Sciatica is a painful condition that affects your lower back, causing the spinal discs of your lumbar vertebrae to slip out of place and press on your sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back down each leg. When you experience sciatica, symptoms can range from back pain and tingling to pain and numbness that radiates down your legs. Exercise for the most part can help sciatica sufferers relieve muscle pain and stiffness. However, certain exercises can harm, not help you. While you may need to speak to your physician about your individual exercise needs, there are some general exercises sciatica sufferers should avoid.
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The suitability of most cardiovascular exercises can be determined based on the level of impact when your foot hits the ground. Walking is a low-impact exercise while running is a high-impact one. If you suffer from sciatica, you should avoid high-impact exercises that can aggravate your condition. While your feet and knees absorb shock when your foot hits the ground, this shock still radiates up to your lower back. This can further push a slipped spinal disk out of place. In addition to running, high-impact exercises include activities like football, soccer and basketball, which incorporate running. In some instances, vigorous aerobics like step aerobics also can aggravate sciatica.
While twisting exercises may not always be high impact exercises, they put pressure on your spine in a different manner. Repetitive twisting can hurt the lower back and place increased pressure on your sciatic nerve. Twisting exercises include golf, ballet and football. Some weightlifting exercises, such as a twisting arm chop, in which you lift a weight in the air, then bring it down in the opposite direction, also can aggravate your sciatica.
Russian Deadlift and Variations
The Russian deadlift is a weightlifting exercise where you place a barbell or hand weights on the floor and lift the weights from a standing position. For a person with sciatica, this can have aggravating effects on the lower back. “Our lumbar spines were not meant to pick things up with a straight-leg posture,” said Dr. Raymond Reiter, team physician for the New Jersey Nets interviewed on ESPN.com. “The knees must be bent.” If you must perform the Russian deadlift, keep your knees bent. However, even this position may place too much strain on the lower back. Avoid similar exercises that involve picking heavy items from the ground, which will likely strain your lower back.
Improperly Performed Exercises
Sciatica sufferers tend to feel better when they lean forward, such as on a bicycle or in straight posture positions. These tend to place less pressure on the sciatic nerve. So when you perform an exercise with your back in a “C” curve or in other improper positions, you can harm the back. Any exercise, when improperly performed, can be painful to sciatica sufferers. Avoid lifting heavy weights, which can cause your back to buckle, and ask for help if you are unsure of the proper form for an exercise.
- Spine-Health: Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief; Ron S. Miller, PT; Dec. 14, 2000
- "The New York Times" Health Guide: Sciatica Exercise and Physical Therapy
- Spine-Health: Exercise for Sciatica from Degenerative Disc Disease
- Spine-Health; Myths About Sciatica Treatment Options; Ron S. Miller, PT; Dec. 14, 2000
- Spine Surgeon; FAQs of Lumbar Disk Herniation/Slipped Disk; Dr. Yogesh K. Pithwa
- ESPN.com; Sciatica; Dr. Raymond D. Reiter