Exercises for Sciatica Caused by Spinal Stenosis

Exercise video demonstrates 3 exercises help manage sciatica.

Exercise is an important part of your doctor’s multi-disciplinary treatment plan that may help relieve sciatica symptoms often caused by lumbar spinal stenosis. Sciatica is also called lumbar radiculopathy because low back spinal stenosis is a nerve compression disorder. When the sciatic nerve is compressed it irritates the nerve causing it to send or radiate (radiculopathy) pain signals from the low back into the affected buttock and downward into one leg—sometimes below the knee and into the foot. Three low-impact sciatica exercises are demonstrated in the video and written instructions with illustrations are provided below.

What can exercise do to help relieve sciatica symptoms?

Exercise stimulates your body to release endorphins—your body’s natural pain relievers. Furthermore, the three exercises featured in this video and described/ illustrated below, can help keep you active and build core body strength to support your lower back and possibly prevent a new sciatica episode.

The goal of these 3 exercises is to encourage your leg pain and foot pain to move upward from your lower extremity (leg) into the low back. This process is called centralization or localization. It will take some time for leg and/or foot pain to diminish and “centralize” into your lower back. By persevering in a regular home exercise program can help you make a positive difference in reducing sciatica.

3 Sciatica Exercises for Sciatic Nerve Pain Caused by Low Back Spinal Stenosis
Pelvic tilt exercise illustration.Pelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low back. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Pelvic Tilts

Purpose: Strengthen the lower abdominal muscles and stretch the low back.

How to perform a pelvic tilt:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Exhale while tightening your abdominal muscles so that your belly button moves toward the floor and flattens your lower back.
  • Hold the position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat the pelvic tilt 10 times and hold the position for 5 seconds each time.

How can I test my pelvic tilt performance?

  • Place your pinky finger on your right or left hip and stretch your thumb up to your lowest rib on the same side.
  • If you are doing the exercise correctly, as you tighten your abdominal muscles, the distance between your pinky finger and thumb should decrease.

Alternating knee to chest stretches, picture illustration.Alternating knee to chest stretches may help reduce low back pain. Photo Source: 123RF.com

Knee to Chest

Purpose: Help reduce low back nerve compression and sciatica.

How to perform a knee to chest exercise:

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight.
  • Raise one knee.
  • Place your hands on the bent knee and pull it toward your chest.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the movement with the opposite knee.
  • Perform the knee to chest movement 3 to 5 times holding the position for 10 seconds each time.

Next, raise both knees.

  • Wrap your arms around your knees and pull both knees toward your chest.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat the double knee-to-chest movement 3 to 5 times and the position for 10 seconds each time.

Lower trunk rotation, picture illustration.Modified version of the lower trunk rotation demonstrated in the video. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Lower Trunk Rotations

Purpose: Increase low back mobility and flexibility.

How to perform a lower trunk rotation:

  • Lie on your back, both knees bent and feet flat on the floor (called the hook lying position).
  • Keep both knees together and rotate your knees to one side.
  • Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. You should feel a stretch in your lower back and hip areas.
  • Next, contract your abdominal muscles and rotate both knees to the opposite side and hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Repeat up to 10 times on each side.

Sciatica and Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Exercise Pointers

This video is a general guideline. You should not perform any of the exercises shown here unless guided by your spine specialist, such as an orthopaedic surgeon, neurosurgeon, pain management specialist, or physical therapist.

Your spinal stenosis treatment specialists understand sciatica and lumbar spinal stenosis and are best equipped to help formulate an exercise program that sets reasonable expectations without compromising your goals increasing your activities.

Starting any exercise program is challenging, especially when you have low back and leg pain. On the days you are feeling great remember not to push yourself too hard. You don’t want to experience a setback by over doing it and possibly aggravating sciatica symptoms.

  • Remember, if you experience new pain, pain that worsens or other symptoms (eg, leg weakness, numbness, tingling), please contact your treating doctor or healthcare provider.

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