Video Series: Exercises for Sciatica (Caused by Spondylolisthesis)

3 low back exercises to help manage sciatica symptoms.

Staying active is an important part of managing sciatica pain and possibly preventing future recurrence. The three exercises featured in this video and detailed below are specific to helping patients with sciatica caused by spondylolisthesis. As you may already know, sciatica is a symptom of lumbar radiculopathy that can be caused by spondylolisthesis, a low back disorder that usually develops gradually as one vertebral body slips forward over the one beneath it. Pain that travels from the low back and buttocks into one leg (and sometimes into the foot) is the hallmark sign of sciatica.

One goal of performing sciatica exercises is to encourage your leg and/or foot pain to move upward into your low back. The technical term for that process is centralization, also known as localization. With sciatica, it is actually good when sciatica pain only affects your low back. Why? Because it means that sciatic nerve compression affecting the lower extremity is relieved. Don’t expect the pain to immediately move to your low back—it will take time and commitment to regularly perform the exercises. You should notice sciatic pain doesn’t extend as far down your leg or no longer is felt in the foot area.

3 Exercises for Sciatic Nerve Pain Caused by Spondylolisthesis

Three sciatica exercises your spine specialist may recommend known to help reduce spondylolisthesis-induced sciatic nerve pain are: (1) pelvic tilts, (2) knee lifts and (3) curl-ups. Each low-impact exercise is demonstrated in the narrated video (above).  Below are complementary written instructions and illustrations help you refine your sciatica home exercise program.
Pelvic tilt illustrationPelvic tilts can help you gently stretch your low back. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Pelvic Tilt

Purpose: To strengthen the lower abdominal muscles and stretch the low back.

How to perform a pelvic tilt:

  • Lie on your back.
  • Exhale while you tighten 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 holding 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 pelvic tilt correctly, as you tighten your abdominal muscles, the distance between your pinky finger and thumb should decrease.

Lay on back with knees bent, exercise.After laying flat on your back, raise one foot at a time. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Knee Lifts (Marches)

Purpose: To stabilize the spine and strengthen the abdominal muscles.

How to perform a knee lift:

  • Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles so that your belly button moves toward the floor and flattens your lower back.
  • Lift one foot 3-4 inches off the floor, then lower it back to the floor.
  • Maintain abdominal muscle contraction and repeat the exercise employing the opposite foot.
  • Raise and lower each foot 5 times to complete a set.
  • Perform up to 3 sets of knee lifts.

Curl crunch exercise, woman with hands crossed over chest.Curls-ups are a type of abdominal crunch exercise that can help strengthen your body’s core. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Curl Ups (Abdominal Crunches)

Purpose: To strengthen the abdominal muscles and stabilize your core.

How to perform a curl up:

  • Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Cross your arms over your chest so your fingertips touch your shoulders.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles to raise your head, neck and upper back off the floor.
  • Exhale as you rise up.
  • Inhale as return to the floor.
  • Repeat this exercise 10 times.
  • Perform up to 3 sets of 10 curl ups.

How can I upgrade my curl up?

  • To boost the effectiveness of each curl up, change your arm position.
  • Interlock your fingers behind your head, with your elbows wide.
  • Keep your chin up, relax your arms and focus on tightening your abdominal muscles to perform the enhanced each curl up.

Points About Sciatica Exercises to Keep in Mind

This video is a general guideline. You should not perform any of the exercises shown here unless directed by your spine doctor or allied health professional.

If you think of exercise as a 10-mile run followed by weight lifting, you may have to modify your exercise plan because of your sciatica pain. Your physician, physical therapist, or other spine professional will help you adjust your expectations and goals within the context of your sciatic pain.

Don’t push yourself too hard while doing the exercises; you don’t want to cause injury to yourself or aggravate your sciatica. If you experience any pain (eg, pain worsens) or other symptoms (eg, leg weakness, tingling, numbness), please contact your spine professional immediately.

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