How to treat sciatica

by: Yuri Elkaim


Has radiating, shooting sciatic pain in your low back and legs got you down?

I mean, literally, on the couch, in pain?

You may be tempted to stay down. After all, who wants to get up and get moving when they’re in pain? But I urge you to give movement a chance.

First, because not moving can actually worsen sciatic nerve pain, especially if you’re sitting in the wrong position (1).

Second, because we want not only to relieve your sciatic pain, but also start on the road to strengthening areas of your body that may help prevent further pain.

I’m going to outline specific exercises that will show you how to relieve sciatic nerve pain. But before we get into them, let’s spend some time talking about the sciatic nerve and what can cause it to flare with pain.

What is the Sciatic Nerve?

The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the body.


It begins in the lower back where it joins with several “branches” of nerves, forming one large nerve that runs all the way down through your buttocks to your feet.

Sciatic pain can be caused by the nerve becoming pinched or compressed by discs in the lower back and hips.

The cause of the compressed discs could be a variety of factors, from an injury to repeated poor posture. To make things even more complicated, the nerve can be pinched at different (perhaps even multiple) points.

As if that weren’t enough, sciatica can also be aggravated by the piriformis muscle, which is located deep in the hip and runs close to the sciatica nerve. When it becomes excessively tight or inflamed, it can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause shooting and/or tingling pain in the low back.

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Sciatica pain symptoms can also include: weakness, burning, numbness in the feet, or a pins-and-needles feeling.

Some exercises can help relieve this pain. Of course, if your pain is intense and lingering, you’ll want to talk to your doctor or physical therapist before starting any kind of exercise program.

With that being said, most of the exercises I have for you below are safe to practice on your own to relieve mild to moderate sciatica.

Their main focus is on relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve through stretches that open a tight piriformis and hip flexors, while also strengthening the stabilizer muscles of the low back, core, glutes, and legs to encourage proper alignment of the spine and discs.

What to Avoid

While these exercises will go a long way in helping to relieve sciatica, there are a few other things you might be doing that could continue to make your pain worse.

All of these activities put even more pressure on the sciatica nerve, which is of course going to be counterproductive to performing pain-relieving stretches and exercises.

No one should have to live in pain (and even worse, on pain medication) their entire lives. Even though sciatic nerve pain is a reality for an overwhelming amount of people, taking a proactive stance by exercising might not only relieve pain, but help prevent it from worsening in the future.

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What is Sciatica?

To begin sciatica is not a diagnosis but a set of symptoms. These symptoms happen when a nerve is pressed on by other structures of the body. An example of this, is the sciatic nerve, hence the name sciatica. This nerve runs between several muscles and travels down the leg.  When these nerves are compressed they don’t work properly and these nerves give your body signals that this is happening.

Sciatica Signs, Symptoms, or Signals

Possible signs that you may have sciatica can include the following symptoms:

  • Pain traveling down your leg and buttock
  • Tingling or pins and needles
  • Intense pain in the buttock
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hot and cold or tingling or burning sensations in the legs
  • Reflex impairment

However, these are just signals that you may have sciatica, if you are experiencing these symptoms it’s best to book an assessment with a qualified physiotherapist to discover the root cause of your pain or discomfort. 

Causes of Sciatica

The root cause of sciatica is different and varies from person to person. Possible causes of sciatica can include:

  • Lumbar disc herniation, when the gel-like substance between the sections of your spine can press on nerves when you age or happen as a result of activity related degeneration
  • Spinal stenosis or degenerative causes. Shrinking of space between spinal joints can cause pushing on your nerves
  • Piriformis muscle syndrome when tight or overactive muscles that compress your sciatic nerve
  • Referred joint pain, when pain signals from your pelvis or hip joint can sometimes mimic or present as sciatica

What should I do?

Staying active is very important to continue to stay healthy even after getting sciatica symptoms. It is safe to exercise even with sciatica symptoms, however, there may be exercises that are more effective than others and certain exercises that should be avoided specific to your diagnosis. This is where asking the advice of a physiotherapist may be helpful in giving you appropriate direction.


  1. Visser L.H, Nijssen GN, Tijssen C.C, van Middendorp J.J, Schieving J. Sciatica-like symptoms and the sacroiliac joint: clinical features and differential diagnosis. European Spine Journal. 2013 Jul; 22(7): 1657–1664.
  2. Hopayian K, Danielyan A. 2 Four symptoms define the piriformis syndrome: an updated systematic review of its clinical features. European Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery & Traumatology. 2017; doi: 10.1007/s00590-017-2031-8
  3. Valat et al. Sciatica. Best practice & research. Clinical rheumatology.2010; 24 (2): 241 -252
  4. Albert HB, Manniche C. The efficacy of systematic active conservative treatment for patients with severe sciatica: a single-blind, randomized, clinical, controlled trial. Spine. 2012 Apr 1; 37 (7): 531-42
  5. Manish Kumar, Gaurav Garg, L. R. Singh, Talever Singh, and L. K. Tyagi. Epidemiology, Pathophysiology and Symptomatic Treatment of Sciatica: A Review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical & Biological Archives 2011; 2(4): 1050-1061
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