Sciatica is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that begins outside the base of the spine near your pelvis and travels down the back side of your leg from your butt to your foot. Pain with sciatica may occur anywhere along this path or spread all the time.
“People with sciatica may have severe pulsating, pulsating, or burning pain in those areas.” Abby HalpinDPT, PT, Physiotherapist and Owner Forte Performance and Physiotherapy. Dr. Halpin explains that they may have altered sensations such as numbness or tingling. “Because the sciatic nerve contains motor information, you may feel heavy, weak, or have difficulty moving,” she says. “Symptoms may only last a few seconds or be persistent and chronic.”
What causes sciatica?
Dr. Halpin says sciatica can happen to anyone, but it’s most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50. Symptoms often appear gradually. “It can happen when someone remains in a position that puts stress on nerve tissue for an extended period of time, such as sitting, standing, working in awkward positions, or moving around frequently for long periods of the day, especially bending or twisting,” it explains. Dr. Halpin.
“Imagine that you sleep on your arm and wake up with tingling or numbness,” she says. This is also a form of nerve compression that, although very temporary, is somewhat similar to the way sciatica might start. Although in the case of sciatica, it’s not just one night of sleeping in an odd position – it’s usually several weeks or months of being in these compression positions that is a problem for sciatica sufferers.”
Dr. says. Halpin it Decreased physical activity is often at the root Severe or sudden sciatica because people who are less active may have less resistance to movements that put pressure on the spine or leg. This, in turn, can cause pain and inflammation in the sciatic nerve. “A classic example is someone who is quite sedentary in their daily life but then bends down to lift a heavy sofa one day,” she says. “The lower back joints and the soft tissues around the nerve are not used to that kind of weight and movement and will send a signal to the brain that something serious might be going on. The resulting pain is to get you out of a dangerous situation but can lead to persistent sciatica until recovery occurs.”
How strength training can relieve sciatica symptoms
Dr. Halpin says strength training is the best way to build resilience against the types of load and stress that might otherwise lead to sciatica. “By doing heavy lifting often, the muscles are better equipped to withstand compressive loads and can prevent the sciatic nerve from taking on too much pressure,” she says.
Dr. Halpin adds that strength training also maintains people’s ability to move, sit and stand in a variety of positions. “By having a broad movement ‘vocabulary’, people can avoid using the same movements or postures all the time, which means they spend less time pressing their sciatic nerves in the same way,” she explains. “Flexibility and diversity are vital to staying healthy.”
7 strengthening exercises for sciatica pain
1. 90-90 hip lift
This exercise builds strength in the butt muscles, hamstringsAnd the core. Begin by lying on your back on the floor with your feet on a chair or flat against the wall. Your hips and knees are bent at a 90-degree angle (hence the name) with your leg parallel to the floor, arms extended by your sides, and palms pressing down on the floor. From here, without physically moving your feet, press your heels down to activate the back side of your legs. Then, bend your tailbone and lift it an inch or two off the floor—without raising your lower back—before lowering it down again. You should feel the backs of your thighs (hamstrings) working. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
This is a basic exercise that strengthens the entire back chain (the back of your body). You’ll also get a good stretch in your hamstrings, and fibres, which will lengthen your sciatic nerve. Begin by standing with a weight or household object, such as a jug of laundry detergent, in both hands in front of your body and arms outstretched. Keep your knees gently bent while hinge at the hips, keeping your back flat, while allowing your torso to bend forward at a 45-degree angle as you move the weight down the front of the leg toward the floor. Press through your heels to stand back, squeezing your glutes at the top. Complete three sets of 8–10 reps.
Rockbacks are one of the best exercises for sciatica and back weakness because they increase the mind-body connection in your core muscles and build strength in the deep abdominal muscles and lower back. These muscles can help protect the spine and nerves. Start by getting down on your hands and knees. Keep your arms straight and press your hips back to fly over your heels while keeping your back flat. Slowly return to the starting position. This is one representative. Complete three sets of 8-10 reps.
4. Diagonal pieces
This is a good strength training exercise for sciatica because it strengthens the entire core while simultaneously moving the spine. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your knees gently bent. Hold a weight or a household object such as a two-handed water bottle. Reach diagonally to your right and feel your torso and left leg (heel high) to rotate to that side. Reverse to swing the weight (with control) down off the opposite hip, making a large diagonal sweeping motion across your body. This is one representative. Complete three sets of 8-10 reps per side.
5. Cup Squat
Strengthening exercises like these can help make sure your body is flexible and able to handle functional movements during daily activities, Dr. Halpin says. Start standing with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Clasp your hands together in front of your chest. (Optional: Hold the top of the dumbbells vertical with both hands.) Squat down by bending your knees and sit your hips back and down toward your heels. Lower as low as possible while keeping your heels on the floor. Point your elbow toward or just inside your knees. Press through your heels to stand all the way back. This is one representative. Complete three sets of 8-10 reps.
This is a good exercise for strengthening the whole body. It also builds core strength and low back stability. You can make this exercise more challenging by holding a dumbbell or a heavy object, says Dr. Halpin. Start standing with your feet slightly wider than your hips, elbows bent, and fists by your shoulders. Squat to a comfortable depth while keeping your heels on the floor. Stand back, reaching for your hands straight as you do this. Bring your hands back down to start position. This is one representative. Complete three sets of 8-10 reps.
7. Round panels
This exercise is great for sciatica because it strengthens your core while not putting too much stress on your lower back. Get down on your hands and knees. Exhale and slightly rotate your back while feeling your abdominal muscles engage. Step each foot back onto a plank, keeping your hips low and your back round. Hold this position for 4-5 breaths, focusing on exhaling slowly and completely with each breath. Repeat 3-4 times.
How long does it usually take for sciatica pain to go away?
Dr. says. “It can take up to a year for symptoms to go away completely, but that doesn’t mean that severe symptoms last that long,” she says. The longer-lasting symptoms are usually small areas of numbness in the leg or foot. Getting an evaluation from a physical therapist is the best way to find out how and why your symptoms started, as well as making a plan to make changes that will reduce pain and weakness.”
Remember, movement is medicine. Staying active can help prevent the compression of the nerve that often causes this type of pain, and if you already have it, the sciatica strength exercises above may help relieve symptoms.