Severe sciatic nerve pain can make exercise seem impossible. But don't despair, these 3 tips can help get you up and keep you moving:

Sciatica symptoms are caused by an underlying disorder. Watch Sciatica Causes and Symptoms Video

1. Stimulate your soft tissues with heat

Applying heat to your rear pelvis for 15 to 20 minutes prior to your exercise can help in the following ways 1 Kim EJ, Choi YD, Lim CY, Kim KH, Lee SD. Effect of heating and cooling combination therapy on patients with chronic low back pain: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2015;16:285. Published 2015 Jun 26. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0800-4 , 2 Malanga GA, Yan N, Stark J. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury. Postgraduate Medicine. 2014;127(1):57-65. doi:10.1080/00325481.2015.992719 :

  • Improve blood flow. Heat therapy increases the temperature of tissues, causing blood vessels to dilate. Dilation of blood vessels improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and healing nutrients to your lower back.
  • Stretch soft tissues. Heat therapy helps decrease stiffness and increase flexibility by stretching the muscles around your spine. The range of motion of your lower back also increases and can help you exercise better.

There are numerous options for heat therapy, including a warm bath, a hot water bottle, or a reusable gel pack.

When applying heat therapy, make sure you place a cloth or towel between your skin and the heat source and take intermittent breaks to prevent burns.

See How to Apply Heat Therapy


2. Start with easy, low impact options

If you are new to exercising, make sure to not overexert yourself. You can begin with as little as 5 to 10 minutes, and slowly work your way up each day.

  • Try simple sciatica exercises at home or use a stationary bike or elliptical machine at the gym.
  • You can also simply walk in a swimming pool; water therapy can effectively relieve sciatica pain and does not require much effort. 2 Malanga GA, Yan N, Stark J. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury. Postgraduate Medicine. 2014;127(1):57-65. doi:10.1080/00325481.2015.992719

Avoid exercises that can jar your spine and worsen your sciatica symptoms, such as running or mountain biking.

View Slideshow: 9 Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

3. Pay attention to your form

It is important to be mindful of your body and pay attention to your form while exercising. Feel the rhythm of your breathing to improve your focus. When you are mindful, you will be distracted from the pain and anxiety of sciatica. Be sure to follow the exercise steps correctly and use correct posture to avoid further injury.

Starting a new exercise may cause a moderate degree of soreness for beginners. Using an ice pack on the sore areas after you exercise can help reduce inflammation and decrease the pain.

See Easy Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief


Regular exercise can prevent sciatica recurrences

It is essential to commit to a regular exercise routine if you have sciatica. Exercise can help improve the health of your muscles and joints in your spine and nourish your spinal discs 3 Mu W, Shang Y, Mo Z, Tang S. Comparison of two types of exercises in the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis. Pak J Med Sci. 2018;34(4):897–900. doi:10.12669/pjms.344.15296 , 4 Pourahmadi MR, Taghipour M, Ebrahimi Takamjani I, Sanjari MA, Mohseni-Bandpei MA, Keshtkar AA. Motor control exercise for symptomatic lumbar disc herniation: protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2016;6(9):e012426. Published 2016 Sep 27. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012426 , 5 Belavý DL, Albracht K, Bruggemann G-P, Vergroesen P-PA, van Dieën JH. Can Exercise Positively Influence the Intervertebral Disc? Sports Medicine. 2015;46(4):473-485. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0444-2 —effectively reducing pressure on your sciatic nerve roots. When you exercise on a daily basis, your sciatica symptoms may improve in the short term and you may have fewer recurrences over time.

See Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

Talk with your doctor if your symptoms do not improve and/or worsen with exercise, which can indicate a more serious injury to your sciatic nerve root(s). A doctor can accurately diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your sciatica.

Learn more:

Myths About Sciatica Treatment Options

2 Walking Tips to Avoid Sciatica Pain

Darren Riccio is a licensed physical therapist who has been working in the fields of physical therapy and rehabilitation and fitness since 1995. He is also certified in Maitland orthopedic manual therapy techniques, Olympic weight lifting, sports performance coaching, as a running coach, and fitness training.

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