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  • Writer's pictureAdam Whatley

Sciatica and Exercise

Updated: Mar 1

Sciatica and Exercise

Sciatica is a very common low back condition occurring in a huge amount of the population. It can happen at any age in adult life, but is more common with increasing age. In general there are many predisposing risk factors of sciatica which we will cover below.

Sciatica and Exercise

How does sciatica happen?

The sciatic nerves are the largest nerves in the body, passing down from the exiting nerve roots from the spinal cord in the lumbar spine - through the buttocks, down the back of each leg, to end at the big toes. Sciatica commonly occurs, when the sciatic nerve roots become irritated, either from compression of inflammation. Following this, pain can then develop anywhere along its path, in the lower back, the buttocks, the leg, calf or foot. Pain can also vary from dull ache, altered sensation, tingling or even a sharp electric shock type pain. Here at Dynamic Osteopaths we often see patients that are presenting with low back pain, a dull ache in the leg (past the knee), and pins and needles in the foot.

What is the treatment for sciatica?

Please do not think that treatment options for sciatica are limited, this is not true. There are many ways that osteopathic manual and physical therapy can greatly help with reducing pain, restoring functional mobility and prevention. Here at Dynamic Osteopaths, 95% of patients we see with sciatica we get back to full function within 3-7 treatments. 5% we see - symptoms are so server, the patient is past conservative management and may be referred for steroid of even surgical opinion.

Steroid injections tend to have varying success, with symptoms often recurring with poor patient management. Surgery is sometimes considered when the nerve root is compressed to the degree where neurological compromise may be present.

One thing that most individuals with sciatica fail to do is to get moving as soon as the acute pain has reduced. Often patients struggling with fear avoidance, in relation of movement - fearing spasms. These spasms are a protective reflex, where the body is trying to prevent further damage. Often, with long periods of inactivity, sudden movements will then provoke these spasms. Whereas, gentle movement and mobility will help to prevent this stimulate natural repair. Without exercise, the joints and muscles tend to stiffen and lose strength, hindering full recovery.

Why should we exercise with sciatica?

As mentioned above, gentle, low-impact activity and exercise, orientated around getting your body moving will actually aid recovery in most cases of sciatica. This is because movement enables and facilitates repair and recovery, along with strengthening. Furthermore, our spinal discs respond very well to movement, in fact, gentle movement and mobility exercises will stimulate the intervenertebral disc endplates, which allows for nutrients to enter the disc, thus, stimulating repair. This is why sitting for long periods and being inactive, will inevitably compromise disc health. As osteopaths, what we do wis stimulate healing by promoting mobility and movement passively, which allows these irritated areas to decompress. Gentle decompression performed by a clinical specialist, alongside correct exercise is crucial to managing sciatica.

Over a period of time - ongoing compression leads to the discs suffering with dehydration and shrinking. As a result, the range of motion around the joints decreases, and joint degeneration sets in. Over a period of time this degradation can lead to friction and irritation of spinal joints which can then lead to muscle tightening. Muscle weakness or even wasting can then also can occur in long term cases. This is why patients with sciatica must promote mobility and perform exercise, whilst maintaining good posture. Mobilisation exercises are performed to normalise muscle tone and to maintain functional mobility.

Anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken regularly for a few days to calm inflammation and to facilitate exercise.

How should you exercise with sciatica?

Exercise in patients with sciatica may begin with gentle mobility stretches and walking for short periods of time to avoid long periods of inactivity. Exercise can then be steadily increased when pain reduces and mobility increases. Exercise recommendations for sciatica are stretching, gradual strengthening and low impact aerobic activity. Doing these exercises daily, can greatly improve systems of sciatica and can prevent further recurrences of pain.

Mobilisation of the spinal joints affected is important in alleviating low back pain and restoring normal function.

Osteopathy and sciatica

Our osteopathic treatment and management of sciatica will comprise of manual therapy and physical rehabilitation therapy. Manual therapy is aimed is reducing pain by de-sensitising local muscles and local soft tissues, at the same time as gently prompting mobility and restoring normal function. Physical rehabilitation therapy is practically physiotherapy, whereby treatment is aimed at restoring local muscle strength and function.


Don’t let back pain, sciatica, or arthritis get in the way of allowing you to do what you want. Schedule a consultation at Dynamic Osteopaths today, and let us treat your back pain and sciatica, allowing you to get back to your full and active lifestyle. We have clinics operating out of Solihull (Henley-In-Arden), Birmingham (Harborne / Edgbaston) & Bromsgrove (Barnt Green).

Call us today 01564 330773

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