Leg pain from a pinched nerve can be debilitating. Although a pinched nerve can occur anywhere in your body, it's possible that the pain that radiates down your leg is a result of pressure on the sciatic nerve. Exercises for a pinched nerve in the leg can provide some relief.
The signs of a pinched nerve include a sharp, aching or burning pain, according to the Mayo Clinic, as well as muscle weakness, numbness or decreased sensation in the affected area. When this feeling is a result of pressure on the sciatic nerve, the symptoms are known as sciatica, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
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The condition is more common as you get older, and up to 40 percent of people will experience sciatica, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Sciatica can be caused by a herniated disc in your spine or slipped vertebra. It can also be the result of hypertrophy or spasm of the piriformis, a small muscle in your glutes that can affect the sciatic nerve, says the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Read more: Vitamins for Sciatica
Exercises for Pinched Nerve Pain
You might be tempted to skip exercising when experiencing leg pain from a pinched nerve, but low-impact workouts like walking and stretching may help with the pain, Harvard Health Publishing notes. Along with exercises such as water aerobics and cycling, exercises done for physical therapy for a pinched nerve in the leg can help. One option is a back extension exercise, recommended by the National Health Service (NHS).
- Start the exercise by lying on your stomach on an exercise mat. Prop your upper body up on your forearms with your elbows bent at your sides.
- Keep your neck straight, look toward the floor and arch your back up by pushing down on your forearms. Make sure to keep your hips on the floor. You'll feel a small stretch in your stomach muscles.
- Breathe normally and hold for five to 10 seconds. Then slowly lower to the starting position.
- Repeat eight to 10 times.
Read more: Weight Lifting With Sciatic Pain
NASM recommends a floor bridge exercise, among others, to treat piriformis syndrome.
- Lie on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees and place your feet shoulder-width apart flat on the floor.
- Tighten your abdominal and glute muscles. Pushing through your heels, lift your pelvis off the floor until your knees, hips and shoulders form one line.
- Hold for five seconds and then slowly return to the starting position.
Stretches for Sciatica
Some simple leg stretches can also help relieve the pain of sciatica, such as the knee to chest stretch recommended by the NHS.
- Lie on your back on a mat and place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Bend one knee and pull it up toward your chest until you feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and then release. Repeat three times, alternating your legs.
Another option for stretches for a pinched nerve in the leg that the NHS recommends is a sciatic mobilizing stretch. This can help for a pinched nerve causing hamstring pain.
- Lie on your back on a mat and put the cushion or book behind your head. Place your feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor.
- Bend one knee to your chest, as in the knee to chest stretch, but then slowly straighten your leg so your feet are reaching toward the ceiling.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds; then bend the knee and return to the starting position.
- Repeat two to three times, alternating your legs.
Read more: Sciatica Exercises to Avoid
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.