Managing Sciatica Pain

Do you know. the sciatic nerve is the longest and thickest nerve in the body?

It starts with five nerves in the lower back that combine to form one nerve that runs through the buttocks and down the leg. Sciatica is the inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It can cause a shooting pain in the buttocks or a pain that travels right through the leg. The pain usually occurs only on one side.

Sciatica most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years. About 30% of the total population suffers from this condition. It is a pain that starts along your sciatic nerve and spreads down your buttock and the back of one thigh.

Also known as lumbar radiculopathy, sciatica is usually caused by a herniated (or bulging) disk in your spine that presses on your sciatic nerve.

Home remedies

For most people, sciatica responds to self-care methods. While resting for a day or so may provide relief, staying inactive for long will worsen the symptoms. Self-care includes:

Cold packs. Place a cold pack on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day.

Hot packs. After 2 to 3 days, apply heat to the areas that hurt. Use hot packs, a heat lamp or a heating pad on the lowest setting. For continuing pain, try using both warm and cold packs, one at a time.

Stretching. Stretching exercises for the low back might provide some relief. Avoid jerking, bouncing or twisting during the stretch.

Medications. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are sometimes helpful for sciatica. Use only under medical prescription.

Because the sciatica is very painful, patients tend to assume that the condition is very serious. Actually, about 75% of them will improve in a few weeks. More movement and less sitting usually help, and patients may use over-the-counter medication for pain relief. It usually heals on its own with rest and time.

Physiotherapy may involve various treatment modalities and include –

  • Electric muscle stimulation
  • Hands-on therapies, like massage, trigger point therapy, and other techniques
  • Hydrotherapy with ice or moist heat
  • Muscle strengthening exercises focusing on the core
  • Specific stretches

Of course, conservative treatment may not be the most effective option for patients whose pain persists for over four to five months. Patients with long-lasting pain caused by a herniated disk may get better pain relief with surgery.

To best manage sciatica, I suggest these “Do’s and Don’ts”!

Do stretch!

Most of these stretches for sciatica are for the lower back. Consult your physiotherapist or doctor before you try these exercises that you can do at home:

Knee-to-Chest Stretch 

This simple stretch targets the lower buttock and upper thigh area.

  • Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Bring one knee to the chest while keeping the other foot on the floor.
  • Keeping the lower back pressed to the floor, hold for up to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Try for six to eight repetitions on each side.
  • To make the stretch a little harder, keep one leg straight on the floor while raising the other to the chest. You can also bring both knees to the chest.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

  • Be cautious when doing this stretch. Do not overstretch!
  • Stand straight up and put one foot on a slightly higher surface, like a stair step.
  • Straighten the leg on the step and point the toes up.
  • Lean slightly forward while keeping the back straight.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Remember to breathe.
  • Repeat with the other leg.
  • Try for 2 to 3 repetitions with each leg.

Pelvic Tilt Exercise

  • This is another effective stretch for sciatica.
  • Lie on your back with your legs bent and arms by your side.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles, press your back into the floor, and rock the hips and pelvis slightly upward.
  • Hold this position while imagining making your belly button touch your backbone. Don’t forget to breathe.
  • Release after a few seconds. Then repeat.
  • Try for 8 to 12 repetitions.

Glute Bridges

The “glutes” are a group of muscles in the buttocks. Tight gluteal muscles can press on the sciatic nerve.

  • Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent with feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Relax your arms at your sides.
  • Pushing through the heels, lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds.
  • Slowly lower the hips to the floor.
  • Then repeat.
  • Good form is important for this exercise. Avoid arching or rounding the back. Try for two or three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.

This stretch is also known as Ardha Setu Bandhasana or Half Bridge Pose in traditional Yoga.

Lying Deep Gluteal Stretch 

If you lack flexibility, you may need to adapt this stretch slightly.

