3 Exercises that May Give You Sciatica (or Irritate Your Sciatic Nerve)

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3 Exercises that May Give You Sciatica (or Irritate Your Sciatic Nerve)

Depiction of the sciatic nerve as it runs through the pelvis and down the thigh.
Depiction of the sciatic nerve as it runs through the pelvis and down the thigh. SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Avoid Exercises that May Give You Sciatica (or Irritate Your Sciatic Nerve)

Your sciatica (which is really a catch-all phrase many people use to describe pain and/or electrical symptoms that go down one leg), may be caused by one or more of a number of things including herniated disc, a tight piriformis muscle, spinal stenosis or even a misaligned sacroiliac joint. It’s possible to have more than one of these conditions at the same time.

Exercise therapy is often used to help decrease symptoms while increasing physical functioning, and barring red flags such as nerve symptoms, including loss of control of your lower extremity, bowel or bladder, this approach may help you recover your quality of life.

Just the same, it's a good idea to know which exercises can irritate your sciatic nerve, and this slide show will give you a few basics.

Exercise and Sciatica - The Basics

Before you learn about these exercise culprits, though, here's some basic information about exercises and sciatica:

  • Exercise form is key. Many an injury or sciatic nerve irritation comes about because people let their form slide.
  • Recruiting your core as well as stabilizing your lumbar muscles over time provide the basis for most, if not all, of the exercises generally recommended for lumbar radiculopathy (the condition most people call sciatica).
  • Another thing to know is that exercises recommended for managing sciatica symptoms can easily turn into contraindicated exercise, i.e., moves not to do. This is because they may make your condition worse or bring up symptoms. A sciatic exercise becomes a contraindicated exercise when you begin to lose your form, or when you work with disengaged ab muscles. When you core starts to wobble, it's time to stop the exercise. Not only will you likely not get further benefits from doing a sciatica exercise with poor form, but it's possible that you may actually harm yourself, for example, by irritating your sciatic nerve.

Sources:

Albert HB1, Manniche C. The efficacy of systematic active conservative treatment for patients with severe sciatica: a single-blind, randomized, clinical, controlled trial. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2012 Apr 1;37(7):531-42. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31821ace7f.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21494193

Hayden JA1, van Tulder MW, Malmivaara A, Koes BW., Exercise therapy for treatment of non-specific low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jul 20;(3):CD000335. ">

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Hamstring Stretching

Silhouette of woman stretching hamstrings by grasping ankle of straight leg while lying on her back.
Stretch your hamstring muscles while lying on your back. summerseason

Stretching Your Hamstrings May Irritate Your Sciatic Nerve

Repeated hamstring stretching and/or hamstring stretches that are very intense may have the unintended consequence of stretching your sciatic nerve as well. (And of course this will likely irritate it.)

The sciatic nerve travels from the lumbar spine through the pelvis, and down your lower extremity. At the back of the thigh, the sciatic nerve pretty much follows the route of the hamstrings muscles. So when you stretch your hamstrings, you are at risk for stretching your sciatic nerve, and this is not advised. If you feel your hamstrings are tight, consider asking your physical therapist for a gentle, tailored program that will help alleviate muscle tension without irritating the nerve.

Related:  3 Ways to Strengthen Your Hamstrings for a Healthy Lower Back

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Bent Over Row

A woman does a bent row exercise with a straight back and engaged core muscles.
A woman does a bent row exercise with a straight back and engaged core muscles. lunamarina

The Bent Over Row is Not a Safe Bet for Avoiding Sciatica

The bent over row is a full body integration exercise that also targets your arms and back. The problem with this one is that it's all too easy to do the exercise with poor form - i.e. by rounding your back when you pick up the bar or weights. This my increase your risk for a disc herniation which would likely cause symptoms of sciatica. Also, for part of the exercise, your hamstring is in a stretch, which, again, may possibly stretch your sciatic nerve at the same time.

Related: What is Piriformis Syndrome?

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Double Leg LIft

Woman in a double leg lift.
Woman in a double leg lift. John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Lifting Both Legs at the Same Time May Bring On Sciatica

Core is king in the sciatica pain relief arena. It's easy to overdo a challenge to your ab and back muscles. One of the most common ways people irritate their backs (which may include irritating the sciatic nerve) is by performing a double leg lift when they are really only strong enough for a single leg lift.

This is a recipe for a low back injury.

Before doing a double leg lift, ask yourself, can I lift my legs without also moving my pelvis or trunk? If the answer is no, it's likely your abs are not strong enough to carry the weight of your legs. In this case, the load will likely defer to your low back, putting you at risk for disc herniation. A herniated disc can cause pain down your leg (which is a condition often called sciatica by non-medical people). Doing double legged lifts when your core is not strong enough can irritate your back, and possibly your sciatic nerve in other ways, as well.

Learn more about Exercise for Sciatica

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