Sciatica, like any other back pain or condition, can be extremely painful and debilitating.

It is estimated that around 70-90% of the Australian population will experience back pain at some point in their life, with a further 5-10% of those cases experiencing sciatica.

Fortunately however, specific exercises and stretching can relieve sciatica pain for most people. Not only will they help to relieve the pain, they will strengthen your core and take the stress off the areas actually causing the sciatica pain.

What is Sciatica?

The sciatic nerve starts at your lower back and moves down through your hips, buttocks and branches down the back of each of your legs into the calves and feet. It is the longest and widest single nerve in your body.

Sciatica is not an actual condition, but a painful symptom of the back, hip, or pelvic issues and is often felt as a sharp shooting pain running into your buttock and down your leg.

Sciatica symptoms are generally caused by compression or inflammation of the sciatic nerve, and are found down this nerve pathway. There are a range of symptoms from burning pain, numbness, weakness, fatigue, to loss of movement or flexibility.

Causes of Sciatica pain

Sciatica is generally the result of body imbalances that are putting pressure on the nerve. Muscle imbalances and the weight of your body, cause your spine to twist or tilt, creating a misalignment of the spine structure and uneven pressure on joints. Most commonly the Sacroiliac Joint (SIJ) and the facet joints of L4, L5 vertebrae.

The longer these imbalances go untreated or uncorrected, the greater potential for injury. Sometimes it is a small movement like picking something up off the ground, that will cause your to get severe nerve pain or spasm.

Some of the main factors that can cause, trigger or worsen Sciatica are –

  • Herniated Discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Bone Spurs or Osteophytes
  • Pregnancy
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
  • Back injuries
  • Arthritis

Not all sciatica is caused from areas of the back, it can also result from pelvic or hip injuries or direct pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Symptoms of Sciatica

The symptoms of Sciatica usually occur down one side of the body and range from mild to severe. They often worsen over time. The intensity varies with some people experiencing infrequent, irritating pain, whilst others get constant, incapacitating pain.

The most common symptoms include –

1 – Pain – Can range from mild ache to a sharp burning sensation or very severe pain. The pain can be worse when sitting, coughing or sneezing.

2 – Radiating Pain – Pain that radiates down the path of the sciatic nerve, from lower back , buttocks and down one leg. Sometimes also pain in front or side of legs or hips.

3 – Numbness, Weakness or Tingling – These sensations are often felt in the leg or foot on the affected side of the body. It can feel like muscle weakness, loss of mobility or pins and needles.

4 – Loss of Mobility – Sciatica in severe cases, can result in difficulty moving the leg or foot and therefore standing or walking.

5 – Loss of Bowel or Bladder Control – A very rare and serious symptom, is the loss of bowel or bladder function, which requires urgent medical attention.

Lower Back

Treatment for Sciatica

Some initial treatment methods to provide some relief, include applying cold or hot packs to the affected area to reduce inflammation. Also maintaining good posture, not sitting for long periods and using cushions to support you can also provide temporary relief.

In order to diagnose and treat your Sciatica it is recommended to see your Physiotherapist, or chosen health professional for an assessment.

Physiotherapists have an understanding of alignment, movement and therapeutic exercises and will aim to restore function and create a plan to reach your goals.

A Physio will look at ways, whether through spinal mobilisation, trigger point therapy or massage, to reduce the nerve pressure from poorly moving spinal joints, and ease muscular tension in the buttocks, lower spine and legs. They will also prescribe personalised exercises to suit your specific case, depending on the cause, your symptoms and history.

How Exercises can relieve Sciatica pain

Stretching exercises can help to manage your sciatica, but it is very important to work with your Physiotherapist or healthcare professional to ensure you are doing the correct exercises the correct way. In a lot of cases, over time, stretching will improve your symptoms and support your recovery.