  • Lie on your back with legs bent. Raise your right ankle, and rest it on your left knee.
  • Using both hands, lace your fingers behind your left thigh and gently pull it toward you, keeping your head and back on the floor.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other leg.
  • You may need to raise your head a bit with a firm cushion or a towel under it.
  • If you cannot reach your thigh easily, loop a towel or stretching rope around the thigh and use it to pull your thigh toward you.
  • Do five to eight repetitions with each leg.

This stretch is also known as the “Eye of the Needle” pose in Yin Yoga.

Kiran Sharma explains these Yogasanas a bit later in this blog.

Safety first!

Sciatica has various causes. So, one exercise program may not work for everyone. Never force yourself through a stretch outside your comfort or pain-free zone. As you practice, you may be able to do some stretches that did not feel right at first. Being regular, consistent with your stretching program is more important than increasing the levels of difficulty and intensity.

Have other health conditions? Pain increases after starting the stretching program? See your doctor as soon as possible.

It is just as important to know what NOT to do! Avoiding these will cut your risk of sciatica symptoms.

Remember, sciatica pain is often the result of a bone spur or herniated disc compresses a spinal nerve root in your lower back, causing excruciating pain in your back, butt and down the leg. A person living with sciatica may try everything to stop his / her pain including physical therapy, epidural injections and various medications. Yoga also helps – check the Yogasanas listed at the end of this blog.

Do note there are some common actions (in daily life) that can really aggravate your condition.

Warm Up!

Certain exercises with heavy loads can aggravate your sciatica – unless, you have sufficiently warmed up your muscles first. In the weight room, barbell deadlifts and squats as also Olympic lifts can explosively load and strain on the lumbar spine. So, it is prudent to spend time warming up the posterior chain of muscles.

Avoid high-risk exercise machines and benches

Rowing machines tend to strain on the lower back. Be careful of the hyper-extension bench! Avoid the elliptical trainer at high resistance or high incline; avoid running on the treadmill at a high incline. But a recumbent cycle is comparatively safer especially if you use a small towel roll or cushion to support the lower back arch.

Avoid sitting for more than 15 – 20 minutes

After 15-20 minutes or so, get up from your seat and walk around for a bit before sitting back down. When you do sit, avoid bending forward. Avoid soft sofas – they are not supportive. Sitting or slouching on a sofa may lead to muscle spasms and stiffness.

Avoid bending over

Bending forward to pick up an object increases shearing forces on the spine. The ligaments, bones, and discs may become overloaded and aggravate sciatica.

Keep the spine straight (neutral) when you are picking up an object on the ground. Bend at the knees, not at the hip joints.

Avoid twisting spine

Avoid twisting motions combined with other movements like forward or side bending. This can aggravate the joints and muscles in the lower back,.

Exercises to avoid during sciatica

As a general rule, you should avoid –

  • squatting,
  • twisting,
  • running, jumping, or any high-impact activity

Here are specific exercises to avoid (or be careful about) if you have sciatic nerve pain –

  • Bent over row: It can place extreme stress on the sciatic nerve, particularly if your back is rounded.
  • Hamstring stretch: A hamstring stretch in any position can lead to pain and other symptoms if the lumbar spine is not supported and nerves are compressed.
  • Forward bends: This motion flexes the back and may compress the sciatic nerve.
  • Double leg lifts: Exercises that require you to lift both legs at the same time while lying can aggravate the sciatic nerve because the lower back takes on the weight of your legs.
  • Squats: Full-body squats and weighted squats put pressure on the lower back, aggravating sciatic pain. Squats also put pressure on the thighs and legs, worsening the sciatic pain in the leg as well.
  • Deadlifts: Straight leg or Romanian deadlifts stretch on the hamstrings and lower back with powerful force, placing undue stress on the sciatic nerve.
  • Leg circles: Exercises that involve swinging your leg in a full circle can wrench the hamstrings suddenly, which can make sciatica symptoms worse.


As mentioned above Yoga has been proven to have relieving effect on sciatica. Noted Yoga teacher and Pilates Master Trainer, Kiran Sharma shows a few Yogasanas that will help the patient. She cautions: “Be sure to do Yoga under the expert guidance of a trained and certified Yoga teacher. Discuss the Yoga poses with your physio and doctor!”

