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Foam Roller Exercises for the Sciatic Nerve

author image Sarka-Jonae Miller
Sarka-Jonae Miller has been a freelance writer and editor since 2003. She was a personal trainer for four years with certifications from AFAA and NASM. Miller also worked at 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness and as a mobile trainer. Her career in the fitness industry begin in 2000 as a martial arts, yoga and group exercise instructor. She graduated cum laude from Syracuse University.
Foam Roller Exercises for the Sciatic Nerve
A trainer assisting a senior woman with a foam roller. Photo Credit: Ammentorp Photography/iStock/Getty Images

An inflamed piriformis muscle is often the cause of sciatica pain. But a herniated disc in the lower back may also be a cause. Sciatica refers to the symptom of pain from compression on the sciatic nerve, but it does not designate the cause of the compression. Foam roller exercises can alleviate sciatic pain by releasing tension in muscles around the sciatic nerve. Strengthening exercises may also help.

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Piriformis Foam Roller Exercise

The sciatic nerve runs below the piriformis muscle, but in some cases it goes above or even through it. The piriformis is a small muscle of the hip near the glutes. Using a foam roller to relax the piriformis also targets the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus. To foam roll the hip, sit on the center of the roller with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross your left leg onto your right thigh and lean to the right so the outside of your right glute is the only part of you touching the foam roller. Then, straighten your right knee to roll up your glute. Do not roll the center of the glutes as this might compress the sciatic nerve. Sit for 20 to 30 seconds on each tender spot. Switch sides or reverse the directions if the pain is only in the left side.

Hamstring Foam Roller Exercise

Tight hamstrings, like a tight piriformis, may also cause sciatica, or at least be a contributing factor. Also, pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back causes muscles in the legs to tighten. So whether the hamstring tension came before the sciatic pain or after, foam rolling the hamstrings still brings relief from soreness. To use a foam roller on your hamstrings, place your right leg straight on top of the foam and support your upper body with your hands behind you. Bend your left knee and place the foot on the floor. Start just above the back of the knee and roll up your thigh, stopping on tender spots. Repeat on the left.

Beginner Ab Strengthening Exercise

You are more likely to recover quickly if you have a strong core and less likely to have a sciatic flair up. A foam roller is a useful tool for beginners to strengthen their abs to better support their lower backs. You can use a foam roller to strengthen your abs. To perform a basic exercise, sit on the end of a foam roller and lie back so that your head rests on the other end. Bend your knees to 90-degree angles with your feet on the floor. Place your arms on the floor at your sides like a "T." Then, alternatively lift one leg toward the ceiling as you keep your lower back in neutral without arching or flattening it.

Advanced Ab Strengthening Exercise

Foam rollers are also useful for acquiring a higher level of ab strength after basic exercises are easy. To perform a more difficult ab exercise, begin in the same position as the first ab exercise and then raise your arms above your head and rest them on the floor. Bring both knees above your hips. This is the starting position. Then, lower one leg to the floor without changing the position of your lower back. Bring the leg back up to the starting position and then lower your other leg to the floor.

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