Your sciatica management plan will include a range of targeted exercises with the purpose to-

  • Reduce acute sciatic nerve pain
  • Improve leg mobility and range of motion
  • Promote soft tissue healing
  • Improve sciatic nerve function
  • Strengthen & condition muscles and soft tissues
  • Prevent or minimise recurrence of the pain

Your plan will usually consist of a range of exercises or stretches, in seated, standing or lying down positions. They will generally relax your lower back, pelvic floor, buttocks and legs, but also help you strengthen these areas so that your spine can return to its natural position or alignment.

During a painful episode of Sciatica, you will need to repeat your exercises several times a day until pain subsides. Always follow your health professionals advice and if a stretch tends to hurt or cause more pain, reduce the stretch or stop altogether, and get further advice.

8 Exercises recommended for Sciatica Relief

Here are some common exercises that are often recommended for Sciatica or low back pain relief and improved mobility.


Bring one knee up and hold it with one hand. Lift your other knee up and hold it with your other hand. Relax your body and use your arms to rock your knees in and out from your chest.


Cross one ankle over your opposite leg. Pull your thigh up towards you and breath deeply. Alternatively, cross your legs while sitting and bend forwards with a straight back.


Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees, and tops of feet pushing down on the floor. Lengthen from your head to tailbone. For the Cat pose, as you exhale, use your abs to curl your spine to the ceiling and tuck tailbone down. Keep length in the neck, but your chin will reach down and in towards your chest, and ears will be besides biceps. For the Cow pose, inhale and scoop your pelvis so your tailbone is now up and then your belly will drop down. Keep shoulder blades wide, drawing them away from ears, then lift your chin and chest to look up if possible. Continue for a few rotations, always leading the movement with the breath.


Stand in front of a sturdy table or chair that is about hip-width high or lower. Lift one leg and let your heel rest on the object in front of you. Bend your knees as generously as you need to. Bend forward at your waist while keeping your spine straight. Maintain this pose for 30 seconds and swap sides.


Start on hands and knees. Relax and bend back towards your heels as far as you are comfortable. Try to drop your chest towards your knees and the ground. Modifications include- stretch one side of your back more by starting with both hands to one side and bending towards your opposite ankle, start with knees wider than your hips and feet if you are feeling it mostly in your hips, and bring your hands in closer to you if feeling it too much in your shoulders.


Bend forwards, sliding your hands down your legs and reaching for the floor. If you can comfortably reach the floor, try hugging your legs to increase the stretch. If you want to stretch one side of you back more, slide both hands down one leg.


Lie on your back with one leg straight and one knee bent. Use your opposite hand to bring your bent knee across your body towards the floor, while keeping your shoulders on the ground. Alternatively, start on your side with your bent knee on the ground while rotating away from your bent knee.


Push onto forearms, keeping your hips down. If you can comfortably stretch further into range, add a pillow or two under your forearms to increase the stretch. If you can comfortably push further into range again, push up onto your hands, straightening your elbows out as far as you can while keeping your hips down. You can bias the stretch to one side by angling your body to one side.

Exercises to avoid

Some exercises may worsen your pain. If you are in acute sciatic pain, you may benefit from avoiding the following exercises –

  • Downward Facing Dog
  • Hamstring Stretch
  • Leg Circles

Other Tips to Prevent Sciatica

Some other ways you can try to minimise and prevent sciatica in the first place are below –

  • Always maintain good posture/li>
  • Avoid sitting for extended periods of time
  • Use appropriate ergonomics when lifting or working
  • Warm up before exercising
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve your emotional well being
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Have regular physical treatments to maintain the area
  • Maintain a stretching or yoga routine
  • Eat well to nourish your muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments

Following a prescribed exercise routine will improve your overall fitness and ensure –

  • Stronger muscles
  • Healthier bones
  • Increased blood flow
  • Healthy spinal discs
  • Less stiffness in sciatic nerves

Sciatica Treatment from the team at Sandgate Physical Health

At Sandgate Physical Health Clinic, we offer Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Massage and Pilates, which can all help with Sciatica. We’d recommend booking a consultation with your Physiotherapist for a full assessment of the condition and a treatment plan will be recommended.

Please call us for more information on 3869 1099 or read about the various treatment options below –