The Best Exercises For Sciatica And Lower Back Pain


It is estimated that five to 10 percent [1] of people suffering from lower back pain have sciatica, resulting from compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. There are, thankfully, a variety of quick and easy exercises that can help relieve the pain.

*NOTE: This article is no substitute for sound medical advice. Please consult your primary medical provider for all things health/wellness related.

What Is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a general phrase for pain related to the sciatic nerve. This is the longest nerve in the body, running from the back of the pelvis to the foot. When compressed or otherwise irritated, this can result in considerable pain or discomfort. [2]


  • Constant pain in one buttock and leg
  • Worsening of pain when sitting
  • Burning or tingling pain, rather than an ache
  • In extreme cases, loss of bladder/bowel control

Though the pain in sciatica radiates from the lower back, it typically affects the leg more. Lower back pain itself is a distinct affliction [3] that can occur individually or alongside sciatica. Both can wreak havoc with day-to-day activities, even if only experienced for a few days.

What causes sciatica and back pain?

There are various causes of sciatica: [2]

  • Slipped disc (90 percent of cases [1])
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of passage for spinal cord)
  • Spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebrae)
  • Less commonly: spinal infections, direct injuries, tumours, or Cauda Equina Syndrome

A common theme of these causes is that they result from back problems. It may not be possible to entirely prevent sciatica. However, you can reduce the likelihood of both back pain and sciatica by:

  • Maintaining correct posture (both seated and standing)
  • Using correct lifting technique
  • Configuring car driving position to support the lower back
  • Sleeping on a firm mattress
  • Exercising regularly to maintain back muscles

*NOTE: Proper hydration is also crucial. Please consume at least 100-120 oz of water daily. This will keep your back muscles a bit looser.

The Best Exercises For Sciatica And Lower Back Pain

Gently stretching the back and legs can help relieve both sciatica and associated back pain. Here is a simple exercise routine that can easily be done at home and fitted around a busy schedule:

1) Knee to chest stretch – Start by lying on your back with knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat to the floor. Wrap both hands around one knee and pull it gently in to your chest, holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then switch to the other leg.

2) Gluteal stretch – Stay in the same starting position. Lift your left leg and rest the ankle on the right thigh. Hook both hands around the right thigh and pull it toward you for 20-30 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times, then switch legs.

3) Knee lifts – Still in the same position, lay your arms flat by your sides. Keeping your lower back flat to the ground, lift your legs until the heels are around a foot off the ground then lower them again in a controlled fashion. Repeat 5 times.

4) Hamstring stretch – Sit on the floor with your back straight and your legs outstretched and about a hand’s width apart. Breathe in, and on the exhale, lean forward, rotating from the hips, reaching with your hands for your toes. Keep the back straight: Think about pushing your collarbone toward your feet rather than slumping. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then sit back up.

5) Back Extensions – Lie face down, with the flat of the feet against the floor. Rest your forearms on the ground with your elbows alongside your body and your fingertips at about eye level. Push down on your hands to arch your back. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then lower back to the ground. Repeat 10 times.

6) Piriformis Stretch – This targets the hip rotators. Laying on your back, bend your knees by bringing your heels toward your buttocks. Then cross one leg over the other, resting your ankle near your nose and use your muscles to bring the knee out. You will bend both of the knees and use your muscles to bring the knee out. Don’t overdo it, but aim for a light stretch in the hip area. When you feel that light stretch, hold it for 20 seconds. Then switch to the other side and hold that for 20 seconds. You can get a deeper stretch by pushing your leg out more.

Also try: Hockey ball massage – Using a hockey ball (or similar), target areas of pain or tension in the buttocks by placing the ball under the point of pain and resting body weight on it for 30-60 seconds.

*Safety note: Always consult a physiotherapist or other qualified medical professional regarding severe pain. It is advised you do this before undertaking exercises to aid sciatica.

In closing, the exercises and stratagem here are all about relief and making things better for you as you deal with sciatica. Safety first, safety always. Knowledge and research are two of the basics.



[1] B. Koes, M. van Tulder and W. Peul, “Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica,” BMJ, 2007.

[2] NHS, “NHS Choices: Sciatica”.

[3] NHS, “NHS Choices: Back pain”.

[4] R. Miller, “Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief”.



About Author

Kente Bates

OSN Fitness Expert Kente Bates is a personal trainer, writer, and coach. He has been involved in sports and fitness for over 20 years. You can reach him on twitter: @halcyonfg16. His health/fitness blog, Halcyon Fitness Group : and his email (where you can ask questions concerning health, fitness or anything relating):

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