Article Reviewed & Updated on 8/29/2022

Medical Reviewer: Kari Haberman

When it comes to sciatic nerve pain, there are a few key exercises you'll want to avoid. Here are seven of the most common culprits. If you're experiencing sciatica, these exercises may be exacerbating your symptoms and causing further pain. Read on for tips on how to safely exercise with sciatica, plus some recommended exercises and practices that can help relieve your pain.

But if you want to check out what exercises you can do instead, check out our article on 7 Easy Stretches and Exercises to Ease Sciatica Leg Pain.

7 Top Sciatica Exercises to Avoid - Sciatic Nerve Pain Relief

There are many different sciatica exercises that can be effective in treating sciatic nerve pain. However, there are also some exercises that can make the condition worse. Here are seven top sciatica exercises to avoid for relief from sciatic nerve pain.​

1. Leg Lifts

Leg Lifts are a popular exercise for toning the legs and glutes, but they can also aggravate sciatic nerve pain. If you have sciatica, avoid this exercise or perform it with caution. If you do leg lifts while lying on your back, keep your knees bent to avoid exerting too much pressure on your lower back. You should also avoid lifting your legs higher than hip level, as this can put additional strain on your sciatic nerve.

For a video demonstration of what leg lifts exercise is, see below:

What to do instead:

If you enjoy doing leg lifts, try a modification such as lying on your side and lifting your top leg. This exercise is less likely to irritate the sciatic nerve.

2. Hamstring Curls

Hamstring curls are another common exercise that can trigger sciatic nerve pain. This exercise puts pressure on the sciatic nerve as it runs through the hamstrings, which can cause symptoms to flare. If you have sciatica, avoid this exercise or perform it with caution.

What to do instead:

Try a modification of this exercise by lying on your back and placing a small towel under your foot before performing the curl. This will help take some pressure off of the sciatic nerve.

4. Sit-Ups

Sit-ups are a great way to strengthen your core, but they can also aggravate sciatic nerve pain. When you perform a sit-up, you flex your spine, which can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. If you have sciatica, avoid this exercise or perform it with caution.

What to do instead:

There are many different variations of sit-ups that can be performed with less risk of exacerbating sciatic nerve pain. Try doing a modified sit-up with your knees bent, or try a Pilates reformer class for a low-impact sit-up alternative.

4. Pilates reformer exercises

Pilates reformer exercises are a popular workout for toning the whole body, but some of them can trigger sciatic nerve pain. Avoid exercises that demand you to lay on your back and raise your legs in the air, as this can put pressure on the sciatic nerve.

For a video demonstration of what the pilates reformer exercise is, watch the video below:

What to do instead:

There are many different types of Pilates reformer exercises that can be performed safely with sciatica. Try lying on your stomach and lifting your head and chest off the ground, or try standing and holding onto the reformer while you move your legs back and forth.

5. High-Impact Cardio

High-impact cardio exercises such as jumping jacks and jump roping can also aggravate sciatic nerve pain. The impact of these exercises can jar the spine and irritate the sciatic nerve. If you have sciatica, avoid high-impact cardio exercises or perform them with caution.

What to do instead:

If you enjoy high-impact cardio, try a low-impact alternative such as swimming or elliptical training. These exercises are less likely to trigger sciatic nerve pain.

6. Exercises that involve twisting and bending

Avoid exercises that involve twisting your spines, such as side bends and twists. These types of exercises can put additional strain on the sciatic nerve and worsen the pain. Because when one bends, the sciatic nerve is getting stretched beyond its capacity, which can cause sciatica.

What to do instead:

If you want to perform a twisting exercise, try standing and holding onto a sturdy chair while you slowly turn your torso from side to side.

7. Certain weightlifting exercises

Weightlifting exercises can also trigger sciatic nerve pain. The added pressure and weight placed on the back can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause symptoms to flare. If you have sciatica, avoid weightlifting exercises or perform them with caution.

Avoid the exercises performed below or do them with caution.

What to do instead:

There are different types of weightlifting exercises that can be performed safely with sciatica. Try using lighter weights and performing fewer repetitions to avoid putting too much pressure on your spine. You should also focus on exercises that don’t put a strain on your back, such as biceps curls and triceps extensions.

Additional exercises that should be avoided include:

Besides the seven exercises listed above, experts suggest avoiding other several exercises including:

8) Toe Touches

Toe touches are often included in a warm-up and cool-down routines for other exercises. However, if you have sciatica, this stretch can actually worsen your pain. The reason is that toe touches often involve leaning forward at the waist, which can put extra pressure on the sciatic nerve.

What to do instead:

If you want to do a toe touch, modify the move by keeping your knees bent and avoiding any sudden or jerky motions. You can also try doing the exercise standing up instead of from a seated position.

