Before reviewing specific sciatica exercises, it is first important to explain what sciatica is, as sciatica is often misused and its definition often misunderstood. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis in itself (meaning it does not explain the cause of the pain). Sciatica is a general term used to explain a set of symptoms around the sciatic nerve. Technically, it refers to pain caused by compression or irritation of one or more nerves exiting the lower spine that make up the sciatic nerve, and there are a number of different conditions that can cause this.

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The medical term for sciatica is radiculopathy, which means that the radicular nerve (nerve root) in the lower back is being irritated or pinched (e.g., by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or other lower back disorder). The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back through the back of each leg, and branches off to parts of the leg and to the foot and toes. Sciatic pain can be experienced anywhere along this nerve route, from the low back, the buttock, the back of the thigh, the calf, the foot or the toes.

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Specific Sciatica Exercises Depend on the Cause of the Pain

It is important to first get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of sciatic pain for two reasons:

  • The specific exercises recommended will depend on the underlying cause of the sciatica.
  • While rare, sciatic pain can be caused by some serious medical conditions (such as an infection, tumor, or fracture) that require prompt medical attention.

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Exercises for the common causes of sciatica or sciatica-like symptoms are explained in the remaining pages of this article. It is recommended that all patients consult a physician or chiropractor who specializes in spine medicine prior to beginning any exercise program.

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Treating Sciatica is Part of a Daily Routine

To be effective, the sciatica exercises recommended for specific conditions must be done regularly (typically two times daily), and they must be done using the right form. Close attention to posture and body mechanics is the key to both getting the maximum benefit from the exercises and preventing further injury or pain.

Continuing with a program of gentle exercise and stretching is beneficial for a current episode of sciatica but also for overall back health and for preventing or reducing future flare ups of sciatic pain.