Exercising with Sciatica, Addressing the Pain

Exercising with Sciatica, Addressing the Pain


What is Sciatica? Sciatica refers to the pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve. The pain can be very severe which can radiate into the hip and along the leg. Some examples of this can be numb pain in the hip or lower back, muscle spasms, and nerve damage. Unfortunately this is a common sensation for people, whether they are performing daily tasks or exercising. The sciatic nerve can become significantly agitated which will result in pain, due to compression in the femur and hip socket. Some people will get these sensations and attribute it to “old age” or just part of their exercise routine. Fortunately the frustration and pain of sciatica doesn't have to be a part of your exercise regiment, or a part of your aging process. This article will explain which exercises to avoid with sciatica and why, give a blueprint for spinal decompression to help address sciatica, non-invasive treatments for sciatica, as well as lifestyle choices to help combat common causes of sciatica.


Exercises to Avoid with Sciatica

Exercises should be therapeutic to the body. A common misconception with injuries and pain in the body is that people have weak muscles. People will then start to do traditional weight lifting to help strengthen their body. The problem with traditional strength training is it does not account for longitudinal compression on the spine. An example of this would be a barbell squat. Some people might do this exercise to strengthen their legs and core to reduce lower back pain. The problem with this exercise is that it creates too much compression on the spine which causes the sciatic pain in the first place. This could eventually cause a herniated disc.

It is important to also stay clear of exercise machines while dealing with sciatica. These types of machines might include but are not limited to a smith machine, hack squat, stationary bike, row machine, elliptical, or any leg machine. The problem with these machines is that they do not integrate the body in relation to how humans evolved. An example of this would be with a leg press machine. When using one of these machines it lacks integration with the upper body, these machines do not focus on connecting the upper and lower body working together as a cohesive unit, instead these machines work by discounting the body and segmenting the body into parts or muscle groups. Another issue with traditional strength training is that it does not train the body in a way that translates to standing, walking, running, and throwing. It lacks integration and disconnects muscles from working together.

Gym workouts with sciatica can seem almost impossible to endure, especially when they are compressing the spine. Here is a list of exercises to avoid when dealing with sciatica:

  • Barbell squat
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Deadlifts
  • Cardio machines (rower, elliptical)
  • Leg machines (leg press, leg curl, leg extension)
  • Bootcamp class
  • HIIT Classes
  • Static stretching
  • Running with improper mechanics

The exercises listed above have a high impact on the spine while working out. Some of these exercises are thought to strengthen the core and are used as common exercises to help treat back pain. The execution of these exercises can cause the sciatica to flare up and become worse. Or the exercise in general is not optimal to help with sciatica.

When someone is dealing with sciatica it can be painful to perform daily tasks like walking your dog or taking out the trash. Simple and mundane tasks can be extremely taxing and painful to the body when dealing with sciatica without incorporating exercise into someone's routine.

Some people might think the best way to combat the pain or discomfort that comes with sciatica is to stretch or do yoga. The problem with stretching or doing yoga is that it does not account for our evolutionary blueprint of standing, walking, running and throwing. Static stretching and yoga might give temporary relief for sciatica but will not stop the pain from recurring. Stretching and yoga does not account for compression in the spine and asymmetry in the muscular and skeletal system as it relates to our fundamental movements such as walking, otherwise known as our gait cycle. When people stretch they are stretching tension in their body which sounds like a good action to take for tight nagging pain in the body. However, when you stretch, you actually stretch around the adhesion, which actually makes the knot tighter and will make the pain worse in the long run. A human body needs proper tension in every plane of motion for it to stand upright and move efficiently. When someone does static stretching or yoga they are only accounting for longitudinal tension in the body, resulting in more imbalance and problems.

It is important for people to incorporate rotation with their exercises. Depending on the application of the exercises that involve twisting or rotational movement it can aggravate the sciatica to a lack of core engagement. Which is another reason why yoga and static stretching is not optimal for pain because depending on the execution of exercise there might be limited core recruitment, which will ultimately cause more issues. Even if someone is adding rotational elements into their fitness routine that doesn't necessarily account for how they are rotating and if it is in relation to the gait cycle.


Spinal Decompression to help with Sciatica

A major cause of sciatica is compression on the spine, particularly in the lower region of the spine which is referred to as the lumbar. As mentioned earlier people will default to stretching to release the tension in the lower back or hip, but there is a more efficient way to achieve relief without the negative externality of stretching. Humans evolved to stand, walk, run, and throw. Working on hydrating the fascia and muscles in relation to how humans evolved to move will help decompress the spine. The more efficiently a human runs and throws is a good indicator for hydrated fascia and well integrated muscle tension, which usually results in pain free movement. Functional Patterns methodology is the only training program designed to account for these variables to help people get and stay out of pain.

Non Invasive Treatments and Lifestyle

When dealing with something as significant as sciatica, it can be frustrating and sometimes the only option to fix the problem might seem like surgery or life long medication. Non surgical treatments are optimal for solving problems like sciatica. Once someone has surgery they have to learn to adapt to the surgery and how that will change their biomechanics. That can affect their mechanics more in the long term, even though it might give short term relief. There is a holistic approach to solving mechanical problems with the human body. A simple alternative to stretching is doing Myofascial release techniques. These are self massage techniques designed to help reduce pain and decrease adhesions in the body. They are very simple techniques but very effective.

Using Functional Patterns protocols will help create lifestyle habits that are conducive to a pain free life. These habits include doing Functional Patterns training, getting adequate sleep, eating nutrient dense foods while also avoiding grains and seed oils, and spending time outside in nature grounding, and getting morning and evening sunlight. Following these protocols assist in decreasing inflammation in the body which will enable the body to move more efficiently for a long period of time.



Pain doesn’t have to be a part of your lifestyle or training routine. Sciatica can be resolved allowing a healthier and less restricted life. If you are interested in finding out more information about the protocols Functional Patterns uses, start by going to the Functional Patterns website and looking into the 10 week online course, or going on the website and finding a practitioner near you to get started on your path towards functionality and being pain free.

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