Kiran incudes a few poses from Yin Yoga. Founded in the late 1970s by martial arts guru and Taoist Yoga teacher Paulie Zink, it is a slow-paced, gentle style of yoga based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, with asanas that are held for longer periods of time – like BKS Iyengar Yoga. Yin Yogasanas apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body with the aim of increasing circulation and improving flexibility about the joints. It is a more meditative approach to yoga – as compared to what is taught as “Yoga” in the West.

Shoelace Pose (Yin Yoga).

This pose is a deep hip opener. It stretches the glutes and the deep external rotators. Kiran says that Yin Yoga is slow and relaxing and thus helpful in relieving sciatica.

  • Begin by sitting on your heels with knees placed close together.
  • Shift your weight to the right and sit on your right hip.
  • Now, cross your left leg over your right, placing your left heel next to your right hip. Your left knee should be on top of your right knee.
  • Gently fold forward from the hips. Keep your palms flat on the floor, and hold the pose for around two to three minutes.
  • To come out of this asana, use your palms to give a slight backward push, straighten your back and gently uncross your legs. Take a short pause and then repeat it with the other leg.

Dragon Pose (Yin Yoga).

This pose works deeply on the hip area and the groins and stretches the hip flexors and quadriceps.

  • Begin by getting down on all fours.
  • Next, bring your right foot between your hands and press it gently on the floor. Make sure to check that the knee is right above the heel, and both the hands are placed on either side of the right foot.
  • Now, gently slide your left leg backward so that you feel a nice, good stretch on the left hip and the left thigh.
  • Do not put pressure on the left knee, but raise it just a little. Keep your toes tucked in.
  • Hold the pose for three minutes.
  • You may rest your hands on blocks instead of placing them on the floor. You can also use a towel roll to support your back knee and avoid any discomfort.
  • To come out of the asana, gently pull your back leg forward and get back into the tabletop position.
  • Repeat the same with the other side.

Eye of the Needle Pose (Yin Yoga)

  • Begin by lying down on your back, knees bent, and your feet pushed firmly against the floor.
  • Slowly inhale and bring your left knee up towards your chest.
  • Now, cross the left ankle over the body and gently place it across your right thigh (flex the foot.
  • Keep the left knee away from your chest.
  • Now, lift your right foot and as you do this, take your left hand and put it through your bent leg (the eye of the needle) and touch the other hand.
  • You should be able to touch both your hands behind the right thigh.
  • Use your hands to bring your right thigh towards your chest. Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds.

Makarasana or Crocodile Pose

  • Lie down on the floor on your stomach with your hands folded under the head.
  • Place the right palm over the left palm on the ground and place the head over the right palm in a relaxed way and close your eyes.
  • Stretch the legs as far as possible. The toes should point outwards.
  • Relax the whole body. Breathe normally and slowly. Feel the whole body touching the ground and the deep relaxation in all your muscles.
  • Relax in this posture for 2-5 minutes.
  • While returning from the posture, slowly bring the feet together. Unfold the arms and come to the Prone Position.

Matsyasana or Fish Pose.

This pose is great for aligning the spine and releasing stress from the neck muscles, the shoulders, and a tired back. It provides a good stretch to the deep hip flexors and the muscles between the ribs. It also stretches and stimulates the muscles and organs in the abdominal region and the throat area.

  • Lie down flat on your back. Keep your feet together.
  • Place your hands on the floor, palms facing downwards. Move your hands beneath your thighs, close to your buttocks.
  • Keep your forearms firmly on the floor and lift your chest up by weighing down on your elbows.
  • When your chest is off the floor, lower your head back till it touches the floor.
  • Ensure that your elbows, and not your head, bear the weight of your torso.
  • Breathe evenly as your body is now an arch. Maintain the posture for around a minute.
  • To unwind from the posture, lift your head off the floor and straighten your back.
  • Now, lower your torso completely onto the floor. Relax your body.

Ardha Setu Bandhasana or Half Bridge Pose.