9.) Crunches

Crunches are a popular exercise for toning the abs, but they can also trigger sciatic nerve pain. This is because crunches involve flexing the spine, which can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. If you have sciatica, avoid this exercise or perform it with caution.

What to do instead:

If you want to do crunches, try a modification such as keeping your knees bent and avoiding any sudden or jerky motions. You can also try doing the exercise standing up instead of from a seated position.

10.) Deep Squats

Deep squats are a great way to strengthen your legs, but they can also aggravate sciatic nerve pain. When you do a deep squat, you flex your spine, which can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. If you have sciatica, avoid this exercise or perform it with caution.

What to do instead:

If you want to do squats, try a modification such as keeping your knees bent and avoiding any sudden or jerky motions. You can also try doing the exercise standing up instead of from a seated position.

If you have sciatic nerve pain, there are some exercises you'll want to avoid. These seven exercises are among the most common offenders. Leg lifts, hamstring curls, sit-ups, Pilates reformer exercises, high-impact cardio, exercises that involve twisting and bending, and weightlifting can all aggravate sciatic nerve pain.

These exercises may exacerbate your symptoms. Avoid these exercises or perform them with caution to help relieve your pain. For more tips on exercising with sciatica, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.

Can Exercise Help with Sciatica?

Sciatica, for many people, is an injury that is synonymous with pain. Many people believe that once you have sciatica, you are plagued with it for the rest of your life. Thankfully, this isn't always the case. While many people turn to medication to help relieve their symptoms, others look for alternative remedies. Some people believe that exercise can help with sciatica.

So, does it really help?

The answer is… maybe. It really depends on the person and the severity of their sciatica. For some people, exercise can help relieve their symptoms by strengthening the muscles around the sciatic nerve. This can help take some of the pressure off of the nerve. For others, however, exercise may make their symptoms worse.

It is important to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have sciatica. They can help you make an exercise plan that is safe for you and won't make your symptoms worse.

If you're looking for exercises to try, read our article on Exercises for Sciatica - Top 5 Exercises for Sciatica Pain. Other activities you can try include water aerobics, walking, swimming, and yoga are all good options. Just be sure to begin slow and always listen to your body. If something hurts or makes you uncomfortable, stop doing it.

Exercise is not a cure-all for sciatica, but it may help some people find relief from their symptoms. If you are considering to start an exercise program to help with your sciatica, be sure to talk to your doctor first. They can help you create a safe and effective plan that is tailored to your needs.

How Often Should You Do Sciatica Exercises?

The follow-up question people ask is: "How often should I do these sciatica exercises?" The answer to this question also depends on the individual.

As a general rule of thumb, however, most people should do their exercises 3-5 times per week. This will help to gradually strengthen the muscles and give you the best chance of relieving your symptoms.

But of course, if you find that your symptoms are getting worse or you're in pain after doing your exercises, be sure to stop and talk to your doctor. They may need to adjust your plan.

Sciatica exercises can be a helpful way to find relief from your symptoms. 

How to know which exercise or stretches are good or bad for me?

If you are unsure about which exercises or stretches are good or bad for your sciatica, it is best to consult with a doctor or physical therapist. They will be able to assess your individual case and recommend the best course of action for you.

Weight Lifting Exercises to Avoid with Sciatica

If you have sciatica, you may want to avoid weightlifting exercises. These exercises can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and worsen your pain.

Weightlifting exercises can put pressure on the sciatic nerve by compressing the spine. This can cause symptoms to flare. If you have sciatica, avoid weightlifting exercises or perform them with caution.

Weight Lifting Exercises for Sciatica

Is it essential to avoid all weightlifting routines? The answer may depend on how much pain you are in. If the exercises put too much pressure on your sciatic nerve, it can worsen your pain.

That said, some people find that gentle weightlifting exercises help to relieve their symptoms. These exercises aid to strengthen the muscles around the sciatic nerve, which can take some of the pressure off the nerve.

If you're considering starting a weightlifting routine, be sure to talk to your doctor first. They can help you create a safe and effective plan that is tailored to your needs.

Activities to Avoid with Sciatica Pain

Besides exercises and stretches, there are also activities that should be avoided when you have sciatica pain. These activities can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and worsen your symptoms.

Activities to avoid include:

1.) Use of certain exercise machines

Avoid going on the elliptical trainer at a high resistance or a high incline, as well as higher-impact running on the treadmill (for sprinting or a high incline) and bikes like the Peloton bike (in certain situations).

According to Ai Mukai, MD, a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist w/ Texas Orthopedics, states: 

Also, rowing machines can put a strain on your lower back, especially if your core muscles aren't sufficiently warmed up--which can make your pain worse.

What to do instead:

Dr. Mukai says via SpineUniverse that low-intensity aerobics and activities are beneficial to sciatica, provided they are done correctly. It is also fine to use a recumbent bike, too. However, for a recumbent bike, using a towel roll to support the lumbar curve is recommended.

