Sciatica Exercises and Pain Relief for Degenerative Disc Disease

Exercise for Sciatica from Degenerative Disc Disease

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Figure 11
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Figure 12
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Figure 13
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Figure 10
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Figure 14
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Figure 5
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Figure 15
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Figure 16
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While degenerative disc disease most often causes low back pain, if a degenerated disc impinges on a nerve root in the low back it can also cause a form of sciatica.

Sciatica Exercises for Degenerative Disc Disease

The form of sciatica exercises typically recommended for treating disc degeneration and the sciatica that results is a dynamic lumbar stabilization program, sometimes using the exercises included in the McKenzie Method.

Alleviating sciatic pain caused by degenerative disc disease includes finding the most comfortable position for the lumbar spine and pelvis and training the body to maintain this position during activities. In doing this correctly, one can improve the proprioception (sense of movement) of the lumbar spine and reduce the excess motion at the spinal segments. This will in turn reduce the amount of irritation at these segments, relieving pain and protecting the area from further damage.

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Lumbar Stabilization Exercises for Sciatica

These dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises often require specific hands-on instruction because they offer much less benefit if done incorrectly, and they tend to be much more difficult than they appear. This type of exercise program is progressive, starting with the easier exercises and advancing to the more difficult exercises once the lower level program is mastered. The most important aspect of using these sciatica exercises is sensing and controlling motion in the spine. Once learned, the body can eventually take over and do this without the level of concentration it takes early on.

Degenerative Disc Disease Exercises While Lying on the Back

Examples of the dynamic lumbar stabilizing exercises done while on the back include:

  • Hook-lying march. While lying on the back on the floor, with knees bent and arms at sides, tighten the stomach muscles and slowly raise alternate legs 3 to 4 inches from the floor (Figure 11). Aim to 'march' for 30 seconds, for two to three repetitions, with 30-second breaks in between repetitions.
  • Hook-lying march combination. Same exercise as described above, but includes raising and lowering the opposite arm over the head (Figure 12).
  • Bridging. Start by lying on the back with the knees bent, then slowly raise the buttocks from the floor (Figure 13). Hold bridge for eight to 10 seconds, then slowly lower to starting position. As strength builds, aim to complete two sets of ten bridges.

These exercises should all be performed with a rigid trunk. The pelvic tilt, tightening the lower stomach muscles and buttocks to flatten the back (Figure 10), can be used to find the most comfortable position for the low back.

Degenerative Disc Disease Exercises While Lying on the Stomach

This same pelvic position (tightening the lower stomach muscles to flatten the lower back) is maintained while performing stabilizing exercises from the prone position (lying flat on the stomach):

  • Raise one leg behind with the knee slightly bent and no arch in the back or neck (Figure 14). Hold for four to six seconds, then slowly lower to starting position. As strength builds, aim to complete two sets of ten leg raises.
  • Lying face down, with elbows straight and arms stretched above the head, raise one arm and the opposite leg 2 to 3 inches off the floor (Figure 5). Hold for four to six seconds, then slowly lower to starting position. As strength builds, aim to complete two sets of opposite side raises.

Similar stabilizing exercises can be done in the 4-point position (kneeling on hands and knees), raising the arms and legs only as high as can be controlled, maintaining a stable trunk and avoiding any twisting or sagging:

  • Raise one leg behind with the knee slightly bent and no arch in the back or neck (Figure 15). Hold for four to six seconds, then slowly lower to starting position. As strength builds, aim to complete two sets of ten leg raises.
  • For a slightly more advanced exercise, raise one leg with the knee slightly bent and no arch in the back or neck and also raise the opposite arm (Figure 16). Hold for four to six seconds, then slowly lower to starting position. As strength builds, aim to complete two sets of ten leg raises.
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Ron Miller
Article written by: Ron S. Miller, PT