The Secret Sciatic 5 (Exercises)

By Rachel Long, PT, DPT

Sciatica is a condition caused by compression or inflammation of the L5-S1 nerve root resulting in radiating leg pain.  A new study by Fritz et al showed that early physical therapy for recent onset of sciatica was beneficial in improving self reported pain and disability.  Below are some exercises for sciatica that can easily be performed in the home:

 Sciatic nerve mobilization

Begin sitting on the edge of a bed with hands clasped behind your back, and your back slumped forward slightly.  Straighten one knee, bring your foot and toes back toward your nose, and bend your head backward at the same time, then lower your foot and bend your head forward at the same time.  Do this until you perceive a reduction in the amount of tension you feel.

Single knee to chest

Begin lying on your back with both legs bent and feet flat on the bed.  Pull one knee toward your chest and hold 30 seconds.  Repeat 3 times on each leg. (This is a flexion based exercise and is often prescribed for patients whose symptoms are reduced with flexion activities. If this activity worsens your leg pain, this particular movement should be avoided).

Piriformis stretch

Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. Cross one leg over the other so your ankle is resting on your opposite knee.  Pull your knee that is down on the table towards your chest until you feel a stretch in the opposite buttock.  Make sure to keep your back flat against the bed during the stretch.  Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.


This positioning is a way to provide decompression for your back to alleviate pain and radiating symptoms.  You can lay on the floor using a chair to put your legs up, or lay on a couch or bed using pillows/blanket to support the lower legs.  The important thing to remember with this exercise is that the thighs need to be parallel to the wall (you need to have your legs elevated enough) in order for appropriate decompression to occur.  Once in position, you can maintain for several minutes, as long as you are comfortable.  Remember to stay relaxed during this exercise.  Your arms should be resting at your sides with your palms facing the ceiling. 


Begin lying on your side with your knees bent and your hips and shoulders stacked.  Raise your top knee up toward the ceiling, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat 20 times. Make sure to keep your core engaged and do not roll your hips forward or backward during the exercise.

A combination of exercise AND manual therapy produces the greatest outcomes (vs. exercise alone) for relieving sciatica.  The earlier the treatment, the better!  Physical therapists can tailor an exercise program specific to your needs and deficits, and can provide valuable hands on therapy to address mechanical limitations within the muscles or joints.  Call Lifeline therapy today for your sciatica  evaluation and tailored treatment plan!

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