Weightlifting Exercises to Avoid With Sciatica

A man is in a squat rack.
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Symptoms of sciatica vary from person to person. They may be anything from a dull ache or muscle weakness to shooting pain or numbness and might persist in one or both legs on standing or sitting. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down both legs. An impingement in the nerve from either a vertebrae, disk in the low back or a tight piriformis muscle causes sciatica.

Lower Body Exercises

If done incorrectly, the angled leg press machine causes the lower back to round as the knees bend and come closer to the chest when you lower the weights. Avoid stiff leg deadlifts where the strain on the lower back comes from either excessive rounding when bending from the waist or excessive inward rotation when hinging forward from the hips. The seated abductor machine stresses the piriformis muscle and the sciatic nerve running through the muscle.


Upper Body Exercises

Using dumbbells with the upper body for the bent over row stresses the lower back in the hinged forward position, especially with weak abdominal and back muscles. To prevent lower back pain, keep a neutral spine whenever hinging forward from the hips. Avoid any standing exercise where you press weights over your head, such as a standing overhead press, or where you rest the weights on your shoulders. This puts unnecessary compression on the disks and vertebrae.

Core Exercises

Some core exercises work to help with sciatica while others exacerbate the condition. Avoid any type of crunches or sit ups with straight legs. Laying on your back with straight legs stresses the lower back. Avoid any machine that promotes crunching in times of pain. If your sciatic pain originates in the lower back, arching the back in a back extension machine can create more problems.



Sciatica can be debilitating. Because herniated discs and compressed vertebrae can cause sciatica, avoid putting any stress on the lower back area. When weightlifting, avoid weights that are too heavy and practice correct form before increasing or adding load to any exercise. Since sciatic is unique to each person, hire a professional to show you corrective exercise based on your own personal assessment. You may find other exercises you need to avoid specific to your muscular imbalances.