Your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body that originates from nerve roots in your lower back and branches down your right and left legs. An inflammation of the sciatic nerve is known as sciatica.
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This condition occurs when a spinal disc or the disc material itself slips out of place, pressing on your sciatic nerve. This can cause extreme pain, tingling and numbness in your lower back and legs. Sciatica tends to come in flare-ups, where you experience extreme pain for one to two days. However, this doesn't mean you have to cease working out with sciatica.
Read more: Sciatica Exercises to Avoid
Stretches in Your Sciatica Workout
Tight muscles can increase pain caused by sciatica — include stretches in your sciatica workout.
Move 1: Hamstring Stretch
Stretch the hamstring muscles located on the back of your thigh. The hamstrings become tightened after a bout of sciatica, which can further pull on your lower back.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended and pull your right leg, which should be in a straight position, toward your chest.
- Grasp the back of your leg as you continue to bring it toward your body, feeling a stretch in the back of your leg.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Lower this leg and repeat on the opposite side.
Move 2: Low Back Stretch
Engage in lower back stretching exercises to reduce residual muscle tension after a sciatica flare-up.
- Lie on your stomach with your hands beside your shoulders.
- Slowly push against the floor to lift your shoulders off the ground, feeling the stretch in your lower back.
Initially, you might not be able to straighten your arms fully, but you can work toward this goal through regular stretches.
Read more: Is Walking Bad for the Sciatic Nerve?
Cardio Exercises for Sciatica
Include cardio exercises for sciatica when you resume working out. Perform low-impact exercises like walking, swimming or riding a bicycle. Consider using a recumbent bike which keeps your lower back relatively straight — bending forward can increase pressure on your sciatic nerve, particularly if you have a herniated disc.
You may need to start with short increments when resuming exercise, such as 10 to 15 minute sessions to reduce pain.
Strengthen Your Core
Work your abdominal muscles as part of your gym exercises for sciatica to provide stability to your back. A stronger core takes pressure off your back muscles, which can reduce strain following a sciatica episode. Exercise examples include abdominal crunches, bicycles and pelvic tilts. To perform an abdominal crunch:
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor.
- Put your hands behind your head and contract your stomach muscles to lift your shoulders off the ground.
- Lower your shoulders and repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times.
Practicing proper form and good posture is important when recovering from sciatica. Check your form in a mirror when possible or seek instructional assistance whenever possible.
While it can be tempting to lie down after a sciatica flare-up, inactivity can contribute to sciatica pain. Resting one to two days when you have sciatica pain should be sufficient to allow for healing. After that, returning to activity can prevent your muscles from breaking down, which further contributes to back pain.