your leg and lower down
  • Repeat this on the other leg and then repeat 10 times for each leg for 3 sets
  • Be careful not to push the stretch too hard as this can sometimes “flare” the nerve up

Ice Pack

Although applying heat may feel more comfortable on the low back, (because it relaxes the muscles), sciatica is often as a result of inflammation in the low back area and therefore an ice pack should be the treatment of choice, to reduce localised pain and muscle spasm and minimise inflammation. 

Follow the guidelines on using ice packs and always put in a damp cold towel and do not apply ice directly onto the skin.


Teaching point:

  • Lie on your front on a bed or floor and push up slowly onto your elbows
  • Do not push this movement too far and only go to a point that is comfortable
  • Then lower back down again
  • Repeat this movement 10 times for one set and complete 3 sets

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