If you've got pain and numbness in your legs, you likely have a compressed nerve — either in your lower back where these nerves exit the spine or where they branch off to supply muscles and skin in your leg. In both cases, exercises can help.
According to a July 2014 article published by World Journal of Anesthesiology, lumbar radiculopathy is the most common cause of neuropathic pain in the legs. This term refers to a group of conditions, such as arthritis and disc herniation or degeneration, that compress nerves as they leave your spine.
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Because leg numbness can also occur with nerve damage farther down the leg, as explained by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, you should see a doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms before performing physical therapy exercises for your legs and back. For best results, perform these exercises under the supervision of a physical therapist.
1. Find Your Neutral Spine
Maintaining correct posture is an important part of relieving pressure on nerves that can cause numbness in your legs, as explained in an October 2016 article published by F1000 Research. In the lower back, this is called a neutral spine.
Perform the abdominal draw-in exercise, as demonstrated by Princeton University Athletic Medicine, to strengthen the muscles that help stabilize your lower back.
- Lie on your back on a firm surface.
- Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor.
- Place your fingers on your hip bones.
- Tighten your lower abs by pulling your belly button down to the floor, toward your spine. You should feel muscles under your fingertips tighten during this movement.
- Hold for three to five seconds and then relax. Do not hold your breath.
- Repeat 20 times.
As your strength improves, add leg movements, such as marching in place, while maintaining the abdominal draw-in position.
2. Strengthen Back Extensors
Muscles that run along both sides of your spine help stabilize the vertebrae to maintain proper alignment and relieve pressure on nerves. These muscles, as described by ExRx.net, are collectively called the erector spinae.
Strengthen your lower back with exercises such as supermans and quadruped arm and leg lifts.
Move 1: Supermans
- Lie on your stomach with your arms straight out in front of you.
- Lift your arms and legs off the floor, keeping your elbows and knees straight. Look at the floor in front of you and keep your hips in contact with the floor throughout the movement.
- Hold for three to five seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times.
If this exercise is too difficult, begin by lifting your left arm and right leg together and then switching sides.
Move 2: Quadruped Arm and Leg Lifts
Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees in line with your hips.
- Keep your neck neutral by looking at the floor between your arms.
- Lift your right arm and left leg until they are parallel to the floor. Keep your back flat throughout the movement.
- Hold for two to three seconds; then lower back down.
- Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Perform 10 times on each side.
- World Journal of Anesthesiology: "Lumbar Radiculopathy and Its Neurobiological Basis"
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Peripheral Neuropathy"
- Princeton University Athletic Medicine: "Lumbar/Core Strength and Stability Exercises"
- F1000 Research: "Mechanisms of Low Back Pain: A Guide for Diagnosis and Therapy"
- ExRx.net: "Erector Spinae"