It keeps the spine supple and flexible. It strengthens the glutes and lumbar muscles, stretches the intercostal muscles, and releases tension and pain in the back region. It also rejuvenates the legs, buttocks, and tired back muscles.

  • Lie down on your back, bend your knees, and bring your feet close to your hips. Keep your feet hip-width apart and heels on the floor.
  • Place your hands by your sides, palms facing downward
  • Breathe in, push your hands into the floor, and slowly lift your hips u to the ceiling
  • Reach with your hands toward your ankles and bring your chest toward your chin.
  • Keep lifting your pelvis upward and back toward your head and breathe evenly.

Bhujangasana or Classical Cobra Pose.

This is a highly recommended pose for keeping your back healthy and strong. It tones the back muscles, adjusts small displacements in the vertebrae, and helps to keeps your posture correct.

  • Lie down facing the ground with your toes stretched out.
  • Bring your hands near the chest area. Let your palms touch the ground.
  • Contract your elbows facing each other.
  • Try not to widen your legs for comfort at this stage.
  • Now, slowly raise your body with the support of your hands.
  • While raising, inhale to the count of 1 to 3.
  • Hold your breath for six counts, staying in the same position.
  • Exhale, counting from 1 to 3, leaning backwards to the original pose.
  • Try doing a set of 3 reps in initial sessions and increase each day.

Sarvangasana or Shoulder Stand.

This pose benefits the body’s overall functioning and tones the deep muscles of the torso.

  • Lie down flat on your back. Keep your legs close together and your chin tucked in.
  • Breathe deeply. Inhale. Lift your legs upwards till your feet are pointing directly up – that is, till your legs are perpendicular to your torso.
  • Tuck your hands underneath yourself with your palms facing up. With your hands under your buttocks, prepare to raise your torso.
  • Lift your torso gradually till you are resting on your shoulders.
  • Your arms must now be bent at the elbow. Bring your hands to your back to support yourself. Your legs should be over your head.
  • Slowly straighten your back.
  • Keep your knees firm but relax your calf muscles now. Maintain the posture.
  • To relax, lower your legs till your feet are at an angle of 45 degreesover your head. Lower your arms to the floor. Unwind gradually.

Paschimottanasana or Seated Forward Bend.

It stretches the entire back body, especially the lumbar and thoracic spine, the glutes, and the hamstrings.

  • Sit erect. Stretch your legs out in front of you.
  • Stretch your arms up over your head.
  • Bend your torso forward from the waist.
  • Lower your outstretched arms simultaneously, and grasp your toes.
  • Bend further to close the gap between your chest and your thighs.
  • Try to let your forehead rest on your legs.
  • Maintain the posture for about 30 seconds to one minute while breathing evenly.
  • Lift your torso and raise your arms over your head. Relax your arms and bring them down.

Balasana or Child’s Pose

It Stretches the hips, thighs, lower back, ankles and knees.

  • Sit on your heels, knees spread mat distance apart and bring your head towards the floor
  • Your arms can be either stretched out to the front, by your side or hands underneath your forehead
  • Breathe into your lower back
  • Stay for anywhere between 30 seconds and several minutes in this resting pose
  • To come out, exhale and roll up vertebra by vertebra, or come back to sitting with a straight spine.

Kiran says, Yoga has been proven scientifically as being effective for treating sciatica and other forms of back pain. The Yogasanas listed above bring the muscles of the body back into a healthy balance. Yoga can easily support standard physiotherapy and medical treatment.

The chances of sciatica nerve pain occurring are rather high for young people as well as the senior citizens. It will help if we can maintain some healthy habits. Stretching and yoga are some of the most beneficial ways to take good care of our physical body in a low-impact, safe way.

At our GAYO FITNESS ACADEMY, we conduct several training programs that will help fitness and sports professionals manage sciatica and other medical conditions. We offer many short workshops – not just vocation courses in Personal Training, S&C, Pilates and Yoga!

Dr Meenakshi, Pinaz and Kiran are respected members of our top class Faculty – they will be happy to share their professional knowledge with you!

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