It is also acceptable to walk, rather than run, on a treadmill. Furthermore, it is important not to power through treadmill walking sessions if feeling any discomfort.

2.) Bending forward at the waist.

Flexing your spine forward can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, which runs along your spine. Avoid activities or motions that require you to bend forward at the waist, such as picking up something heavy off the ground. Instead, try squatting down and lift with your legs.

What to do instead:

Use proper lifting techniques when picking something up off the ground. Squat down gently and lift with your legs, rather than bending at the waist. This will help to prevent putting pressure on your spine.

3.) Sitting for long periods of time.

Sitting for long periods of time can cause the muscles in your buttocks to tighten, which can lead to sciatica pain. Avoid sitting for more than thirty minutes at a time. If you have a sedentary job, take frequent breaks to move around and stretch.

How long is too much?

According to one of the articles on Mayo Clinic's website, when researchers looked at 13 studies on sedentary behavior and activity levels, it was discovered that individuals who sat for more than 8 hours each day with no physical activity had a mortality risk comparable to that posed by obesity and smoking.

So, if you have a sedentary job, take frequent breaks to move around and stretch. Set a timer on your phone or any gadget to remind you to get up and move every 30 minutes or every hour.

4.) Wearing high heels.

High heels can cause an imbalance in your body and put pressure on your sciatic nerve. Avoid wearing high heels if you have sciatica pain.

What to do instead:

Wear supportive, low-heeled shoes or sneakers with good arch support. This will help you to avoid putting pressure on your sciatic nerve.

5.) Sedentary lifestyle.

A sedentary lifestyle can lead to several back problems, including sciatica pain.

What to do instead:

If you have a sedentary job or lifestyle, take frequent breaks to move around and stretch. Again, set a timer on your phone to remind you to get up and move every 30 minutes.

6.) Twisting motions.

Twisting your spine can put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Avoid activities that require you to twist your spine, such as golf or tennis.

What to do instead:

If you enjoy golf or tennis, try modifying your swing or grip to avoid twisting your spine. Or, try another activity that doesn't require twisting motions, such as swimming or walking.

7.) Sitting on your wallet.

Do you often sit on your wallet? This can put pressure or irritate the sciatic nerve, which runs along your spine. Avoid sitting on your wallet or any other object that could put pressure on your spine.

What to do instead:

Remove your wallet or anything hard from your back pocket before sitting down. Or, try sitting on a chair with a firm seat rather than a soft couch or chair. This will help to prevent putting pressure on your spine.

8.) Wearing tight pants.

Wearing tight pants can put pressure on the sciatic nerve by constricting your hips and thighs. Avoid wearing tight pants or clothing that constricts your hips and thighs.

What to do instead:

Avoid wearing pants that are tight in the waist or seat. Choose pants that have a looser fit in the waist and seat. Or, try wearing a skirt or dress instead of pants.

9.) Lifting.

Lifting objects that are too heavy can put pressure on the spine and compress the sciatic nerve. Avoid lifting, moving, or carrying objects that are too heavy for you. If you must lift something heavy, use proper lifting techniques.

What to do instead:

Use proper lifting techniques when picking something up off the ground. Squat down and lift with your legs, rather than bending at the waist. This may assist you to avoid putting strain on your back.

When to See a Doctor for Sciatica

If home treatment and self-care measures don't help to relieve your sciatica pain, or if your pain is severe and gets worse, you should see your doctor. They can help to diagnose the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

Your doctor may also suggest diagnostic and imaging tests, such as an MRI to help diagnose the cause of your pain. They may also recommend you to a specialist, such as a pain management specialist or orthopedic surgeon, for further evaluation and treatment.

Sciatica can be a painful condition. If home treatment and self-care measures don't help to relieve your symptoms, be sure to see your doctor. They can help you find relief from your pain.

Final Thoughts on Sciatica Exercises

Sciatica exercises can be a helpful way to find relief from your symptoms. But it's important to start slow and listen to your body. If something hurts, stop doing it.

If you are considering starting a weightlifting routine, be sure to talk to your doctor first. They can help you create a safe and effective plan that is tailored to your needs.

And if home treatment and self-care measures don't help to relieve your sciatica pain, or if your pain worsens or is severe, you should see your doctor. They can help to diagnose the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

You can also browse our page for more articles on sciatica and check products that can help with sciatica pain relief. 

Disclaimer

The information on this website, including this article, is intended to be a general guide and should not be utilized as a replacement for professional medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, you should always see a doctor.

The operators and writers of this website do not accept responsibility for any consequences that may occur as a result of reading this site, whether it is due to anything contained within. It's critical that you see your doctor or other medical care providers before beginning any change in lifestyle or health habits. You may be jeopardizing your health if you start anything without first consulting your physician or another medical care expert.